North Carolina has been selected by voters at last week’s ACC’s Football Kickoff event as the preseason favorite to win the Coastal Division.
It’s a distinction coach Mack Brown hopes his Tar Heels handle better than they did a year ago when they moved into the top five of the national rankings.
“We’ve gotten hype. We’ve been hugged. We’ve had sugar thrown all over us. We’re all enjoying it, we like it. But let’s clean it off, and let’s get back to facts,” the Hall of Fame coach said last week at the ACC’s annual media event in Charlotte. “We were fifth in the country when we went to Florida State, about 25th when we were leaving. That took about three hours to drop that far.
“Nobody is good enough anymore to go out there and stand around. We have some great older players that are leaders, then we’ve got a bunch of young guys. The young guys have to grow up. We’ve been circled by everybody in this league.
The most heralded of those “older guys” is quarterback Sam Howell, who comes into the season as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate after leading UNC to an Orange Bowl berth in 2020.
His return is a big reason why the Tar Heels picked up 109 of the 147 first place votes cast by members of the media that covers the league. With 979 points, they easily outpolled Miami (881 points, 28 first place votes), Virginia Tech (582, 3), Pittsburgh (576, 1), Virginia (540, 2), Georgia Tech (340, 4) and Duke (218).
Six-time defending ACC champion Clemson, as expected was an even more overwhelming favorite to both the Atlantic Division and the overall conference title.
Despite losing star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, all-time ACC rushing leader Travis Etienne and other key members, the Tigers were picked to finish first on all but one ballot. The only first place vote they didn’t get went to NC State.
The Wolfpack returns 19 starters (nine on offense, 10 on defense) from a team that was among the biggest surprises in the ACC during last year’s COVID-19 shortened season.
“This team is closer than any team I’ve ever been on at NC State,” said Wolfpack linebacker Payton Wilson, a leading candidate for ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors after leading the league in tackles last season.
“It’s got more talent coming back than I’ve ever seen, a great coaching staff. We’ve just worked so hard, the whole team. It’s a goal of ours to be the best team in the ACC.”
Boston College (638 points), finished third behind Clemson and State in the preseason Atlantic Division poll, Florida State (510) placed fourth and Wake Forest (472) fifth with Loiusville (462) and Syracuse (202) taking the bottom two spots.
(First-place votes in parenthesis)
Clemson – 1,028 (146)
NC State – 804 (1)
Boston College – 638
Florida State – 510
Wake Forest – 472
Louisville – 462
Syracuse – 202
North Carolina – 979 (109)
Miami – 881 (28)
Virginia Tech – 582 (3)
Pitt – 576 (1)
Virginia – 540 (2)
Georgia Tech – 340 (4)
Duke – 218
Clemson – 125
North Carolina – 16
Miami – 3
Virginia – 1
Georgia Tech – 1
NC State – 1