Coastal Chaos: Virginia’s Golden Opportunity For A Statement Win At North Carolina

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The Virginia Cavaliers are technically the reigning ACC Coastal Champions. The Wahoos brought home the Coastal crown in 2019 by virtue of their 39-30 victory over Virginia Tech in the regular season finale. In 2020, there was no ACC Coastal Champion as the divisions were dissolved for one season and the top two teams by conference record (Notre Dame and Clemson) qualified for the ACC Championship Game.

And so Virginia entered the 2021 season as the defending ACC Coastal Champs, but not many in the college football world are giving the Cavaliers much of a chance to “repeat” as champions of the division.

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Virginia received just one first-place vote in the overall ACC preseason poll and was picked to finish fifth out of seven teams in the ACC Coastal, trailing Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Miami and North Carolina. Admittedly, Virginia returns a very similar roster from last year’s squad that went 5-5 and ended the season with a disappointing 33-15 loss at Virginia Tech.

Even the most optimistic UVA fans likely would not have predicted that the Hoos would get off to as strong of a start as they have this season.

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Virginia has outscored its first two opponents 85-14. Through the first two weeks, the Cavaliers are third in the ACC in scoring with 42.5 points per game and second in defense with an average of seven points per game allowed. UVA leads the ACC in total offense with 550 yards per game and trails only Clemson in total defense with 260 total yards allowed per game. Brennan Armstrong leads the ACC in passing by a large margin with seven touchdowns (next highest is four touchdowns) and passing yards per game with 372, almost a hundred more yards than the next quarterback on the list.

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The competition must be taken into consideration, of course. Virginia did not have to play Alabama or Georgia or Notre Dame, but the Hoos have done exactly what a good football team is supposed to do against inferior opponents: dominate.

Slowly but surely, the Cavaliers are earning respect as a formidable college football team, just in time for a golden opportunity for a statement victory in the South’s Oldest Rivalry.

Before the season began, many pegged the week three game at North Carolina as a loss on Virginia’s schedule without much of a thought. Even though the Wahoos have had the Tar Heels’ number for the last four seasons, Carolina was a preseason top-ten team, led by a quarterback who began the season as the frontrunner to win the Heisman trophy, and everyone knows how badly UNC wants to end the four-game losing streak against UVA. In a Saturday night game in Chapel Hill, the odds would be stacked against a Cavaliers team which many thought would finish in the middle of the pack in the ACC at best.

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Now, Virginia has looked like one of the best teams in the conference so far and Saturday night’s game is shaping up to be one of the best ACC games of the season. The last two games between these rivals have been shootouts decided by seven points or less. There is little reason to expect a similar outcome this time around, especially considering what is at stake.

North Carolina badly wants to put an end to the losing streak in this series and make up ground in the ACC Coastal standings after losing to Virginia Tech in week one. Virginia wants to see its winning streak against the Tar Heels extended to five games, of course, and a win against UNC will also stamp the Cavaliers as a serious contender to defend their ACC Coastal crown.

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“I look for them to respond how they would against any team,” said UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall on the upcoming game against UNC. “It's a Coastal Division game, and if you want to win the Coastal Division, then you want to beat the teams that are in your division, wherever you are, home or away. It just is that, right; it's a Coastal Division football game, which really says it all.”

Virginia faces one of the ACC’s four ranked teams on Saturday. If UVA can pull off the victory over No. 21 North Carolina, the Hoos ought to be well on their way into the Top 25 as well. But more importantly, a UVA win will propel the Cavaliers right to the top of the race for the ACC Coastal Championship. 

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