Photo copyright Sara D. Davis, Atlantic Coast Conference
Media at last week's ACC Kickoff picked the North Carolina Tar Heels to finish fifth in the Coastal Division. The Tar Heels received four first-place votes (not from me) and 606 votes overall.
2017 ACC Football Preseason Poll
1. Florida State
4. NC State
5. Wake Forest
7. Boston College
2. Virginia Tech
3. Georgia Tech
5. North Carolina
The media picked Florida State to triumph in the ACC Championship Game and selected Louisville's Lamar Jackson, last year's Heisman Trophy winner, to repeat as ACC Player of the Year.
Let's take a look at where the Tar Heels have been picked in the Larry Fedora era, and how they actually finished.
Last year, the Tar Heels were picked to finish first with 121 votes. Justin Fuente's Virginia Tech team, picked fourth, rose to win the division. Carolina tied for second at 5-3 with Miami and Pittsburgh behind 6-2 Virginia Tech; the brutal 34-3 loss to the Hokies meant Carolina wouldn't make a return trip to the ACC Championship Game.
Carolina was picked fifth and finished first, winning all eight conference games and making their first-ever ACC Championship Game appearance.
The Tar Heels finished in a tie for third with Pitt at 4-4 but were picked fourth.
Carolina was picked to finish third and ended up fifth, with a 4-4 conference record.
In Larry Fedora's first season in Chapel Hill, Carolina was picked third and finished in a tie for first with Georgia Tech and Miami with a 5-3 record. Because of that season's postseason ban, the Tar Heels could not call themselves Coastal Division champions. Miami had a self-imposed bowl ban as well, so Georgia Tech represented the Coastal by default. But what if all teams had been eligible?
Carolina, Georgia Tech and Miami were all 5-3 and all 1-1 against the other two. ACC tiebreaking procedures have the three tied teams then look at the next-best division opponent. That would be 4-4 Virginia Tech, whom the Tar Heels and Hurricanes beat, but not Georgia Tech. That would have eliminated the Yellow Jackets. Now that we're at a two-team tie, the tiebreaker goes to head-to-head record, and Carolina topped Miami at Sun Life Stadium that year.
So, if all three teams had been eligible, Carolina would have represented the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game three years before they actually did so. Alas.
Taken altogether, the Tar Heels are four places better than their preseason poll selection over the course of five years, so .8 places per year, or about one. So a fifth place selection translates to about a fourth-place finish in 2017. That seems about right to me, although the last time Carolina was picked fifth, they played in the ACC Championship Game. So we'll see . . .