There was supposed to be chaos in the ACC’s Coastal Division race, just not the upside-down variety.
Six teams received at least one first-place vote from the media in the preseason to win the division. The only team that didn’t? Virginia.
At the midway point of the 2014 season, which team is 2-0 in the ACC and tied for the Coastal Division lead? Virginia, of course.
Typical dumb media, what do we know anyway? Fair enough, but, on paper, in the preseason you could have made a case for Duke, Miami, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Pittsburgh or Georgia Tech to win the division.
Virginia was coming off a 2-10 season with a winless conference record. If we’ve learned anything with ACC Coastal football, it’s to expect the unexpected. David Cutcliffe, who led Duke to an unexpected division title in 2013, said back in July, at the ACC Kickoff in Greensboro, that unpredictability was the best policy.
This is what Cutcliffe said then:
“I think if you look at the Coastal Division, you could really do a real serious one through seven. And then for fun, write on the other piece of paper, flip it and make seven to one and go right back down. It would be interesting.”
If by “interesting,” Cutcliffe meant “better than what the media could do,” he was right.
The Duke coach was reminded of those comments earlier this week and he recalled his prophecy with great pride.
“I told anybody: Pick the Coastal Division and put in a drawer and then turn it upside and see which one looks best at the end of the season,” Cutcliffe said earlier this week.
Cutcliffe just might end up being right, not that he wants to be. The Blue Devils, 0-1 in the ACC, go to Georgia Tech on Saturday with a chance to knock the Yellow Jackets down a peg.
The Yellow Jackets, picked fifth to start the season, already have two seemingly important wins for tie-breaker purposes over Miami and Virginia Tech.
Miami and UNC, both with two ACC losses, play outside the league Saturday, and the rest of the division is off.
The real surprise has been Virginia. Fifth-year coach Mike London was on tenuous footing, to say the least, after a 4-8 finish in 2012 and a 2-10 record in 2013. Throw in the strength of Virginia’s schedule, arguably the toughest in the ACC, and the complete question mark at quarterback and you could understand why the Cavaliers were picked to finish last.
Overlooked, as London pointed out this week, was the increased familiarity of the players in the systems installed by a host of new assistant coaches in 2013. The defense, in particular, has excelled under former N.C. State assistant Jon Tenuta. And former N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien has been instrumental in helping London restructure the program.
“When you look back at trying to put these systems and schemes in, there were some issues we had because of lack of mastering those skills or techniques,” London said earlier this week. “This year, with older guys, and as I said before, just the consistency of a message, we’ve been able to perform much better.”
Virginia’s biggest improvement has come in turnover margin. The Cavaliers were minus-5 in 12 games last season. They are plus-5 through six games this season. The defense has produced 19 takeaways, two short of last year’s total.
The other division leader Georgia Tech, by the way, has turned the ball over only four times in five games. The Yellow Jackets are tied with Virginia at plus-5 for the best turnover margin in the division. The Jackets had 24 turnovers in 13 games last season and finished a minus-4.
The media’s best bet next summer is to listen to the coachspeak – “Whoever wins the turnover battle, wins the game.”
Or just listen to Cutcliffe and go in reverse order.