The ACC preseason poll came out Monday (July 26), and the media picked Clemson to finish atop the league once again. The Tigers earned 125 first place votes, 109 votes more than second place North Carolina. Clemson and UNC were also picked to finish first in the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions, respectively.
Virginia, which won the last ACC Coastal title in 2019, was picked to finish fifth behind North Carolina, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Pitt.
Who is your pick to win the ACC this season? pic.twitter.com/qs5wB5AUqH— ACC Network (@accnetwork) July 26, 2021
One person picked Virginia to win the conference, while the Cavaliers got two first-place votes in the Coastal.
The Cavaliers went 5-5 in last year’s COVID-shortened season and declined a bowl game invitation amid the stresses and protocols of the pandemic. There were no divisions in 2020 as the conference flexed scheduling, meaning Virginia was the last team to hoist the trophy. This season, Virginia is eager to prove that the Coastal still runs through Charlottesville.
“We think the Coastal championship goes through Charlottesville,” Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said at last week’s ACC ACC Kickoff. “We’re the defending champion. Seven teams in seven years. Someone has to win it again and I like our chances.”
Starting Virginia QB Brennan Armstrong feels the same. “I’m not really hunting. I feel like we’re still the champions,” Armstrong said when asked about hunting North Carolina and Miami. “Last year, there wasn’t a Coastal champion. We’re the champions. We can go back to back. … That’s kind of the way I’m looking at it. I feel like a lot of teams are hunting us. I know UNC is hunting us, because they haven’t got us yet.”
North Carolina is a heavy favorite in the division as Heisman candidate Sam Howell returns at quarterback for the Tar Heels. Howell is one of several elite quarterbacks in the ACC this season, with Armstrong, D’Eriq King (Miami), Kenny Pickett (Pitt), Phil Jurkovec (Boston College), D.J. Uiagalelei (Clemson), McKenzie Milton (Florida State), and Malik Cunningham (Louisville) all joining him on the Maxwell Award Watch List.
Miami is expected to be in contention with the Tar Heels for the top of the division, with Pitt, Virginia, and Virginia Tech forming a middle tier that could make a run if the pieces fall into place. Georgia Tech and Duke round out the division.
Virginia’s schedule is tough in the Coastal as the Hoos have to travel to North Carolina, Miami, and Pitt this season. This is the third straight season Virginia has a game in Coral Gables, and third straight hosting Duke. The Hokies will return to Charlottesville at the end of November, the first time since Virginia broke the streak in 2019.
The Cavaliers return a lot — namely Armstrong at QB and the offensive line — but have question marks surrounding the secondary, wide receivers, and running game. Mendenhall and staff brought in some key pieces via the transfer portal, including tight end Jelani Woods (Oklahoma State), cornerback Josh Hayes (North Dakota State), and cornerback Anthony Johnson (Louisville).
Virginia’s season gets underway on September 4 as they host William and Mary.