2021 Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division Preview

College football is right around the corner and so it’s time to start churning out some Conference Previews. I will be doing the five major conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, PAC-12, And SEC), along with some of my top Win Totals Plays and My preseason Top 25 down the line. Let’s get to it.

Other Previews

ACC Atlantic Division

Big 12 Conference

Big 10 East Division

Big 10 West Division

PAC-12 Conference

Team & Player Rankings Are Courtesy Of Phil Steele’s CFB Preview.

Teams are in predicted order of finish.

Atlantic Coast Conference

North Carolina Tar Heels: Mack Brown has done an outstanding job here at North Carolina as he has taken them to a bowl game in each of his first two seasons here. It is his 2nd stint with the team and this could be the best team in his 2nd go-round here. The Heels went 8-4 last year and they have 18 starters back from that team. The offense was strong a year ago as they averaged 41.7 ppg and 537 ypg and I would not be surprised to see them top those numbers this year. Sam Howell is back at QB and he is a Heisman Candidate. Last year, he threw for 3556 yards with 30 TDs and just seven INTs. He does lose four of his top five receivers from last year, but this unit just reloaded with two receivers that ranked 38th and 41st in the nation when they came out of high school. The Running game lost two 1000 yards rushers, but they have Tennessee transfer Ty Chandler coming in and an offensive line that rates as 10th in the nation.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Heels struggled last year as they allowed 29.4 ppg and 401 ypg. The defense should be much improved this year with 10 starters back and a defensive line that rates as 2nd best in the ACC, plus a secondary that rates as 3rd best. The Heels did lose their top tackler in Chazz Surratt, who led the team in tackles (91) and was 2nd in sacks (6), and his loss will weaken the linebacking corps, but still, this is going to be a very solid defense. Overall, the defense has lost just 3 of 26 lettermen and will definitely improve on last year’s numbers. One thing the Heels want to improve upon is forcing turnovers, as they were last in the ACC in that department last year, forcing just 11 of them.

North Carolina has an offense that may be unstoppable and a defense that will be vastly improved over last year. The Heels have 18 starters back this year and they have added the 3rd rated freshman class in the ACC. This team is loaded and they avoid Clemson out of the Atlantic Division. North Carolina Gets Virginia, Florida State, Miami, and Wake Forest at home, while facing some easy competition in Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh on the road. They do have to face Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, and NC State on the road, but should be favored in two of those three games. The Heels should go at least 10-2 on the year and win the ACC Coastal.

Miami Hurricanes: Many Diaz went 6-7 in his first year at the helm of the Canes, but year two was much different as they went 8-3 overall. The Canes did lose 37-34 to Oklahoma State in the Cheez-It Bowl, but it was still a very successful season and they are looking to build on that success this year. A big part of the Miami success last year was QB D’Eriq King, who threw for 2686 yards with 23 TDs and just five INTs while also rushing for 538 yards and four TDs. The day after Christmas, he revealed that he was coming back for another year. The Canes are loaded at the skill positions as their top running back returns, along with their top 9 pass catchers. They also have all five of their offensive linemen returning. All four of Miami’s offensive units rank 3rd or better in the ACC and I can see them topping the 34 ppg and 440 ypg they hung up last year.

As you can see, the offense is loaded and will be fine the year, but the success of this team will rely on how well the defense improves. The Canes allowed 27 ppg and 401 ypg a year ago and they have to do better than that. Miami does have nine starters back on that side of the ball, including their top three tacklers from a year ago. The strength of the defense is a secondary that rates as 2nd best in the ACC and 8th best in the nation. All four starters return to the secondary and all four were highly recruited when coming out of high school. The leader of this group is Te’Cory Couch, who had six PBU’s and an INT last year. He is just a sophomore so the Canes should have for a few more years. If the secondary does its job then Miami will definitely improve on last year’s overall numbers on defense.

The Canes are the 6th most experienced team in the nation coming into this season. They are loaded on offense, especially with the return of King at QB, while the defense has a shot at being one of the best in the ACC. Miami begins the year Against Alabama on a neutral field, but they have four easy home games after that. Miami Avoids Clemson from the Atlantic Division, but they do have a tough home game against NC State and a road game at North Carolina. I expect a loss in that last game and that is why I have Miami finishing 2nd in the Coastal Division

Virginia Tech Hokies: The Hokies had a streak of 27 bowl appearances snapped last year as they finished with a 5-6 season. That makes the Hokies a mission team as they look to return to a bowl game. Virginia Tech has 15 starters back this year, including seven from a defense that was uncharacteristically bad last year, allowing 32.1 ppg and 447 ypg. The pass defense ranked 108th in the nation, giving up 266 ypg through the air and they should improve there with a secondary that rates as 3rd best in the ACC. Getting Jermaine Waller back at CB from injury after playing in just two games last year is huge for this defense. They also have a superstar at DE in Amare Barno, who had 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss a year ago. They should have a much better defense this time around, especially if they stay healthy and we add in the fact that they are in the 2nd year of Justin Hamilton’s defensive schemes.

