For the first time since 2014, North Carolina does not control its own destiny in the ACC’s Coastal Division. The Tar Heels’ 34-3 defeat against Virginia Tech on Saturday was their first regular-season ACC loss since the end of the 2014 season.
UNC is now in a position it hasn’t experienced in a while. Yes, its goal of winning the Coastal is still very much attainable. But the Tar Heels will need some help, nonetheless.
It’s never too early to take a way-too-early look at what needs to happen for UNC to repeat as Coastal champ. So consider this a quick primer. We’ll save the tiebreaker talk for later, when the race has more clarity.
Here’s a look at each team’s Coastal chances, from great to none, with teams listed how they stand:
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1. Virginia Tech (4-1, 2-0)
Coastal chances: Great
UNC needs: The Hokies to lose twice. If the Tar Heels, Hokies and one other team finish in a three-way tie at 7-1, UNC could still have a chance of winning the division. Right now UNC’s easiest path includes Virginia Tech losing two conference games. The Hokies’ two Atlantic Division cross-over games are Boston College (which Virginia Tech already beat 49-0 on Sept. 17) and Syracuse, and they play Miami at home. So the schedule sets up nicely for Virginia Tech to win the division.
2. Virginia (2-3, 1-0)
Coastal chances: Not great
UNC needs: For the Cavaliers to continue through the natural progression of their schedule. In doing so, their unblemished Coastal record isn’t likely to last too long. First-year coach Bronco Mendenhall could certainly make Virginia a Coastal contender in time. But that won’t be this year.
3. UNC (4-2, 2-1)
Coastal chances: Good, still
UNC needs: To win out. That scenario, combined with a couple of Virginia Tech losses, is the easiest way for the Tar Heels to repeat as division champs. Several other scenarios will be possible, as well, and will emerge in time. But here and now, in mid-October, that’s UNC’s clearest path to the ACC championship game in Orlando. UNC’s remaining games: at Miami, at Virginia, Georgia Tech, at Duke, N.C. State.
4. Miami (4-1, 1-1)
Coastal chances: Better than UNC’s
UNC needs: To beat Miami on Saturday. A loss at Miami doesn’t end UNC’s hope of winning the division. But it makes the pursuit all the more challenging. Miami and Virginia Tech would become the two clear favorites, and UNC would then need Miami to beat the Hokies – and then would need the Hurricanes to lose two other ACC games somewhere else … and then would need Virginia Tech to get to three ACC losses, too, because the Hokies, with two conference losses, would own the tiebreaker against two-ACC-loss UNC. The Tar Heels’ divisional pursuit gets complicated in a hurry with a loss at Miami this weekend.
5. Pittsburgh (4-2, 1-1)
Coastal chances: Fine enough
UNC needs: To keep winning, as we’ve established, and then for Pittsburgh to provide some help. Since UNC has already defeated Pitt, the Panthers could help UNC’s cause with, say, a home victory against Virginia Tech in late October. Or even a victory at Miami in early November. Pitt, like UNC, already has little margin for error.
6. Georgia Tech (3-3, 1-3)
Coastal chances: None
UNC needs: Georgia Tech has to still be mathematically alive in the division but, let’s face it – with three losses it would take a lot of very strange things to happen for Georgia Tech to win the division. For UNC’s purposes, though, its best hope is for the Yellow Jackets to beat another contending team. And after losses against Miami and Pitt, there are two contending teams left on Georgia Tech’s schedule: UNC and Virginia Tech.
7. Duke (3-3, 0-2)
Coastal chances: None, essentially
UNC needs: Duke plays Virginia Tech at home on Nov. 5 and at Pitt on Nov. 19, and the Blue Devils could help UNC’s cause with victories there. The Blue Devils aren’t mathematically out of the division race but two losses against two of the least formidable ACC teams on their schedule doesn’t bode well. The Blue Devils play Louisville on Friday, and still have remaining games against UNC, Pitt and Miami.