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UNC back on firm ground in Coastal Division

UNC defensive tackle Jeremiah Clarke sealed a victory at Miami on Saturday with a fumble recovery in the final minute. The Tar Heels’ chances in the Coastal Division appear much improved.
UNC defensive tackle Jeremiah Clarke sealed a victory at Miami on Saturday with a fumble recovery in the final minute. The Tar Heels’ chances in the Coastal Division appear much improved. rwillett@newsobserver.com

A week ago, North Carolina’s chances of winning the Coastal Division seemed … not great. The Tar Heels had just lost against Virginia Tech. A difficult game at Miami loomed.

And now look: After that 20-13 victory against the Hurricanes on Saturday, UNC is right back in the thick of the division race. It’s arguable it never really left. Even so, UNC is back in great position in the Coastal sooner than anticipated, given Virginia Tech’s surprising loss at Syracuse on Saturday.

That loss, combined with UNC’s victory, leaves the Tar Heels atop the standings in the Coastal Division, a half-game ahead of both Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh. The Hokies have the tiebreaker against UNC, just as UNC owns that tiebreaker against Pitt.

UNC has another advantage against those two: the Tar Heels have won one more conference game.

UNC is already halfway through its ACC schedule. And the case could be made that it has already played its four most difficult conference games (though N.C. State is looking more formidable now, after beating Notre Dame and nearly beating Clemson than, say, it did after losing at East Carolina).

The Tar Heels’ four remaining ACC games:

▪ at Virginia, Saturday

▪ vs. Georgia Tech, Nov. 5

▪ at Duke, Nov. 10

▪ vs. N.C. State, Nov. 25

None of those teams has a winning record in the ACC, though both Virginia and N.C. State have played only two ACC games. Both are 1-1. The Tar Heels’ easiest path to the division title remains the same as it was last week: win out and hope for help.

Only now winning out appears more likely than it did a week ago, after winning a difficult game at Miami. The part of the equation requiring outside help appears more likely, too, given that Virginia Tech wasn’t expected to lose at Syracuse.

The Hokies play Miami on Thursday in Blacksburg, Va. It’s no secret which team UNC supporters will be pulling for. A Virginia Tech loss means that UNC would enter the weekend in control of its own destiny, again, in the division.

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