What a difference a year makes. This time last year, Paul Johnson was on the hot seat after going 7-6 and losing all of the big games, including a game to an uncharacteristically bad Georgia team. However, after picking Georgia Tech 4th in last year's preview (which was technically higher than the national average), I said that this offense was missing something ever since Josh Nesbitt graduated. Tevin Washington was an efficient option operator, but lacked the top-notch athleticism to truly make his option of the spread option a big threat. However, I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical of Johnson during the Tevin Washington era because Washington was indeed solid and the overall roster talent seemed sub-par, which is his responsibility. Next, Vad Lee was just a terrible fit. And my oh my, he found his QB in Justin Thomas, who may have been a step slow for the majority of the season because early in the first few games and then again in the Orange Bowl, he was flying.
From 2004 to 2011, Virginia Tech had either 10 or 11 wins each season. Since 2012, the Hokies have finished with 7, 8, and 7 wins, consecutively. As for the golden question, “What is going on?,” we don’t truly know. Aside from the Tyrod Taylor years, this offense has rarely averaged over 30 points per game. The defense hasn’t been linearly declining, but since 2010, it has given up an average of 20.1 points per game. In 2008 and 2009, the defense was giving up about 16 points per game, good enough for top 10 in the country. You could make an argument that this program lost its edge back in 2010 when the backbone of this program, its lunch pail defense, went from being a top 10 defense to a top 20 defense and that the great Tyrod Taylor masked that dropoff for two years in 2010 and 2011 with an abnormally potent offense. While the numbers may have slipped a bit in the last four years the defenses have still been very good. So why is the offense, which hasn’t been a historically great unit in Blacksburg, to blame for the recent struggles? I truly cannot answer that with any sort of definitive statement. Perhaps Beamer truly has lost his edge. Perhaps the slight, but noticeable, increase in overall ACC competition has been enough to hand the Hokies two extra losses per season. Perhaps the offense, which is usually solid, has slipped to outright bad.
Well Al Golden, you’ve clearly left your best coaching days in Philadelphia, but if there was ever a time to go back to those days—it’s now. Formerly coached by Joe Paterno, Golden became one of the hottest names in football, turning around Temple from obscurity. If he could do that at a school like Temple, which has an average recruiting base, no history, and no considerable resources, then he can surely return “The U” to all of its glory. Well, so far, he is recruiting well—maybe not quite as well as Randy Shannon—and is seemingly developing his players, but with nothing to show for it. In his fifth season, it’s do or die for Al Golden.
For the first time in a while, the Tar Heels don’t seem to be preseason media darlings. And if there was ever a season to pick them to do well, it would be 2015. Yes, the defense was terrible last year and the offense was inconsistent, albeit very explosive. But with 10 starters returning on offense including Marquise Williams, the Tar Heels could have one of the best offenses in the country. When one side of the ball is elite, you don’t need a good other side of the ball to compete for a divisional crown. Look at Virginia Tech—the Hokies offense is still a work in progress and they didn’t even upgrade their coordinator like the Tar Heels did with Gene Chizik. But their defense should be one of the very best units in the country. If the Tar Heels can improve further on offense, they will compete for the Coastal crown.
Looking at Pittsburgh on paper, you can’t help but say “this team is pretty good.” They are very unpredictable because offensively there is a lot to like and defensively there was a lot to dislike last year. Now here is the difficult question a lot of us are asking: What will be defensive guru Pat Narduzzi’s impact be in his first year as Head Coach? Better defense? Worse offense? With the raw talent the Panther’s return on offense, I don’t expect much of a drop off on offense. Paul Chryst was an offensive-minded coach, but last year the Panthers scored with their superior talent, not their superior scheme. So that leaves us with the defense. If the defense can actually improve this year, don’t be shocked to see the Panthers take the Coastal with a manageable cross-division schedule featuring a “gimme” in Syracuse.
Duke is one of my favorite teams in the conference. Not particularly this year, but I think that I’ve figured them out. The fightin’ Cutcliffes are the anti-Coastal team. While Georgia Tech has been well-coached and pretty consistently good in Paul Johnson’s era, as well as Virginia Tech save for the past three seasons, the rest of the Coastal is basically full of paper teams whose coaches can have you scratching your head. Miami, North Carolina, Virginia, and even Pittsburgh are talked up in the preseason, look good in flashes, and ultimately falter. Some programs “breed success,” most of the Coastal does the opposite. But Duke is the antithesis. They are well-coached, they are efficient, they develop talent, they just have “it.” And while Duke is still a work in progress that cannot simply reload—and football, like any sport, requires a substantial amount of talent in order to win—you have to like this program’s long-term outlook.
After yet another disappointing season, Coach London is back in Charlottesville. While the Cavs didn’t look hopeless like they did in 2013, they were a far cry from the 2011 Peach Bowl team in London’s second season. But 2013 might have been a better as a Cavs fan. You probably just didn’t expect a whole lot. Maybe you’d go and have a good time, but in the end, that’s all it was. And your day probably wasn’t ruined because you could not possibly be disappointed after a loss. Ok, I’m just kidding. At least the program wouldn’t be up for relegation if it had been a member of the English Premier League. But still, the ‘ Hoos were a very good defensive team that couldn’t seem to make an extra play at the end of games. Aside from two big losses to BYU (while Taysom Hill was still under center), Georgia Tech (in the midst of their red-hot end of season), and Florida State (in the midst of their 26-0 streak), Virginia either beat every team it played, or lost by at most one touchdown, and that wasn’t against the sisters of the poor, either. The Cavs beat Louisville, Miami, and Pittsburgh, and should have beaten UCLA and North Carolina. If this roster returned a lot, I would probably say it’s a Coastal Division contender.