- North Carolina Tar Heels– They surprised many people and had a breakthrough year in Coach Larry Fedora’s fourth season in Chapel Hill. What’s normally been known as an institution for basketball, the football team finally got some notoriety as they won the Coastal division title, won 11 games and finished 15th in the final AP poll along with an appearance in the ACC Conference Title where they would fall short to the eventual runner-up Clemson Tigers. There will be some changes within this offense. Mitch Trubisky will replace Marquise Williams at quarterback and the offense will be heavily built around running back Elijah Hood who is expected to have another big season for the Tar Heels. The defense is looking to improve as they did make strides last year but there is always room to get better under second year defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. They are once again the favorites to win this division once again.
- Miami Hurricanes– The U has seemed to lose its swagger over the years. There have been many losing seasons and you’ve even seen some legendary alumni speak out and say there need to be changes made so this institution could get back to the glory days once again. Al Golden has been relieved of his duties and Mark Rich comes in looking to get the Hurricanes back to relevancy. Richt walks into a great situation at quarterback with Brad Kaaya and if this offensive line can protect him consistently, this could be a very productive offensive unit. They also have a nice trio of running backs in Joe Yearby, Mark Walton and bruiser Gus Edwards. The defense is looking to make an overhaul. Mark Richt hired Manny Diaz to run the defense. Miami has the pieces and the talents now let’s see if things can all come together for them.
- Virginia Tech Hokies– A new chapter is set to begin in Blacksburg, Virginia as Justin Fuente is set to take on and control the reigns as head coach. He will have some really big shoes to fill as he is replacing Frank Beamer who decided to retire after last season. When you think about Virginia Tech, defense always comes to mind as it has always been a staple for the Hokies and I expect them to bounce back this year after hitting a rough patch under Bud Foster. What will make or break this team is the offense and the good news is that Fuente has a good track record on that side of the football. This division is unpredictable but if they can get some better play on the offensive side of the football, contending for the division title won’t be out of reach. Quarterback Jerod Evans can give them a very big spark under center as Fuente brings his up-tempo, spread offense with him from Memphis. For the first time in three decades, there will be a new guy on the sidelines as the head coach.
- Pittsburgh Panthers– Year one under Pat Narduzzi wasn’t a bad one. They went 8-5 and coming into this season, the expectations are relatively high. James Connor will be returning and he will give them a potent 1-2 punch in the backfield along with Qadree Ollison. At quarterback, Nathan Peterman gave the Panthers some consistency under center and returns for the 2016 season. The biggest challenge for Narduzzi will be replacing star receiver Tyler Boyd. There will be a lot of questions surrounding the Panthers offense. Will James Conner bounce back and be that guy after undergoing MCL surgery and offseason chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma? I truly believe Nathan Peterman will be the x-factor for this team moving forward. The defense definitely takes after their head coach. They play aggressively and thrive off turnovers. The star of this defense is safety Jordan Whitehead.
- Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets– I think they want to put 2015 on the backburner. After winning the division just two seasons ago and playing in the Orange Bowl, Paul Johnson and company struggled mightily as they slumped to a 3-9 record and won only one game in conference play. With it being a new season, they can always turn things around. Justin Thomas returns at quarterback for his final season. Georgia Tech enters the 2016 season with question marks on their offensive line and secondary but a winning record and another appearance in a bowl game is a realistic goal for Coach Johnson and company. This offense relies heavily on the triple-option but it didn’t do its normal work as it only produced 256 yards rushing per game, the lowest under Paul Johnson. It truly does start-up front and if this offensive line doesn’t get it together, it could be yet another disappointing season for Justin Thomas. Their defense is looking to get back to taking the ball away as they forced only 17 turnovers last season, a huge drop from the 29 they forced just two years ago. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof will also look to create a better pass rush which only recorded 14 sacks last season.
- Duke Blue Devils– They got off to a nice start in 2015 but struggled to finish the season out. Their schedule in 2014 will also be a tough one as they face four teams who each appeared in bowl games. David Cutcliffe’s team may need to pull some major upsets in order to win some games and finish with a better record in 2016. I expect the secondary to lead this defense as three starters return from 2015 but they will have many questions surrounding them up front as a unit. Thomas Sirk returns after rupturing his Achilles in 2015 but they are unsure he will be ready by the time preseason camp is set to begin. On defense, the big question is how they will replace Safety Jeremy Cash.
- Virginia Cavaliers– Bronco Mendenhall is now calling the shots for the Cavaliers. Under Mike London, the team often had mental breakdowns and had a lot of inconsistent play at quarterback. It’s very obvious that they need to address quite a few things as Virginia hasn’t had a winning season since 2011. Matt Johns returns after a 2015 campaign that saw him throw 20 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. If Virginia is going to be a competitive football team, Johns must be more consistent under center. Coach Mendenhall is known to prefer big and bruising running backs and he will have the complete opposite in Taquan Mizzell as he is known to his teammates as “smoke” because of his blazing speed. The defense will also need to improve as they were ranked 79th in total defense in 2015.
2016 Prediction: I like North Carolina to be victorious and win this division once again. They had a great year last season and they can only go up from here. This team will go as far as Mitch Trubisky and an unproven defense will take them. The schedule maybe tougher in 16, but they can surprise us all exactly how they did last year. The task maybe more challenging for them to repeat as Coastal division champions but it’s not out of reach for them to obtain that goal once again.