Coastal Division play is upon us, so that can only mean one thing: Time to get a little crazy.
Yes, it is only September, but the race to win the division could end up being as chaotic as it has been in years past. Last season proved to be an exception to the general Coastal rules because North Carolina went undefeated, just the second team on that side of the division to go 8-0.
But at least in the early going, Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech look squarely in the mix to contend for the division. (Georgia Tech could vault into the conversation with a win over Clemson on Thursday night.)
Right now, ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Miami the edge to win the Coastal, with a 37.5 percent chance. North Carolina is next at 27 percent, followed by Virginia Tech (20.1 percent) and Pitt (10.7 percent).
But as you can see, there is no overwhelming favorite in the early going, and there is a reason for that. There are questions about all four teams.
North Carolina, hoping to become the first repeat Coastal champion since Virginia Tech in 2010-11, has yet to play a complete game. Its run defense remains a concern (No. 106 in the nation), and its rushing average is down 48 yards per game from a year ago.
Pitt looks like a dominant run team (239 yards per game), but its pass defense is a liability after giving up over 500 yards against Oklahoma State a week ago. Plus, its passing offense is not equipped to rally with the game on the line, as many saw last week in the loss to Oklahoma.
Virginia Tech absolutely beat down Boston College a week ago, showing off the makings of a high-powered offense, when players actually hang onto the football. After nine turnovers in the first two games, the Hokies only had one last week. If Virginia Tech plays that way moving forward, it will be in the race in November.
Miami looks strong and is the highest rated among all Coastal teams, ranked No. 15 at 3-0. Mark Richt has brought a similar mindset to the Miami offense, as the Canes are among the best teams in the nation in rushing. Defensive numbers are vastly improved across the board, too, as Miami ranks among the top teams in the country in total defense, scoring defense, sacks, tackles for loss and rush defense.
But they are the only Coastal team in the mix without a game against a Power 5 opponent yet. So how good is Miami, really? We find out Oct. 1 when Coastal Division play begins at Georgia Tech.
Speaking of Georgia Tech, the Jackets have a major opportunity against Clemson on Thursday night. It still is hard to gauge just how good this team is right now after barely squeaking by Boston College (see above) and overcoming slow starts against Mercer and Vanderbilt.
Georgia Tech isn’t even leading the ACC in rushing and is still having a hard time sacking the quarterback. A win over Clemson would get the Jackets to 2-0 in the Coastal first, with its most difficult game in the rear-view mirror.
How will it all end up playing out? Not even the wisest ACC observer can accurately say right now. That’s what makes Coastal watching so fun.