The ACC Football Kickoff Preseason Poll was released recently. The poll gathers ballets of 191 media members voting on the ACC Championship, Divisional Champions and ACC Player of the Year titles.
Despite finishing second in the Coastal Division during Coach Pat Narduzzi’s inaugural season, the Panthers were pegged for a third-place finish this year. However, the Panthers did collect 14 first-place votes.
They’re predicted to be hopped in the division by “The U” Miami Hurricanes. In a high-profile move during the offseason, Miami hired former Georgia Bull Dog head coach Mark Richt. During his 15 seasons at Georgia, Richt compiled 195 wins and 145 losses, good for a .740 winning percentage. The Bull Dogs finished with 10 victories or more victories nine different times, and Richt was named SEC Coach of the Year in 2002. Simply put, Richt can coach ‘em up a little bit.
The Hurricanes also return highly-touted passer Brad Kaaya, a junior quarterback. His name has been garnering buzz of late, slotting fourth in Preseason Player of the Year voting.
The Panthers also retained some talent on both sides of the ball this coming season. In addition to quarterback Nate Peterman, the Panthers figure to get back plenty of offensive fire power, including a former ACC Player of the Year, rusher James Conner, ACC Rookie of the Year Qadree Ollison and a slew of other young backs and receivers.
Pitt’s stout defense brings back several key contributors from last years’s unit, as well. Defensive end Ejuan Price, a converted linebacker, rang up 48 tackles with 19.5 coming for losses, and 11.5 sacks last season. Electric true freshman playmaker Jordan Whitehead is back and figures to be better than ever, even dabbling as an offensive specialist on occasions for the opposite side of the ball.
The ACC Coastal Division battle has been a topsy-turvy affair of late. Last year’s champion North Carolina is favored to win the title again this season. However, the Coastal has been won by three different squad’s since Pitt joined the conference in 2013 – Duke, Georgia Tech, then UNC.
ACC Goliath Clemson dominated the Championship vote, receiving 144 of 191 first place selections. Florida State came in next with 39 votes, followed by North Carolina with 7.
This seasons ACC figures to be a dog fight. Though, I expect Pitt has enough juice to remain in the thick of a particularly jumbled Coastal division race until the very end.
Photo credit: Lake Fong/Post-Gazette.