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McFarling: For Hokies and Hoos, 1 more year of Coastal hope

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VT UVa 2016 (copy)

Virginia Tech’s Sam Rogers holds up the ACC Coastal Division trophy while celebrating with fellow senior teammates after the Hokies' win over UVa on Nov. 26, 2016. The conference is eliminating divisions starting in 2023.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Let’s play a little game. I’ll give you quotes from unnamed head coaches at the ACC Football Kickoff regarding the league’s decision to eliminate division play starting with the 2023 season. You try to guess whether their teams play in the Atlantic Division or Coastal Division.

Ready? Here goes.

Coach 1: “I’m still a proponent of the two divisions. I love the two divisions.”

Coach 2: “I think the best two teams should play each other for the championship game. I think that that’s how it ought to end up. It ought to be settled on the grass, even if it’s a rematch.”

Coach 3: “I’m a guy that believed in the divisions. I love having Coastal and Atlantic. I loved having a championship game with the two winners.”

Coach 4: “I think we got a little taste of [no divisions] in 2020 when we went to basically one league. I think it’s a good thing.”

Coach 5: “I really believe there was some merit to keeping the divisions.”

Coach 6: “I’m all for the change. I’m really excited about it.”

Surely you can guess where I’m going with this. All the odd-numbered quotes were from coaches of Coastal Division teams. All the even ones came from coaches in the Atlantic.

This makes perfect sense, of course. Atlantic coaches have lived for years with the menace that is Clemson. To reach the ACC championship game, they’ve had to knock off the league’s overall favorite.

But here in the heart of Coastal Chaos Country, where Virginia Tech and Virginia reside, we kind of like the way things are. Perhaps never more than this year, when neither of those teams is considered a serious threat to win the league.

“I think with every decision there’s positives and things you gain, and then there’s also things that you lose,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “I think if you take the division votes every year, the Atlantic was for eliminating it and the Coastal was for keeping it.”

The move away from divisions wasn’t made to appease one side or the other. Instead, it was designed to give the schedule variety and (more importantly) better position the league for the College Football Playoff. Ideally, you want two playoff candidates vying for the ACC crown.

So the Atlantic way gets its way here — but not quite yet. For one more year, we ought to appreciate the benefits divisions provide.

Chief among them: hope.

The ACC Football Kickoff is all about hope, right? Even coaches on the hot seat can relax a little at that annual event, as they’re more than a month away from the opportunity to lose a game. But hope tends to erode once those losses occur — unless you’re part of the Coastal.

The parity (or, in most years, mediocrity) on that side of the league creates opportunity to dream deep into November.

“There’s been times at the end of the season where it’s like, ‘We still have a shot. If we beat these teams, and they all lose…’” Tech linebacker Dax Hollifield said. “That’s not really going to happen anymore, I don’t think.”

The Hokies and Hoos have to hope it does this year. According to, Tech’s over-under for regular-season wins is 5.5. UVa’s is 7.5. The co-favorites in the Coastal are Miami and Pitt, at 8.5 each.

Compare that with the Atlantic, where Clemson’s at 10.5. Even very solid N.C. State and Wake Forest teams (8.5 each) know they don’t have much margin for error if they intend on making it to Charlotte in December.

We’ll close with thoughts from a Coastal Division coach who wasn’t among those quoted above: Duke’s new head man, Mike Elko.

“I think it’s going to be as wide open as the Coastal Division has been over the years,” he said. “I think this might really go out with a bang this year.”

Let’s hope so.


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