CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) _ The Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division has been unpredictable for years. And it’s not looking like they’ll be much difference next season after spring practices.
North Carolina is breaking in a new starting quarterback as it tries to repeat as champion in a division that always has turnover at the top. Three of the other six division teams have new coaches and spent the spring focused on installing new looks and schemes.
“It will be different because you’re not going to be able to get that feel in the summer,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “There is no way. You know with the situations of the schools have been consistent with what they’re going to do, but the ones with the new staff, you won’t know.”
The Tar Heels (11-3) climbed into the top 10 nationally last year and rode a high-scoring offense to an 8-0 ACC mark. Junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky _ who has played well in spot duty _ was named the starter last week as UNC tries to become the division’s first repeat champion since 2011.
UNC opens Sept. 3 in Atlanta against Georgia, the former program for new Miami coach Mark Richt. Richt takes over a Hurricanes program that won eight games last year.
“There are some guys that have great skillsets and guys that have played in big games, guys that have been there,” Richt said. “Even though they have a learning curve of what to do in our new system, at least they don’t have to go through the process of playing their first collegiate game.”
Richt replaces Al Golden, and joins Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall and Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente as the new arrivals. Fuente left Memphis to replace Frank Beamer and brought along an up-tempo offense. Mendenhall replaced Mike London after 11 years at BYU and set about trying to change “culture” and expectations.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised, really, at every turn with some key decisions that I’ve made regarding our team that the team just basically accepts that as, `This will help us,”’ he said.
Pittsburgh and Duke are both coming off eight-win seasons, while Georgia Tech _ last year’s predicted division champion _ is coming off a three-win season that was the worst in eight years under Paul Johnson.
A look at the focus for each team in the Coastal Division:
DUKE: It’s unclear who’s going to be at quarterback by the opener. Projected starter Thomas Sirk ruptured an Achilles tendon in February, giving plenty of spring reps to Parker Boehme. But coach David Cutcliffe has said Sirk could recover in time for the regular season, putting the Blue Devils in wait-and-see position.
GEORGIA TECH: The Yellow Jackets have nine offensive starters back but spent spring trying to find a cohesive unit. That was particularly true on the offensive line, where they struggled last year and had some key injuries that led to players shifting positions through spring drills. “We had to mix and match,” Johnson said.
MIAMI: The Hurricanes have suspended running back Mark Walton after an arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license. He had emerged from spring atop the depth chart after running for a team-best nine scores as a true freshman. His status remains unclear.
NORTH CAROLINA: Entering Year 2 under coordinator Gene Chizik, UNC’s defense must build on last year’s turnaround. The Tar Heels lost two of their top three tacklers in linebackers Jeff Schoettmer and Shakeel Rashad from a unit that performed capably in the regular season but surrendered big numbers in losses to Clemson in the ACC title game and Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
PITTSBURGH: The recovery of 2014 league player of the year James Conner after a battle with lymphoma could bolster an already strong running game that includes ACC offensive rookie of the year Qadree Ollison. Conner, who didn’t play after suffering an opening-day knee injury, was able to participate in portions of spring workouts and wraps up treatments in a few weeks. “He’s obviously a major inspiration to everybody,” coach Pat Narduzzi said.
VIRGINIA: The quarterback position is a question. Matt Johns started all 12 games last year ahead of Connor Brewer _ who started his career at Texas then transferred to Virginia as a graduate from Arizona _ but both guys are competing to lead an offense featuring receiver Olamide Zaccheaus and tailback Taquan Mizzell.
VIRGINIA TECH: While defensive coordinator Bud Foster is back to give the Hokies at least one familiar element, it’s unclear how things will shake out at quarterback. The Hokies are holding what Fuente called “a very open competition” featuring rising senior Brenden Motley and junior college transfer Jerod Evans.