The offense was decent last year as the Hokies ranked 30th in the nation in total offense at 440.7 ypg and 46th in scoring at 31.1 ppg. The Hokies lose QB Hendon Hooker, but have Braxton Burmeister back, who played in a handful of games a year ago. He threw for 687 yards with eight TDs and just two INTs in six games a year ago and Tech has back their top three receivers from last season. The strength of the offense was a running game that ranked 11th in the nation, putting up 240 ypg on the ground. The problem this year is they lose top running back Khalil Herbert, who rushed for 1182 yards and 8 TDs. They also lost their 2nd leading rusher in Hooker, who ran for 620 yards and 9 TDs. Raheem Blackshear will take over at RB, but I cannot see him putting up the same numbers as Herbert did. The Hokies will need to get something out of their ground game or it could be a long season for Burmeister.

The offense for the Hokies could take a bit of a step back, but the defense will be vastly improved, especially with one of the best secondaries in the ACC. They have North Carolina West Virginia and Notre Dame in their first five games, but the rest of the schedule is very manageable. I like the Hokies to finish 3rd in the division and if the offense surprises, then they could finish higher.

Pittsburgh Panthers: The Pitt Panthers seem to be in a rut of late. Yes, they went 6-5 last year and went to two bowls games in their previous two seasons, but the Panthers have now gone 11 years in a row where they have lost at least five games. Pat Narduzzi hopes to end that stretch this year but it will not be east as the schedule is rather tough. I will get to the schedule in a moment. After putting up just 21.2 ppg in 2019, the Panthers responded by averaging 2q9.0 ppg a year ago. This year, they have eight starters back on that side of the ball, including 5th year QB Kenny Pickett. Last year, he threw for 2408 yards with 13 TDs and eight INTs and he has eight of his top nine pass catchers back from a season ago. Pitt’s receivers rank 4th best in the ACC, so this passing game could flourish and it will have to as the running game could struggle. Yes, top back Vincent Davis is back, but he will give way to Israel Abanikana, who will set up behind one of the worst offensive lines in the ACC. Despite not having a strong ground game, Pittsburgh should still top last year’s 29.0 ppg.

The defense for the Panthers has been solid the past two years as they have allowed just 22.5 and 24.5 ppg in those seasons. Last year, they ranked 2nd nationally in sacks at 4.18 per game and we could see more of that this year as the Panthers have a strong front seven. Pittsburgh has the 2nd rated DL in the ACC and the 19th rated one in the nation while their linebacking corps rates as 3rd best in the ACC and 14th best in the land. This is a deep defense as Sir’Voccea Dennis is slated to be a backup and he had four sacks, along with 10.5 tackles for loss last year. 29 of Pittsburgh’s 34 lettermen on defense from last year all return. The Secondary is a weak spot as just one of the four starters back there return. Pitt’s pass defense could struggle early on as they have some solid talent ready to step in.

Pittsburgh will have a solid passing game and a defense that will put plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Offensive line and defensive backfield does need some help, but overall, this a solid team. Can they avoid putting up at least five losses again? The Panthers have three easy games in their first four as they face UMass, Western Michigan, and New Hampshire in those games. The rest of the schedule is not so forgiving as the Panthers have tough roadies against Tennessee, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech while getting Clemson, Miami, North Carolina, and Virginia at home. Yes, there are at least five losses up there, but still, Pitt has enough cupcakes to get to bowl eligible.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: The Yellow Jackets had a rough 3-7 season last year but things could be looking up for them this year. Georgia Tech is in the 3rd year of Geoff Collins’ systems, they have 17 starters back and are the 4th most experienced team in the ACC. The defense was a huge issue last year as the Jackets allowed 36.8 ppg on 459 ypg of total offense and they need to improve greatly on that side of the ball. Tech has 10 starters back on defense and six of their top seven tacklers overall. This has a shot to be a much-improved unit as Phil Steele has all three units ranked either 7th or 8th. That is right in the middle of the ACC after having one of the worst defenses in the nation a year ago. The defense has some talent with five of their starters being ranked 66th or better as recruits coming out of high school. Red-Shirt Freshman, DE Kevin Harris is a prize recruit on defense as he was the 10 best recruit at his position.

One thing that Georgia Tech has to cut down on is the mental mistakes as they were 123rd in the nation in penalties a year ago. On offense, Tech was not great as they averaged just 23.9 ppg and 390 ypg on the year. They have been in transition from a triple-option team to more of a traditional offensive team. TY his could be the year that the hard work pays off as Collins now has recruited players to fit his system. Jeff Sims is back at QB after throwing for 1881 yards with 13 TDs and 13 INTs as a freshman. He is still listed as a freshman this year and was the 16th ranked QB when he left high school a couple of years ago. Sims also led the team in rushing with 492 yards and six TDs. Jahmyr Gibbs was 2nd with 460 yards and four TDs. Leading Reciever, Jalen Camp has departed, but the Yellow Jackets still have their next three top pass catchers back. Despite that, their receivers rank 13th in the ACC. The offense will be better overall and should easily top last year’s numbers.

