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PHOTO: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas (5) scrambles away from Virginia Tech Hokies defensive tackle Corey Marshall (96)
Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Phillips, Special to theACC.com
Race for top spot is unpredictable – as predicted
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Preseason college football forecasts can be way off the mark, often by the time the actual season is only a few weeks old.
Sometimes, however, they prove uncannily accurate. Witness the current state of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division, where the league media’s prediction of a scrambled, “anyone’s for the taking” race has indeed materialized as the November stretch run nears.
Writers and broadcasters in attendance at the 2014 ACC Football Kickoff projected Miami as the likely Coastal winner. The Hurricanes’ 26 total first-place votes were actually seven fewer than defending Coastal Division champion Duke, which led with 33 votes for the top spot. But the Blue Devils placed second overall in the balloting, which awarded seven points for each first-place vote, six for each second-place vote, etc.
Miami’s 26 first-place votes were even one fewer than those amassed by North Carolina, which received 27 but placed fourth in the overall voting. Virginia Tech, picked to finish third, received 23 first-place votes.
Some three months later – and even after Thursday night’s Miami win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg – the picture isn’t much clearer.
One game separates the top six Coastal Division teams entering this weekend. As of Friday morning, Duke, Pitt and Virginia shared first place with 2-1 ACC records. Georgia Tech and Miami held second place at 2-2. North Carolina at followed at 1-2, while Virginia Tech stood 1-3.
Tie-breakers – particularly those involving head-to-head competition – could eventually enter into the equation, but it is a bit early to start that discussion. Each of the seven Coastal teams already owns at least one win and one loss versus a fellow division school.
Miami’s win on Thursday night could loom large, and two games matching division opponents on Saturday are equally crucial. And unless one of the teams breaks from the pack in the next several weeks, every ACC game involving a Coastal Division team between now and season’s end will hold that distinction.
Miami coach Al Golden said his Hurricanes must approach the games ahead with the “survive and advance” mentality of a team participating in a single-elimination tournament.
“When you get in the tournament, they're all must wins at the end of the day,” Golden said. “Each one of them is important. That's all you can control. You can't worry about must wins and all that. Each game is critically important.”
The first of Saturday’s two key Coastal matchups kicks off at 12:30 p.m., when North Carolina visits Virginia (ACC Network). Pitt then plays host to Georgia Tech at 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU).
“I think we’ve got to focus on this week,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. “All of those things will come into play if you take care of your business. None of it matters if you don’t play well, and that’s in having a good week of preparation. You’ve just got to take each week as it comes.”
How can he – or his Coastal Division counterparts – get their players to buy into that message?
“I think you’ve just got to keep talking it,” Chryst said. “There’s nothing more important than what we’re doing now. I think we’ve got some guys that get it and some that are learning it. We’ve just all got to keep preaching it.”