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Austin R. Vaughn | | November 1, 2015

No. 21 North Carolina is the new ACC Coastal favorite

  The Tar Heels could win the ACC Coastal for the first time in history.

When North Carolina dropped a sloppy game with South Carolina on college football's opening Thursday, Heels fans were rightfully concerned. UNC quarterback Marquise Williams, a preseason dark horse candidate for ACC Player of the Year, completed only 19 passes on 31 tries and threw three interceptions. Williams also ran for nine yards on 10 carries, worrisome for a quarterback known for duel threat ability.

If the bad play the Heels exhibited in week one was a harbinger for the rest of the season, UNC fans definitely should've been worried.

But, luckily for the Carolina faithful, it wasn't.

UNC easily handled the rest of their non-conference schedule, and then pulled out a comeback win against defending Coastal champion Georgia Tech to open ACC play. The Yellow Jackets led UNC 21-0 early in the second quarter, but the Heels rallied and found the endzone twice before the half. Georgia Tech didn't go away quietly after that, but UNC continued to make noise. Williams racked up 282 total yards and two touchdowns, and the Heels left Atlanta with a 38-31 conference win.

UNC lengthened its win streak as conference play continued, defeating Wake Forest and Virginia both in Chapel Hill. But the Tar Heels' toughest challenge came last Thursday with a trip to Pittsburgh to face the No. 23 Panthers, who were undefeated in conference play and tied with Duke for the division lead.

The Heels won the field position battle against Pitt. They weren't able to find the endzone often, but four clutch field goals kept UNC in the lead for the entire game.

Meanwhile, Duke, the other Coastal leader, found themselves on the wrong side of a miracle in Miami on Saturday night, leaving UNC as the only team in the Coastal without a conference loss.

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With a firm hold on the division and seven straight wins, the Heels impressed the pollsters as well and entered the AP Top 25 for the first time this season at No. 21.

And, with only four games left to play, UNC looks to be in a good position to win their first ever Coastal title. Of course, the big road block to that Cinderella story is next week's matchup with the Blue Devils. Yes, even in football, Duke-UNC is a marquee match-up, at least with division implications.

Whichever team wins out will own the Coastal, but Duke still has to play Pitt, a team that certainly has the ability to win the rest of the games on its schedule.

So, the division is still up for grabs for the top three teams, but all UNC really has to do to clinch the Coastal is beat Duke. Miami, Virginia Tech and NC State are all games the Heels should win.

And, sure, even if they beat Duke and win the division, UNC will have to face the juggernaut of Clemson in Charlotte.

But, as college football fans know, especially after the past three weeks, anything is possible, especially in a conference championship game.



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