Pitt was picked to finish fourth out of seven teams in the ACC Coastal Division and received eight first-place votes, according to a poll of 173 media members at the 2019 ACC Kickoff event in Charlotte, North Carolina, last week.
The reigning national champion @ClemsonFB is the preseason favorite to claim its fifth consecutive #ACCFootball title.@UVAFootball is favored in the Coastal Division.— The ACC (@theACC) July 22, 2019
The heavy favorite to win the division is Virginia, which received 82 first-place votes. Miami and Virginia Tech round out the top three in the Coastal, with 55 first-place votes and 20 first-place votes, respectively. Behind Pitt, occupying the three lowest positions in the preseason poll are Duke, North Carolina and Georgia Tech. Duke received six first-place votes, but North Carolina and Georgia Tech, both of which are under new leadership, received one first-place vote apiece.
Clemson is expected to dominate the ACC Atlantic Division in 2019 after winning its second national championship in three years last season. In addition, the team is expected to win its fifth consecutive ACC title. Dabo Swinney’s Tigers received 170 first-place votes in the Atlantic and were picked by 170 media members to win the conference as well. In the Atlantic, the only other team that received first-place votes was Syracuse. The Orange are coming off their first 10-win season since 2001, but they also lost top passer Eric Dungey and top receiver Jamal Custis.
Pitt won the Coastal last season after initially being picked to finish fifth in the division, with zero first-place votes. The Panthers went on to accrue a 6-2 record in conference before losing to Clemson in the ACC championship game. And while that earned the team a one-spot bump in the preseason media poll, Virginia became the biggest riser, as it went from a last-place prediction in 2018 to a first-place prediction in 2019. That leap forward came despite a 4-4 finish in conference last season.
Pitt faces a challenge in replacing the production of running backs Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison, who ran for a combined 2,357 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2018. The Panthers are left with Kenny Pickett under center, and he was only able to top 200 passing yards in a game once last season. Meanwhile, on defense, the team will have to deal with a depleted linebacking corps, as Seun Idowu, Quintin Wirginis and Elijah Zeise will not return.
Given that Pitt won the division last year, Virginia Tech has been trending downward every year since 2016, Miami is under the guidance of first-year head coach Manny Diaz, and Virginia has struggled in conference, it seems there is plenty of room for debate regarding the predicted top four in the Coastal.
Pitt will get an early opportunity to prove its doubters wrong on Aug. 31, when it hosts division favorite Virginia under the lights at Heinz Field. The last time the two teams met, the Panthers notched a 23-13 victory over the Cavaliers in Charlottesville.