ACC Football Preview: Can UVA football get any preseason love?

acc footballThe beat writers will join the TV and radio folks next week in Charlotte for the 2018 ACC Football Kickoff, at which we will get our first formal rendering of what to expect for the upcoming college football season.

For those of us who focus on UVA football, it’s looking like another heaping of low expectations heading into Bronco Mendenhall’s third season.

A quick scan of the preseason picks from the likes of Athlon and The Sporting News have UVA back down at the seven slot in the Coastal Division, dead last.

After a surprise six-win season in 2017, you might think there’d be some love for the ‘Hoos as a possible sleeper heading into 2018, but what I’m seeing is the sleeper love is going to more to Pitt and Georgia Tech in the Coastal, which I can understand, particularly with Pitt, if only based on the Panthers’ dominating win over Miami last November.

Georgia Tech, of note, is also getting some preseason thinking about the future of coach Paul Johnson, a possible hot-seat candidate if things don’t work out for the Yellow Jackets in 2018.

My best-case scenario for UVA is a fourth-place finish in the Coastal, behind Miami, which looks like a fringe national-title contender again, then Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, which I expect to be better in 2018, after missing out on the bowl season in 2017.

Duke is expecting to have a solid team, with quarterback Daniel Jones and eight defensive starters back, so if I’m prognosticating with my head, and not my heart, I probably have the Blue Devils ahead of the ‘Hoos.

Breaking down Pitt, there is that brutal schedule, with Central Florida, Penn State and Notre Dame on the non-conference slate, and ACC road games at Wake Forest, UNC and UVA, that you have to wonder might wear the Panthers out as the year plays out.

And then there’s UNC, which has to be a big question mark going into 2018, on the heels of the huge step back that was 2017, and lingering questions on both lines.

I won’t be at the Kickoff next week to file this vote, but I’d be pulling the lever for UVA to finish fifth in the Coastal if I was, with Pitt sixth and UNC seventh, though I’d do this imagining that I might be the only guy going even that high, with a couple of sixths the only break from the flood of sevenths from the assemblage.

Over in the Atlantic, it’s pretty clear that Clemson, whose only problem is deciding who to start at quarterback between Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence, is going to run away with things, with Florida State, under first-year coach Willie Taggart, rebounding from last year’s 7-6 finish to come in a distant second.

From there, three through seven is a matter of personal preference. I’d go with N.C. State third, Wake Forest fourth, Louisville fifth, Boston College sixth and Syracuse seventh, but I think good cases can be made for any of those five to ride a wave toward an upper-division finish.

I’m fairly certain that nothing gets in the way of Clemson playing its way back into the College Football Playoff, no matter who wins the Coastal between Miami and Virginia Tech, who it wouldn’t surprise me to see playing in Charlotte in December, to be honest.

Back to UVA to wrap up: the non-conference schedule (Richmond, at Indiana, Ohio, Liberty) should produce at least three wins, meaning another three Ws in the ACC send the ‘Hoos back to the bowl season for a second straight season.

The best chances for those three conference wins (in order): UNC (Oct. 27), Pitt (Nov. 2), Louisville (Sept. 22), at Duke (Oct. 20), at N.C. State (Sept. 29), at Georgia Tech (Nov. 17), Miami (Oct. 13).

Note that I’m leaving out the Nov. 24 regular-season finale at Virginia Tech. Not going to happen this year. But you don’t need me to tell you that.

The over-under for UVA wins in 2018 should be set at five. I’d go with the over, and a return to a cold-weather bowl.

Column by Chris Graham

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