CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The final day of the 2022 ACC Football Kickoff on Thursday featured teams from the Coastal Division, including the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Unlike the Atlantic Division, the Coastal saw numerous changes across many of its teams, with four squads hiring new head coaches and multiple teams losing their starting quarterbacks.
With all the upheaval within the Coastal Division, this year’s competition for first place is wide open. Here’s a look at three teams who will be competing alongside UNC for the Coastal Division’s top spot and a berth into this year’s ACC Championship game.
After letting go of former coach Manny Diaz at the end of last season, Miami inked Mario Cristobal as its new head coach in December.
The 2019 AP Pac-12 Coach of the Year has his sights on elevating the Hurricanes back to their national status. The former Oregon head coach's first step was redefining the Hurricanes' culture, which included the retirement of the infamous turnover chain.
“Certainly, history is history, and whether it's positive, whether it's inconsequential, whatever it may be, it's still history and part of your program," Cristobal said. “We're just moving in a direction that right now doesn't involve (the chain).”
On the field, Miami returns one of the top NFL prospects in the conference in Tyler Van Dyke. The third-year sophomore quarterback finished last season on a tear, passing for at least 300 yards in his final six games — a streak that has him projected as a 2023 first-round draft pick heading into this season.
Despite all the preseason hype, the Glastonbury, Conn. native understands that it's his play during the upcoming season that matters most.
“Honestly, I really don't think about all that,” Van Dyke said. “Last year, we were 7-5 and only had one guy drafted. You have to have team success to have player success.”
UNC faces off against the Hurricanes in Miami, Fla. on Oct. 8.
After winning the 2021 ACC championship, the Panthers are looking to build off their program’s recent success.
However, this success will have to be achieved without former starting quarterback Kenny Pickett. Last year’s ACC Player of the Year exhausted all of his collegiate eligibility and was selected No. 20 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Kenny Pickett was an outstanding football player,” Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “He was the leader of our football team. So, Kenny will be hard to replace.”
Pickett wasn’t the only loss the Panthers’ offense suffered this offseason. Wide receiver Jordan Addison, a 2021 first-team All-ACC selection, transferred to Southern California, leaving Pittsburgh without its top quarterback and wideout from last season.
Despite these departures, the Panthers return all five of their primary starters on the offensive line, headlined by redshirt senior Carter Warren. With experienced pass protection alongside junior running back Israel Abanikanda, Pittsburgh could be well on its way to another ACC title.
Even so, redshirt senior defensive lineman Deslin Alexandre knows last season’s success guarantees nothing this fall.
“Last year was a great year,” he said. “We were happy with what we did last year, but we're focused on this year now.”
The Tar Heels will play Pitt in their homecoming game on Oct. 29.
Before taking over the head coaching job at Virginia last December, Tony Elliott spent 10 years coaching at Clemson, helping the Tigers record at least 10 wins each of those years.
“(Virginia’s) in the ACC, and I believe that this is the best conference in college football,” he said. “I've experienced it at the highest level, so I knew I had a chance to compete for championships.”
Any first-year head coach is likely to encounter some bumps along the way, but with senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong returning to the Cavaliers, Elliott’s first season in Charlottesville could be a successful one.
Armstrong is fresh off a record-breaking junior campaign, where the third-team All-ACC honoree broke Virginia’s single-season passing record with 4,449 yards. Yet, all the school records broken by Armstrong generated little success on the field, as the Cavaliers finished with a 6-6 record.
“Coming back, I just thought I had unfinished business,” Armstrong said. “I wanted to end it better and just hang out with the guys one more year, and play some more ball.”
UNC plays Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. on Nov. 5.