With the “Big Boys” in the Atlantic division covered, let’s turn our attention to the Coastal which might be the most up-for-grabs division in the FBS.
We have 2021 division winner Pitt losing QB Kenny Pickett to the draft and Biletnikoff Winner Jordan Addison to the transfer portal. Miami has made a lot of noise about becoming the team they were in the 80s and 90s hiring Mario Cristobal away from Oregon. North Carolina has stockpiled a LOT of talent thanks to Mack Brown’s recruiting prowess, but they are also replacing three-year starter Sam Howell under center.
Meanwhile, the Virginia Cavaliers have an impressive offense but an extremely suspect defense. Their cross-state rivals in Blacksburg are breaking in new Coach Brent Pry, formerly Penn State’s DC, and trying to pull out of the Justin Fuentes nosedive. Then there are Duke and Georgia Tech left at the rear trying to figure out if they even know what sport they’re playing. All in all, it could be a wild season for the Coastal division’s Swan Song.
Duke Blue Devils (3-9)
Head Coach – Mike Elko (First season)
Top Recruit – Vincent Anthony Jr. – DL – 4 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – What is the ceiling for this team, or more accurately, the floor? Former coach David Cutcliffe had the Blue Devils playing at a respectable level for a large portion of his time in Durham, including a Coastal division title and a ten-win season in 2013, but things have been on a quick slide in the last few years with Duke only managing ten wins since 2019.
If things go right. . . I could see the Blue Devils at 5-7 come season's end. They have all but one player on the O-line returning and a trio of senior receivers to help young QBs Riley Leonard (SO) and Jordan Moore (SO).
If things go wrong. . .they may only have a single win this season (My pick is North Carolina A&T on September 17) and that's not the way to show things are going in the right direction.
Likely outcome for the season. . . 2-10 with the NC A&T win and one of either Temple or @Kansas. HC Elko has some work to do. At least they'll have something pleasant to listen to after losses.
Head Coach – Geoff Collins (9-25 in 3 seasons)
Top Recruit – Antonio Martin – RB – 4 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – Will this be Geoff Collins’ last season with the Yellow Jackets? For a school that has won a Natty in my lifetime to be. . . what the Yellow Jackets have become is a borderline disgrace.
If things go right. . . the Yellow Jackets could be looking at as many as 5 wins, that’s right, almost bowl eligible! That shouldn't be a cause for celebration, but 5 wins would represent the most for this program since 2018.
If things go wrong. . . a pair of wins will likely be it for the ‘Jackets and those will be Western Carolina (September 10) and Duke (October 8). That's what you get when your schedule begins with Clemson and ends with Georgia.
Likely outcome for the season. . . another 3-win season for HC Collins and a trip to the unemployment line. Even a bottom-feeder like Georgia Tech can’t put up with this level of awful for that long, right? Right?!?!?
Miami Hurricanes (7-5)
Head Coach – Mario Cristobal (First Season)
Top Recruit – Cyrus Moss – EDGE – 4 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – With the return of Mario Cristobal (2-time National Champion at Miami) and a newfound commitment to spending be enough to yield results this year?
If things go right. . . Tyler Van Dyke (QB-SO) and an emerging receiving corps lead the Hurricanes to a rematch of their November 19 game in the ACC CG with Clemson.
If things go wrong. . . the season finale against Pitt means nothing because either Pitt or North Carolina has already clinched the Coastal division title.
Likely outcome for the season. . . I want to say 10-2, but I also feel like the first year and a new system will cost the Hurricanes at least one win, so 9-3. This should be a team on the rise though.
North Carolina Tar Heels (6-7)
Head Coach – Mack Brown (21-17 in 3 years, 3 bowls)
Top Recruit – Zach Rice – OT – 5 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – Has Mack Brown and his coaching staff fixed the issues that plagued the Tar Heels in 2021, specifically poor red zone play and an over-abundance of penalties? Those issues led to a total of three one-score losses in 2021.
