Can the Atlantic Step Up and Challenge the Coastal in the ACC This Year?
Preseason magazines soon will begin to adorn newsstands with predictions for the upcoming college football season. Those magazines will very likely have at least three, and maybe even four, teams from the ACC in their top 25, and all will likely be from the Coastal Division.
When the ACC expanded in 2004, it set up two divisions to have a championship game like the Big 12 and SEC. The conference office wanted to balance the divisions as much as possible and started with separating who they thought would be the two best teams—Miami and Florida State.
The ACC also wanted to keep certain rivalries going each year, and so they put Duke and North Carolina in the same division, as well as Virginia and Virginia Tech.
We don't really know how exactly the conference office split the teams up beyond that, but at the time the divisions looked very even. Atlantic members NC State and Maryland had just come off some of their best seasons in their history. The first two ACC Championship Game winners were from the Atlantic.
But since then the Coastal Division has taken over the conference by storm. Virginia Tech is now a fixture in the top 25 and has played for the conference crown four times. Only Texas can match the Hokies in terms of consecutive 10-win seasons.
Georgia Tech has made the other two ACCCG appearances and is the defending champion. Head coach Paul Johnson has raised the bar in Atlanta, winning 20 games in two seasons. Despite losing four top players to the NFL Draft, the Yellow Jackets will very likely have a top 20 preseason ranking.
The North Carolina Tar Heels are a program on the rise under Butch Davis. His recruiting efforts helped the Tar Heels win eight games last year and a large portion of the team returns for this season.
Miami is working their way back to the top, and this could be the year they take a big leap. The Hurricanes banner recruiting class from 2008 will be juniors this season and want to get the 'Canes to their first ACC Championship Game. Only a tough schedule may knock Randy Shannon's team out of the top 25.
Even programs like Duke and Virginia are looking up this year. The Blue Devils have had marked improvement under David Cutcliffe, and the Cavaliers hired Mike London, who won a FCS title two years ago at Richmond.
Meanwhile, in the Atlantic questions abound as to who can rise to the top. Clemson won the division last year, but managed just an 8-4 regular season. The Tigers will likely be the favorite again this year, but that could change greatly if quarterback Kyle Parker decides to go pro in baseball.
Florida State has not been to an ACC title game since the inaugural game in 2005. The Seminoles will be under a new coaching staff this season after legendary coach Bobby Bowden was forced out last year. The last few years under Bowden were in stark contrast to most of his tenure when FSU graced the top 5 every year.
After the 'Noles there a lot of questions. Can NC State and Wake Forest get back to a bowl this year? Can Maryland improve on a dismal 2-10 record a year ago? What about Boston College? How will they fare in the second year under Frank Spaziani?
None of these teams are expected to be top 25 fixtures this season, but because of the parity in the Atlantic they all could compete for the division title.
If the Coastal continues to get better and continues to dominate the Atlantic in the Championship Game, will the conference office make a move to even the playing field?
There have been rumors of Boston College and Georgia Tech switching divisions to help with travel for the Eagles, but no discussions have ever been confirmed in the conference office.
With Beamer at Virginia Tech and Johnson at Georgia Tech, I do not see the two Techs taking a step back anytime soon. This annual match-up could become the defacto Championship Game for years to come.
Can a team from the Atlantic step up and challenge them?
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