We stay in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic where this division features coaching changes, this is the ACC Coastal.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Our first stop is Chapel Hill, where the Tar Heels won 11 games and the Coastal division last season. Despite key departures, they’re the favorite again. No Marquis Williams, no problem, Mitch Trubisky is a capable dual threat quarterback, throwing zero interceptions last year. Preseason all-ACC running back Elijah Hood and backfield mate T.J. Hogan are a monstrous combo. Mack Hollins, Ryan Switzer and Bug Howard are a veteran, dynamic receiving corps.
The defense was one of the most improved in the nation last season, but there’s still room to grow. Defensive end Dajuan Drennon and tackle Nazair Jones need help to pressure up front as the Heels were near the bottom of the ACC in sacks. Preseason all-ACC cornerback Des Lawrence and fellow corner M.J. Stewart are one of the top secondary tandems in the conference.
They face Georgia in the Georgia Dome to start off the year. They host Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. They must play Florida State and Duke on the road.
Mark Richt is back at Miami as their new head coach, and he could be the missing link into getting “the U” back to being a power. He’ll have talent to work with, including quarterback Brad Kaaya, who finished top three in the ACC last season in categories such as passing rating and fewest interceptions. The offensive line MUST keep him upright. Stacy Coley and tight end David Njoku lead a strong receiving corps. Joe Yeardley, Mark Walton and Gus Edwards, who’s coming back from a foot injury, lead a bruising backfield.
Veteran defensive coordinator and Miami native Manny Diaz takes over and Miami will be switching to a 3-4 defense. Ends Chad Thomas and Al-Quadin Muhammed, tackle Gerald Willis and linebacker Jermaine Grace will be able to run the 3-4, but they need other unproven guys to step up, as well.
They host Florida State, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Duke. They face Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame on the road.
Virginia Tech Hokies
To Blacksburg, we go next, where a new era begins as Memphis head coach Justin Fuente takes over. He brings a more up tempo spread offense to the Hokies. Travon McMillian rushed for 1,000 yards last year, and he just started in mid-October. Wide receivers Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips and tight end Bucky Rodgers are as good of a corps as any in the ACC. We’ll see who starts at quarterback as it could either be fifth year senior Brendon Moxley or junior college transfer Jerrod Evans, who Fuente recruited to take over for Paxton Lynch at Memphis.
Bud Foster returns for his 21st season as defensive coordinator. After his defense allowed all-time highs in total yards allowed, points allowed and rushing yards allowed, he wants to redeem himself. They also only had 26 sacks and 10 interceptions, both all-time lows during Foster’s tenure. Injuries and youth were the problems last season. Defensive end Ken Ekenam, tackle Woody Baron, linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka and safety Chuck Clark have talent and with Foster’s experience can help turn the defense around.
They play Tennessee to start this season at Bristol, they host Miami and Georgia Tech. They must face North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Duke and Notre Dame on the road.
In Pittsburgh, expectations are high for head coach Pat Narduzzi and the Panthers. Running back James Conner is not only coming back from a season-ending MCL injury from last year, he’s also in remission after receiving treatments for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Once he’s back at full strength, he and Qadree Olson, who rushed for over 1,100 yards in Conner’s absence can be a dangerous one, two combo. Quarterback Nathan Peterman threw only one interception in league play last year and finished third in the league in touchdown passes.
The strength of the team is their defense. They ranked third in the ACC and 16th in the nation in sacks. End Ejuan Price finished in the top ten in sacks. Remember the name Jordan Whitehead, he can play linebacker, safety, and even some offense. Whitehead just missed setting the record for most tackles in program history and won ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
They host Penn State, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech. They must go to Oklahoma State, North Carolina, and Miami.
The Rest of the ACC Coastal
In Atlanta, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will try to rebound from winning just one conference game and a disappointing 3-9 last year. Quarterback Justin Thomas is back for one more year. He needs his supporting cast to step up if the Jackets want to go back to a bowl game. They didn’t have a single 1,000 yard rusher last season and the defense only forced 17 turnovers.
In Durham, the Duke Blue Devils will have a tough schedule to contend with. Jela Duncan and Shaun Wilson lead a talented backfield and Anthony Nash lead a solid receiving corps. Thomas Sirk tore his Achilles in February, so the quarterback position is a question mark. They must replace all-American Jeremy Cash at safety.