If things go right. . . and the Tar Heels manage to get a QB to play to the level they’ve come to expect from the last three years of Sam Howell, an 8-4/9-3 season is possible.
If things go wrong. . . the QB situation never gets fixed and they find themselves at .500. This is a talented team and they'll likely take a game or two they should lose, but at the end of the day, a good quarterback can hide a multitude of ills.
Likely outcome for the season. . . is 7-5, this team has talent but they need to harness it or it’s just wasted potential.
Pittsburgh Panthers (11-3)
Head Coach – Pat Narduzzi (53-37 in 8 years, 5 bowls)
Top Recruit – Ryan Baer – OT – 4 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – can USC transfer Kedon Slovis fill in for NFL first-round pick Kenny Pickett and play to something approaching that level?
If things go right. . . Solvis does just that and having a completely intact offensive line in front of him helps immensely allowing the Panthers to split their first two weeks (Vs. West Virginia and Vs. Tennessee) and enter November no worse than 6-2 with the final game of the season @Miami and a chance at 10 wins.
If things go wrong. . .They drop the first two weeks, drop two more in October (@Louisville, @North Carolina), and then Miami whacks them to finish up a 7-5 season.
Likely outcome for the season. . . Losses to Tennessee, @North Carolina, and @Miami leave the Panthers at 9-3. I’m not sold on the Tar Heels yet, but they will have almost two months to get their QB issues ironed out before Pitt comes to Chapel Hill.
Virginia Cavaliers (6-6)
Head Coach – Tony Elliott (First season)
Top Recruit – Dakota Twitty – WR – 4 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – Can the defense (ranked 117 in yards per play allowed in 2021) make adjustments and cut down on big plays? With 8 of 11 starters either juniors or seniors, they should have the experience to do so. If they can do that, the offense can more than handle their end.
If things go right. . . the Cavaliers will be 5-0 before Louisville comes to town with solid wins over @Illinois and a better-than-you-think Old Dominion team with Georgia Tech still on the schedule. If all that happens, then they make a bowl game in HC Elliott’s first year.
If things go wrong. . . The first five games on the schedule leave the Cavs still looking for answers on defense and they’re 2-3 with the Cardinals looming. If you think that’s bad they could be looking at a 3-9 season with their remaining schedule.
Likely outcome for the season. . . 4-8/5-7 depending on how the late-season out-of-conference game against Coastal Carolina turns out, but it’s a building year either way and November won't be easy.
Virginia Tech Hokies (6-7)
Head Coach – Brent Pry (First season)
Top Recruit – Gunner Givens – DL – 4 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – Can this coaching staff fix the mess left by former HC Justin Fuentes and improve both the offense (98th nationally in 2021) and defense (78th)?
If things go right. . . the Hokies scratch out a couple of mild upsets and finish at 7-5. If they manage that, depending on who they upset, Elliott’s staff will have accomplished something just this side of a miracle.
If things go wrong. . . they only win the games they’re expected to win and at least one is MUCH closer than they would like.
Likely outcome for the season. . . 6-6 and a bowl game, which is still an accomplishment for the Hokies and HC Elliott given that they return only two of six skill players on offense and the QB (SO - Grant Wells) is a transfer.
There you are, the most wide-open division in all of the FBS. Four head coaches are in their first year with a whole lot of questions for them to answer.
ACC Conference Standings (Bowl teams in italics)
Miami (FL) Clemson
Pittsburgh NC State
North Carolina Wake Forest
Virginia Tech Boston College
Virginia Florida State
Georgia Tech Louisville
ACC Championship Game
Saturday, December 3 @ 8pm ABC
Bank of America Stadium Charlotte, NC
Miami(FL) Vs. Clemson (Champion)
Next up we have the (debatably, but not to me) best conference in college football, the land of Skynard, The Grove, and Southern-fried everything – the Southeastern Conference.