ACC Coastal Division Preview: UVA as the preseason favorite?

uva footballMake that emphatic: yes, UVA football enters the 2019 preseason as the favorite to be the favorite in the ACC Coastal Division, so, get used to it.

As we wait for the writers and broadcasters gathering at next week’s ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte to disappoint us in that respect – you know they’re going to vote either Miami or Virginia Tech, or both, ahead of the ‘Hoos – it’s worth getting an early look at the Coastal Division race.

2019 ACC Coastal Division Preseason Look

  1. UVA (2018: 8-5, 4-4 ACC)
  2. Miami (2018: 7-6, 4-4 ACC)
  3. Virginia Tech (2018: 6-7, 4-4 ACC)
  4. Duke (2018: 8-5, 3-5 ACC)
  5. Pitt (2018: 7-7, 6-2 ACC)
  6. UNC (2018: 2-9, 1-7 ACC)
  7. Georgia Tech (2018: 7-6, 5-3 ACC)

UVA: The Favorite

There’s a lot to like with the ‘Hoos in 2019. Virginia returns the best QB in the Coastal in Bryce Perkins (2,680 yards passing, 25 TDs, 923 yards rushing, 9 TDs) and the preseason favorite for ACC Defensive Player of the Year in cornerback Bryce Hall.

The defense ranked third in the ACC in total yards, second in pass-defense efficiency and fourth against the run.

That side of the ball played in 2018 the way coach Bronco Mendenhall wants his D to play – fast, downhill, guys flying to the ball.

The Cavaliers do need to find new guys to account for the losses of wideout Olamide Zaccheaus (93 catches, 1,058 yards) and tailback Jordan Ellis (1,037 yards, 10 TDs).

Key Games

Aug. 31: Pitt

Pitt ran UVA into the ground in a 23-13 win in Charlottesville in November. The Panthers need to retool the offensive line after losing four starters. A win over the defending division champ in the opener on the road would be a nice springboard.

Sept. 14: Florida State

One of Virginia’s two Atlantic Division games in 2019. FSU is coming off a horrid 2018 (5-7), Willie Taggart’s first season in Tallahassee. There has been effort expended on placing the blame on the departed Jimbo Fisher, and there is some truth to the narrative, but Taggart is clearly on the hot seat in Year 2. The ‘Noles open with Boise State in Jacksonville, and this will be their first true road game of 2019. The offense is led by new coordinator Kendal Briles, so you can expect to see more spread and tempo.

Sept. 28: Notre Dame

Virginia should be 4-0 when it gets on the plane for the trip to South Bend. Notre Dame, of course, is not ACC for football, so this is just a fun intersectional matchup. The Irish have designs on a return to the College Football Playoff, behind returning starting QB Ian Book (2,628 yards, 19 TD in 2018). Notre Dame won’t dazzle you with offense, but the D is stout (allowing 18.2 points and 347.4 yards per game in 2018). This one will be a pitched battle between two teams that make it their point to try to out-tough the other guys. UVA goes in with at least a puncher’s chance.

Oct. 11: Miami

This one comes after a bye following the trip to Notre Dame. Miami will, yet again, be an enigma. The ‘Canes have had loads of talent for years, but Al Golden and Mark Richt weren’t able to translate the talent into wins, well enough, anyway. Now, it’s up to Manny Diaz, Richt’s defensive coordinator. The D will once again be a beast – in 2018, UM was first in the ACC in total defense and pass-defense efficiency, and third against the run. The issues were on offense, particularly at quarterback, which Diaz is attempting to address with the addition of Ohio State transfer Tate Martell. Former Alabama QB coach Dan Enos is the new offensive coordinator. Enos has a reputation of being something of a QB guru, so, good hire, there.

Nov. 9: Georgia Tech

You almost wish this one had been earlier in the season. Georgia Tech is in Year 1 of what you have to expect will be a two- or three-year transition out of the Paul Johnson option era, meaning new coach Geoff Collins and his staff are installing a new offense – specifically, in this case, the spread – with personnel recruited to play something very different. By early November, you can expect that the guys will be about as good as they’re going to be in Year 1. If there’s any advantage to not playing them early, it’s that you’ll have game tape to study and get tendencies from.

Nov. 29: Virginia Tech

Fifteen straight. Last year’s was the toughest, obviously. The ‘Hoos had the game won at least a couple of different times in the fourth quarter, and were driving for the win in OT before a Perkins fumble ended things in an instant. Virginia Tech went on to conclude its first losing season in a quarter-century, and then have an offseason of discontent as the Justin Fuente regime limps its way into Year 4.

Dec. 7: Clemson

You won’t see this one on any schedule, but … it’s going to happen. Virginia is the favorite in the Coastal, Clemson is going to win the Atlantic. The Tigers will roll on offense behind Heisman Trophy favorite Trevor Lawrence and tailback Travis Etienne, who, if he played anywhere else, would himself be a Heisman Trophy candidate. The strength of the defense is usually the D line, and it may well be again, but Clemson did lose a lot from last year’s historically dominant group. Does Virginia have a chance here? Sure. It could rain; the pregame meal could get some of the Clemson side under the weather; the game is at night, so there won’t be issues with sun getting in anybody’s eyes, but still. If you’re in the stadium, you’ve got a chance. And actually, I like Mendenhall having a shot to scheme something up with nothing to lose, because everybody would expect him to lose.

Preview by Chris Graham


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