And finally to Charlottesville, where the most interesting coaching change was Bronco Mendenhall leaving BYU for Virginia. Only ten starters are back from last year’s team. Preseason all-American and all-ACC safety Quin Blanding could be one of the best in the nation.
That’s it for the ACC, next we preview the Pac 12 North.
Heisman Trophy Finalists Include Joe Burrow, Justin fields, Jalen Hurts, Chase Young
The finalists for the Heisman Trophy have been unveiled and LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and defensive end Chase Young are headed to New York this weekend for the 85th edition of the award for the most outstanding college football player.
The winner will be announced on Saturday night during a ceremony that kicks off at 8pm est on ESPN.
“In my opinion, he should win it,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said, according to ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura. “In my opinion, he’s going to win it. The best thing about Joe is he’s a team player. All he wants to do is win this game. Individual awards are not high on his list. That’s what makes him such a great team player.”
While Burrow may have the most momentum heading into the ceremony, and is the likely number 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Young is the first Ohio State defensive player to finish in the top four in Heisman voting, and Young is the first defensive player from the Big Ten to do so since Michigan’s Charles Woodson won the award all the back in 1997.
Young led the nation with 16.5 sacks and in tackles for loss per game with 1.9.
Additionally, Ohio State is the seventh school to have multiple players invited to the Heisman ceremony in the same year, but the first to have both an offensive player and a defensive player.
Rutgers Brings Back Greg Schiano with Eight-Year, $32 Million Deal
Rutgers is bringing back Greg Schiano as their head coach following a lengthy negotiation process that has led to an eight-year, $32 million deal, according to ESPN.
“Today we open the next great chapter for Rutgers Football,” Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs said. “Coach Schiano is absolutely the best person to lead our program. He brings a quality of leadership and integrity that will make all of us proud in the years ahead. I couldn’t be more excited for our student-athletes and our fans.
“A lot of hard work lies ahead, but we will all keep chopping together with Coach to achieve success in the Big Ten. We all know what the goal is and we all must do our part. I can’t express enough appreciation to Greg and Christy Schiano, the first family of Rutgers Football. Welcome back!”
Schiano went 68-67 from 2001-2011 as Rutgers head coach.
“Rutgers University and this football program have meant the world to me and my family,” Schiano said in a statement put out by the school. “I arrived here in 2000 with the goal to build a program that would be a source of pride for the state of New Jersey and develop great young men. I look forward to embracing that challenge once again. This is a great opportunity for all of Rutgers to pull together to get us back to where we all know we belong. It will take everyone on this campus and in the State of Rutgers to get this done.”
Schiano left Rutgers in 2012 to become the head coach of the Tamp Bay Buccaneers, in a tenure that lasted just two years.
“I commend Rutgers Athletics Director Pat Hobbs and Coach Schiano for reaching an agreement following very complex negotiations to bring on this new, exciting chapter for Rutgers Athletics,” Rutgers President Robert Barchi said. “We are all thrilled to welcome Coach Schiano. He is the right coach at the right time to build our Big Ten football program into a long-running source of pride for Rutgers.”
Ole Miss Fires Matt Luke
Ole Miss is moving on from head coach Matt Luke, who was fired on Sunday following three seasons at the helm of the Rebels.
“After evaluating the overall trajectory of our football program, we did not see enough momentum on the field and determined a change is necessary in order for our student-athletes to compete at the highest level” Athletics director Keith Carter said in an official statement.
“While improvements were evident in certain aspects of the program, we are judged ultimately by our record, and, unfortunately, we did not meet the standard of success that we expect from our program. We will always be grateful to Coach Luke for his leadership, particularly from a recruiting, academic and overall culture standpoint. At the same time, winning is important, and we know that we can compete for championships at Ole Miss.
“A search is underway to find a new head coach who can build a complete program that attracts top talent, develops them as young men and sustains a winning mentality. We will be looking for the leadership, energy and commitment to excellence necessary to compete in the Southeastern Conference and galvanize our passionate fan base.”
Luke compiled a 15-21 record during his tenure at Ole Miss.
According to the Clarion Ledger’s Nick Suss, the firing of Luke was not well-received by some of the players, with some storming out of the team meeting angry over the decision.
Many are speculating that the Egg Bowl was what set the firing in motion. However, it is worth noting that attendance was becoming an issue in the midst of a losing season, and with a new athletic director in the fold, change was likely coming sooner or later.
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