By Marty Gordon
A preseason poll of 147 media voters picked the Hokies to finish third in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
Clemson is the media’s overwhelming preseason favorite to claim its seventh consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference football title
The Tigers, who posted a 10-2 record last season while earning a postseason playoff berth for the sixth consecutive year, were also chosen as likely Atlantic Division winners. North Carolina was picked to finish atop the Coastal Division following an eight-win 2020 season that culminated with the program’s first-ever berth in the Orange Bowl.
In the Coastal Division forecast, North Carolina received 109 first-place votes and amassed 979 total points. Miami (28 first-place votes) was next with 881 points, followed by Virginia Tech (three-first place votes, 582 points) and Pitt (one first-place vote, 576 points).
Virginia (two first-place votes, 540 points), Georgia Tech (four first-place votes, 340 points) and Duke (218 points) closed out the voting.
Clemson was selected as the likely ACC champion in the media preseason poll for the fourth consecutive season and the seventh time in the last nine years.
North Carolina was projected as the preseason Coastal Division champion for the second time and the first time since 2016. The Tar Heels’ lone Coastal Division championship came in 2015. Each of the Coastal’s seven teams won the division from 2013 through 2019. Due to the 2020 pandemic, the ACC played a non-divisional format last season.
The key for Virginia Tech will be the home opener against North Carolina, which returns almost everyone on both sides of the ball. The winner of that game, I believe, will be the real Coastal Division champ.
The Atlantic and Coastal Division winners will meet in the 2021 ACC Football Championship Game on Saturday, Dec. 4, at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.
North Carolina junior quarterback Sam Howell was chosen the ACC Preseason Player of the Year.
Howell has thrown 68 career touchdown passes, the most through a sophomore season in ACC history and tied for the UNC school record. The Indian Trail, N.C., native led the ACC and ranked sixth nationally with 30 touchdown passes in 2020 while also topping the league with 3,586 passing yards, the fourth most in the nation.
Howell received 118 votes at the quarterback position to lead all offensive players in the Preseason All-ACC Team balloting. He is joined in the preseason All-ACC backfield by running backs Zonovan Knight of NC State and Mataeo Durant of Duke. Clemson’s Justyn Ross, Boston College’s Zay Flowers, and Wake Forest’s Jaquarii Roberson form a potent wideout trio, and Virginia Tech tight end James Mitchell completes the receiving corps. Georgia Tech’s Jahmyr Gibbs was chosen as the all-purpose back.
On the defensive side of the ball, Virginia Tech’s DE Amaré Barno earned first-team preseason honors.
Barno (6-6, 235) enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2020 after making the move from linebacker to defensive end. He recorded 43 total tackles on the season, including 28 solo stops. The Blythewood, S.C., native led the ACC and all Power Five players with 16 tackles for loss and tied with Tech defensive end Justus Reed for sixth in the league with 6.5 sacks. He earned All-ACC honorable mention honors last season.