The ACC’s Coastal Division will be one of the most interesting groups of teams in college football. Multiple new head coaches are beginning their first season in charge of teams within the division, while other teams are facing significant changes to their roster and coaching staff.
Over the last decade, the Coastal has been one of the most unpredictable divisions in college football. This season will be another interesting year in the final season that the ACC plays with divisions.
Pittsburgh won the Coastal Division in 2021, and eventually won the ACC Championship. Starting quarterback Kenny Pickett, who was a Heisman finalist, broke records in both passing yards and touchdowns.
However, Pitt will enter 2022 without Pickett after he was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft. Kedon Slovis, one of the best quarterbacks to enter the transfer portal last season, will be the new starting quarterback for the Panthers. Pittsburgh lost star wide receiver Jordan Addison to USC, but they should still have one of the strongest groups of receivers in the entire conference.
Pittsburgh’s defense should also be excellent and returns several important players that helped the team to succeed last season. Pat Narduzzi could be set to lead the program to back-to-back New Year’s Six Bowl appearances.
Mario Cristobal’s return to the University of Miami has made the Hurricanes one of the favorites to win the division alongside Pittsburgh. Tyler Van Dyke, last season’s ACC Rookie of the Year, is set to lead on offense coached by Broyles Award winner Josh Gattis.
The Hurricanes’ defense is set to improve after several key additions from the transfer portal after the team struggled with issues surrounding missed tackles last season. Miami won five of its last six games last season, and Cristobal is hoping to help the team to its second ACC Championship Game appearance in his first season.
North Carolina had an unexpected 6-7 season in Sam Howell’s last year in Chapel Hill, but Mack Brown and his coaching staff have continued to recruit well and build the program. As a result, UNC is likely to enter the season as one of the favorites in the Coastal Division.
The top priority for UNC during spring practice and fall practice is determining a starting quarterback ahead of the season. Jacolby Criswell and Drake Maye are the primary competitors in the competition, and both were four-star, Top 300 prospects in their recruiting classes.
Josh Downs, one of the best receivers in the conference, will help the offense have success, along with a strong group of running backs. Gene Chizik will take over the defense, and if UNC can improve on the defensive side of the ball they could compete with Miami and Pitt to win the division.
While this group may not be considered the favorites ahead of the season, that has had little impact on how the ACC Coastal has played out in recent years. Last season, Pitt was picked to finish fourth in the division before going on to finish 11-3.
Brennan Armstrong and Virginia could be one of the most interesting teams of the season within the ACC. Armstrong is one of the conference’s best quarterbacks and was on the All-ACC Third-Team after last season. He holds UVA’s single-season and single-game passing records.
This year, Virginia will enter their first season under Head Coach Tony Elliott, who was previously the offensive coordinator at Clemson. Elliott was exceptional during his time as the offensive coordinator at Clemson, and he will be able to work with Armstrong and offensive coordinator Desmond Kitchings to develop one of the best offenses in the ACC.
Defensive coordinator John Rudzinski will take over a defense that finished 11th in the conference in scoring defense last season with 31.8 points allowed per game. UVA scored 34.6 points per game last season, and even if Rudzinski only improves the defense by a few points, the Cavaliers could have a very good season.
Like Virginia, Virginia Tech begins 2022 with a new head coach. Brent Pry, the former defensive coordinator at Penn State, was hired after Justin Fuente departed the program after last season.
In 2016, VT won the Coastal Division, and finished 10-4, but since then the program has been unable to recapture its prior success. In 2021, the program finished 6-7, and lost six of its last nine games, including a 54-10 loss to Maryland in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Virginia Tech finished 13th in the conference in scoring last season, with just 23.7 points per game, but the defense was one of the best in the ACC. VT should be in a good position to make a bowl game this season, and if new offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen can increase the offense’s production considerably, the program could compete to make the ACC Championship Game.
Since Paul Johnson retired, Georgia Tech has not won more than three games in a season. However, last year, the Yellow Jackets lost five games by a single possession, including a 14-8 loss against Clemson and a 33-30 loss against Miami.
Jahmyr Gibbs’ transfer to Alabama will have a significant impact on the offense next season after the Yellow Jackets scored 24 points per game last year. New offensive coordinator Chip Long will try to implement a new scheme to help the program take the next step.
On defense, Georgia Tech allowed more than 33 points per game last season. A couple of key transfers and the continuing development of several players on the roster could help Georgia Tech take a step forward this season in Collins’ fourth year in charge.
Former Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko will begin his first season as the head coach at Duke in 2022 after David Cutcliffe departed the program. There has been recent success for the program, with a 10-4 season in 2013 in which the program made the ACC Championship Game, and bowl appearances in 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018.
However, Duke finished last season last in the Coastal Division, and their last win of the season came on September 25 against Kansas. Elko, known for his strong defenses at Texas A&M, will hope to improve a unit that allowed 39.8 points per game and 477 yards per game last season.
Duke has shown that it can have success within the ACC Coastal Division, and Elko will hope to take the first steps in the program’s rebuild this fall. Overall, the ACC Coastal should again be one of the most interesting divisions in college football.