Following its 66-31 dismantling of Duke this past Saturday, North Carolina can cross off one of its preseason goals – winning the ACC’s Coastal Division – as early as next weekend.
Here’s how: The Tar Heels would need to defeat Miami on Saturday at Kenan Stadium. And Duke, which has lost two consecutive games, would need to defeat Pittsburgh in Durham.
If those two things happen, UNC would clinch the Coastal Division championship and the ACC Championship game on Dec. 5 in Charlotte would be set. Clemson, with its victory against Florida State this past Saturday, has already clinched the Atlantic Division.
The Tar Heels enter the second week of November in firm control of the Coastal. UNC is the only team in the division that is undefeated in the ACC, and the Tar Heels now have, in effect, a two-game lead on every other team in the division.
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UNC (8-1, 5-0 ACC) leads Pitt (6-3, 4-1) by one game in the conference standings, but the Tar Heels own a head-to-head tiebreaker after their 26-19 victory at Pitt on Oct. 29. Every other Coastal Division team has at least two ACC losses.
Winning the Coastal Division is among the Tar Heels’ primary goals this season. After they began the season with a disappointing loss against South Carolina in Charlotte on Sept. 3, UNC players spoke with resolve about how that defeat wouldn’t deter them from their goal of winning their half of the ACC.
And it hasn’t. Since that loss, UNC has won eight consecutive games. Victory has come in a variety of ways: after trailing by 21 points at Georgia Tech, on a national stage – the kind on which the Tar Heels had faltered – at Pitt and then on Saturday in dominant fashion against a rival.
The victory against Duke might have been UNC’s most impressive and thorough of coach Larry Fedora’s four seasons, given the level of competition. Still, he said afterward, the Tar Heels “can be better, I can assure you.”
“We didn’t play a complete game in all three phases and our guys in that locker room, they know that,” Fedora said. “They are excited we are 8-1 but they also know we can be better than we were so we are still striving to do that.”
Regardless of what happens in other games surrounding theirs, the Tar Heels would win the Coastal with victories in two of their final three games. Those games, though, will all be challenging: against a Miami team that is 2-0 since firing coach Al Golden, at Virginia Tech in coach Frank Beamer’s final home game and at N.C. State, which beat UNC 35-7 last season in Chapel Hill.
Even if UNC wins just one of its final three games, it’d still stand a good chance to win the Coastal. In that scenario, Pitt would need to win out – against Duke, Louisville and Miami – to win the division. Miami can win the division with victories in its final three games – at UNC, against Georgia Tech and at Pitt – and a UNC loss against either Virginia Tech or N.C. State.
The only team that doesn’t need help to win the Coastal? UNC. Regardless of the outcomes of any other games, the Tar Heels would clinch the division if they do the next two weeks what they’ve done in their past eight games: win.