Chris Graham: If Duke falters, the ACC Coastal belongs to Virginia Tech

It can be hard to make sense of the ACC Coastal Division, with five teams within a game of first place heading into the final two weeks of the season. But as the fog lifts from a wild Saturday, it’s beginning to come clear that this one is really a two-team race involving Duke and Virginia Tech.

Duke has the clearest path to the Coastal Division title: win out, and the Blue Devils get to be the sacrificial lambs at the altar of Florida State’s ascension to the bcs Championship Game in January.

(Sorry, but that’s what this is really all about.)

The Blue Devils (8-2, 4-2 ACC) have a W in the offing next week at Wake Forest (4-6, 2-5 ACC), but the finale at North Carolina (5-5, 4-3 ACC) is a might bit tougher. The tar heels are the hottest team in the ACC outside of Florida State and Duke, having won four straight after a 1-5 start.

A win by Duke at Wake next week puts the Blue Devils at 5-2, and would leave them a half-game up at that point on Georgia Tech, which is already finished with its ACC season with a 5-3 record. But the Yellow Jackets hold the tie-breaker over Duke in a head-to-head by virtue of their 38-14 win in Durham in September, so if somehow what is right now a five-team race ended up a two-way tie between those two, Georgia Tech would end up the division champ.

That’s among the unlikely scenarios, that particular two-way tie. A Duke loss most likely engages Virginia Tech (7-4, 4-3 ACC), which has a bye week this coming Saturday before finishing out on Nov. 30 at Virginia (2-8, 0-6 ACC). UVa. has lost seven straight heading into its game this weekend at Miami, and its coach, Mike London, may be on his way out after posting three losing seasons in four years at the helm. Virginia Tech has won 13 of the last 14 in the series, including the last nine in a row. It’s hard to imagine the Hokies choking up a chance to go to Charlotte against a team that has been the nail to its hammer.

A Duke loss against either Wake or UNC, and a Virginia Tech win at Virginia, gives us at least a three-way tie at the top. The first tie-breaker is the combined head-to-head record among the teams. In the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech-Duke scenario, this one gets canceled out with each of the three being 1-1 among the pool. The second tie-breaker, then, is record within the division, and we don’t need to move past this one, because Virginia Tech is currently 4-1 against Coastal Division opponents, so a win over UVa. puts the Hokies at 5-1. Georgia Tech is 4-2 in the Coastal, and Duke is right now 3-2 with one game still left to play in-division against UNC.

Let’s say that the tie results from Duke winning at Wake, then losing at UNC. Then we’ve got a four-way tie with Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Duke and UNC. Looking at the first tie-breaker, we have Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech each at 2-1 and UNC and Duke each at 1-2. We go to the second tie-breaker, and Virginia Tech has the best division record (UNC is 3-3 in the Coastal if it beats Duke in the finale).

Now, let’s go all the way out to a five-way tie, which happens if Duke wins at Wake, loses at UNC, Virginia Tech wins at UVa., and Miami wins out at home against Virginia this weekend and at Pitt on Nov. 30. Virginia Tech actually wins this one on the first tie-breaker, with a 3-1 record against the teams in the tie, with Duke, Miami and Georgia Tech each at 2-2 and UNC at 1-3.

There are quite a few other possible scenarios. These seem like the likeliest.

Here’s what it all comes down to:

  • Duke has its destiny in its hands. Win out, and the division is theirs.
  • If Duke stumbles, Virginia Tech takes the division with a win at UVa.
  • If Duke loses at least once, and Virginia Tech loses at UVa., Georgia Tech is best positioned thereafter (except in the event of a simple two-way tie with Miami, which beat the Jackets head to head).
  • Miami needs to win its last two, have Duke lose its last two, and have Virginia Tech lose at UVa.
  • North Carolina needs the other four to be hit with immediate crippling NCAA sanctions. (Sorry, Tar Heel Nation, but there’s nothing for you but pride at stake when Duke comes to town on Nov. 30.)

I think I’ve got this right. Point out any and all flaws if I’ve missed something, which is entirely possible.


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