Miami, Virginia Tech top contenders in ACC's defenseless Coastal Division

Miami HurricanesVirginia Tech HokiesCollege SportsDuke Blue DevilsNorth Carolina Tar HeelsGeorgia Tech Yellow JacketsVirginia Cavaliers

The first-place team has lost two games by a combined 93-16. The second-place upstart dropped its first road test by 37. The defending champion is in its worst defensive funk in nine years, and the highest-scoring bunch is ineligible for postseason.

Welcome to ACC football, Coastal Division style.

One of the division's outfits — mutts would be too harsh — will qualify for the conference championship game. Forecasting which of the eligible five will play in Charlotte on Dec. 1 is a fool's errand.

The Coastal's overarching issue is defense. No one plays it.

OK, so North Carolina smothered Elon, East Carolina and Idaho (six points combined). But that's a rather suspect group, and the Tar Heels allowed 103 points to Wake Forest, Louisville and Virginia Tech.

Besides, Carolina is ineligible for Charlotte due to NCAA sanctions. Averaging 44 points a game running Larry Fedora's spread, and with an accommodating schedule (no Florida State or Clemson), the Tar Heels might otherwise rate as the division's favorite, last month's loss at Wake Forest aside.

Carolina is the only Coastal team that has yet to allow 40-plus points or 500-plus yards in a game — Louisville gained 462 in a 39-34 victory last month. Most have been gouged multiple times, making them impossible to trust, even in this West Virginia-Baylor era.

Just look at Saturday. The six Coastal teams allowed an average of 38.2 points, with only Duke, a 42-17 winner over Virginia, yielding fewer than 34.

A quick sampling of the defensive — charitable description here — lapses for the others.

Duke: To their credit, and despite myriad injuries, the Blue Devils have improved markedly since a skittish start — they gave up 513 yards to Florida International and lost 50-13 at Stanford.

Georgia Tech: Coach Paul Johnson fired defensive coordinator Al Groh on Monday amid a three-game swoon in which the Yellow Jackets allowed, on average, 45.3 points and 573.3 yards, to Miami, Middle Tennessee State and Clemson.

Miami: All five of the Hurricanes' Bowl Subdivision opponents have scored at least 32 points, and in the last two weeks North Carolina State and Notre Dame gained 664 and 587 yards, respectively. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed weep for a team that lost at Kansas State 52-13 and to Notre Dame 41-3.

Virginia: The Cavaliers rank 100th nationally in scoring defense at 34 points per game. The last full season they were that bad was 1975 (38.9).

Virginia Tech: With nine starters back from a top-10 defense, the Hokies are the Coastal's most perplexing case. They were stout in an opening victory over Georgia Tech's option but allowed 495-plus yards in losses to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and North Carolina. The 75 combined points Cincinnati and Carolina scored are most in consecutive games against Virginia Tech since 2003, when Virginia and Cal scored 87.

Now here comes the hard part: ranking the teams in order of their chances to reach the ACC championship game and face, presumably, Florida State or Clemson.

Miami (4-2, 3-0): The Hurricanes not only lead the Coastal but also play their most difficult remaining games at home — Saturday against North Carolina followed by Florida State and Virginia Tech. That said, Miami has yet to draw 40,000 to Sun Life Stadium this season, making for a negligible home-field edge. For what it's worth, the Hurricanes are six-point underdogs Saturday.

Virginia Tech (3-3, 1-1): A 5-3 record might be good enough to win the division, and with games remaining against Clemson and Florida State, the Hokies need the wiggle room. Logan Thomas and the offense awakened in Saturday's 48-34 loss at North Carolina. Will the defense follow suit?

Duke (5-1, 2-0): Coach David Cutcliffe has the Blue Devils one victory away from their first bowl since 1994, and his reclamation project in Durham has been remarkable. But since ACC expansion in 2004, Duke is 1-39 against its remaining opponents — Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami.

Virginia (2-4, 0-2): Home games the next two weeks against Maryland and Wake Forest are paramount if the Cavaliers are to avoid a losing season. They should be competitive, but I thought the same about them against Duke.

Georgia Tech (2-4, 1-3): The Yellow Jackets' remaining ACC schedule — Boston College and Duke at home, Maryland and North Carolina on the road — doesn't appear daunting, until you consider their disarray on defense.

In that, Georgia Tech is hardly alone.

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/ teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

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Miami HurricanesVirginia Tech HokiesCollege SportsDuke Blue DevilsNorth Carolina Tar HeelsGeorgia Tech Yellow JacketsVirginia Cavaliers
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