CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the first time since 2013, the ACC media do not expect Virginia to finish last in the Coastal Division. In fact, the Cavaliers were voted the preseason pick to win their first division crown.
UVA, which went 8-5 last season and defeated South Carolina in the Belk Bowl, was forecast to win the Coastal, finishing ahead of Miami, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Duke, North Carolina and Georgia Tech.
“I think everybody on our team is starting to believe, starting to work like we deserve to be in the top conversation,” senior quarterback Bryce Perkins said. “We expect to be great. We won’t settle for anything less.”
Naturally, Clemson is still considered the class of the conference, and the Coastal Division again is viewed as up for grabs.
The past six seasons, six of the division’s seven teams have won the Coastal. Only Virginia hasn’t finished atop the standings.
The media successfully predicted the Coastal Division champion just once in that span, correctly tapping Miami to win in 2017.
That half of the league will have three new head coaches this season — Mack Brown at North Carolina, Manny Diaz at Miami and Geoff Collins at Georgia Tech.
This could be the year the Cavaliers take their turn atop the division.
Virginia returns six starters on offense, including dynamic quarterback Perkins, one of the ACC’s top returning stars. On defense, the Cavaliers bring back nine starters, including senior cornerback Bryce Hall, from a unit that surrendered just 20.1 points per game, the third lowest mark in the conference.
“I think there is understanding what we did last year, trying to learn from our mistakes, then kind of put that behind us,” said Hall, who led the nation in pass breakups last year. “I think the more you kind of dwell on what you did in the past can make you complacent moving forward. With that in mind, we know what we’re capable of doing. Now we’re trying to be even better than we were a year ago.”
Tech went 6-7 last season, needing to beat Virginia and Marshall in its final two games just to extend its bowl streak. Then it lost to Cincinnati in the Military Bowl, giving it its first losing record since 1992.
“It wasn’t just the players that were upset about last season,” junior tight end Dalton Keene said. “We could tell it hit home with Coach Fuente.”
Dabo Swinney’s Tigers, the national champions, are picked to win their fifth straight Atlantic Division crown. They’ve gone 30-2 in the league since the start of the 2015 season and have won a pair of national titles.
“It’s kind of business as usual for us, to be honest with you,” Swinney said last week at the ACC’s annual media days. “It’s just what we do every year. We’ve had eight 10-plus winning seasons in a row, been very consistent. The reason for that is we start over. You heard these guys talk about it. Truly, we don’t carry everything over. It’s a new team, there’s new challenges. You got to redevelop the leadership, reinstall the core values.”
Clemson was voted first ahead of Syracuse, Florida State, North Carolina State, Boston College, Wake Forest and Louisville.
Swinney’s team was the overwhelming choice to repeat as ACC champion, receiving 170 of 173 votes. Syracuse got two votes as overall champion and UVA received one.
The Tigers return eight starters on offense, including stars in quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne. It must rebuild a defense that lost seven starters, including its entire star-studded line.
“That’s just the mindset that’s woven into the culture,” Swinney said. “It’s always about what’s next. You got to show up every year with something to prove.”