Georgia Tech has been learning a new offense the last two years after many of running the triple-option and the results have not been good. The offense has been a mess and it has hurt the defense as well. This year, we should see the Jackets start to turn things around as Collins now has stocked his team with many solid recruits that are a perfect fit for his systems. The Schedule is not easy, but they will be a much more competitive team capable of challenging for a bowl berth.

Virginia Cavaliers: After a 2-10 season in Bronco Mendenhall’s first season, he took them to bowl games in the next three years. Their streak was halted last year as they went just 5-5 on the year and opted out of playing in a bowl game. Now they are looking to return to their bowl ways but it will not be easy as they are 84th in the nation in experience and they have a very tough schedule to navigate. Virginia has eight starters back on offense, including Brennan Armstrong, who threw for 2117 yards with 18 TDs and 11 INTs a year ago. He also led the team in rushing with 552 yards and five TDs. Virginia has its top RB and top two receivers back, plus four of five starters along the offensive line, but they have very little depth at all positions. I think it will be hard for them to top last year’s 30.7 ppg and 423 ypg they put up.

The defense will also be an issue for the Wahoos this year. They have just six starters back on this side of the ball and not a lot of depth. The strength of the Virginia defense is their defensive line, but that is rated at just 7th best in the ACC. The LB Corps and defensive backfield are both ranked 11th and 13th respectively. This is not a good defense and we also note that the special teams for the Wahoos rank last in the ACC. The big problem for Virginia last year was a pass defense that allowed 304 ypg through the air. The Cavs have three senior starters in the defensive backfield so they hope to be much better at defending the pass. If they can’t, then it will be another long year for this defense.

Bronco Mendenhall does not have his best team, but he is an excellent coach and I can see the Cavs being competitive this year. The pass defense needs to improve and Armstrong needs to have a good season behind the center. The Cavs do open up against William & Mary and Illinois at home, plus they get Duke at home later in the year, but the rest of the schedule is brutal. The Wahoos have road games against North Carolina, Miami, Louis, BYU and Pittsburgh, while having to face Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, and Virginia Tech at home. It is hard to see more than four wins for the Cavs this year.

Duke Blue Devils: The Duke Blue Devils suffered through a rough 2-9 season last year and have now failed to go bowling two years in a row. Duke has 78 lettermen back from last year, which does make them an experienced team but they have just 12 starters back and must replace QB Chase Brice. Gunner Holmberg will take over the playing calling duties after throwing for 160 yards with no TDs and two INTs last year. Duke’s QBs rate as the worst in the ACC and that is not good for a duke team that looks to put up a few more wins than they did a year ago. Duke could have a solid running game as Mateo Durant and Deon Jackson combined for 1499 yards and 13 TDs on the ground last year. The problem is that they will set up behind a bad offensive line. The WR corp is nothing special as Jake Bobo returns after leading the team in receiving last year with just 358 yards receiving. Duke could have trouble topping last year’s 24.8 ppg and 380 ypg they put up a year ago.

The defense for the Blue Devils was one of the worst in the nation last year as they allowed 38.1 ppg on 445 yards of total offense. Duke has six starters back on that side of the ball but all three units rank 12th or worse in the ACC. The defensive line is the worst in the ACC and that is not good news as they will be facing some very good offenses this year. Two redshirt freshmen and a sophomore will be the starters along the defensive line, so this is a young line. The strength of the defense is their secondary, but still, it ranks as 12th best in the ACC. The pass defense was not horrid last year as it allowed just 232 ypg through the air. Teams ran well on duke last year, piling up 213 ypg on the ground and we could see more of that this year with a weak front seven. Duke’s defense can’t really be worse than it was a year ago, but any improvements will be minimal.

The Blue Devils have a lot of ground to make up if they hope to make a run at a bowl game. I do not see that happening here. Duke is weak at QB, wide receiver and their defensive and offensive lines are among the worst in the nation. Duke could win three of their first four games against Charlotte, NC A&T, and Kansas, but the conference slate is very tough and it is hard to find them a conference win this year. No more than three wins for Duke in 2021.

Author Profile
David Hess

David has always had a fascination with numbers and sports, so he combined the two to become a handicapper and a writer for us here at Winners & Whiners, along with StatSalt. All the information that David puts in his articles are well-researched and his predictions are well-thought-out. He is a big fan of all the major pro sports and the colleges making David a very versatile and constantly winning handicapper. David has been writing for the past 10 years and has been handicapping for over 20 years. He will help you beat the Man, so be sure and follow along.