There’s a scene in the movie Rocky III in which challenger Clubber Lang, played by the inimitable Mr. T, is asked for a prediction ahead of his upcoming fight against champion Rocky Balboa.

“Pain,” was his answer.

A 1-word answer also jumps to mind when it comes to making predictions about football in the ACC’s Coastal Division.

In that case, it would be “Chaos.”

Coastal Chaos has been an ACC tradition since the league went to divisional play in 2005. It’s a history that has regularly turned preseason predictions into an exercise in futility.

Sadly, though, this will be the last season that will happen. The ACC will change its format to do away with divisional play during 2023.

Before we say goodbye, let’s rewind back to the start of the season to see how well my predictions stood up to the final dose of chaos (click on the team’s name to link to the original Crystal Ball story).


Crystal Ball prediction: 2-10 (0-8)

Actual record: 8-4 (5-3)

Nailed it: About the only thing I got right about coach Mike Elko’s 1st Blue Devils team is that Riley Leonard would win the starting quarterback job and runner-up Jordan Moore eventually would be moved to wide receiver, where he ended up leading the team with 57 catches.

I also correctly pointed out that Elko’s emphasis on forcing takeaways would result in an improvement in Duke’s turnover margin. Did it ever. After being a combined minus-39 over the previous 3 seasons, the Blue Devils tied for 2nd nationally at plus-14.

Whiffed: You name it and I whiffed on it when it comes to Duke. Let’s start with its record. I had the Blue Devils winning just twice overall and going 0-for-the-ACC for the 2nd straight year. They surpassed those modest goals by the end of September by going 3-0 to start the season and winning their league opener against Virginia.

My prediction on their annual rivalry game against North Carolina sums up how far off I was in my assessment of Elko’s team. “The Victory Bell stays in Chapel Hill,” I wrote. “And it won’t be close.” Yes, the Tar Heels won and retained possession of the bell. But it was anything but a blowout. It was so close that it took until the final 16 seconds to be decided.

I concluded my Crystal Ball forecast with the statement that “the climb back from the bottom takes time.” In this case, it happened right away.

 Notable: Duke’s 8 wins in Elko’s 1st season were 3 more than the program achieved during the 2 previous seasons combined. Each of its 4 losses came by 1 score and all 3 ACC losses came by a total of 8 points. The Blue Devils are the only Power 5 team to win 8 or more games after winning fewer than 4 during 2021. If they can beat Central Florida in the Military Bowl, Elko will join the man he replaced – David Cutcliffe – as the only Duke coaches since World War II to win 9 games in a season.

Quotable: “It took Cutcliffe 6 years to record his 1st winning season with the Blue Devils, though he led them to a bowl in Year 5. This rebuild isn’t as extensive considering the improvements that have been made in facilities and increases in the program’s budget. It’s not going to happen overnight. But it can happen.”

Georgia Tech

Crystal Ball prediction: 3-9 (2-6)

Actual record: 5-7 (4-4)

Nailed it: It didn’t take a football savant armed with a binder full of advanced analytics to see an unhappy ending to Geoff Collins’ tenure with the Yellow Jackets coming. Three straight 3-win seasons and an unfavorable early-season schedule made his firing all but inevitable. 

While I didn’t specify the exact timing of his dismissal, I did at least successfully predict the 1-3 start, with the only win coming against Western Carolina, that ultimately did him in.

On the positive side, I correctly noted that linebackers Ayinde Eley and Charlie Thomas would be the key to whatever success Tech’s defense had this season. They both finished with 100-plus tackles and were 2 major catalysts for the improvement the team made after the coaching change.

Whiffed it: Who possibly could have predicted the series of events that turned the Yellow Jackets’ season around and finally provided them with a solid foundation upon which to build for the future?

Certainly not me.

Brent Key’s hiring. The upset of Pittsburgh in his 1st game. The emergence of freshman quarterback Zach Pyron. Beating Coastal Division champion North Carolina for Tech’s 2nd road win against a ranked opponent. The 4-4 record over the final 8 games. They all came straight out of left field, including the 5-year, $15 million contract Key received to remain as coach on a permanent basis.

Notable: Key is the 5th Tech alumnus to serve as the Yellow Jackets’ head coach. William Alexander, Bill Fulcher, Pepper Rodgers and Bill Curry are the others. Key played offensive line for Tech in 1997-2000 and was the team’s offensive line coach before being elevated on an interim basis after Collins’ firing Sept. 26.

Quotable: “How and why are important. But when it comes to college football, especially programs coming off 3 straight 3-win seasons, results are the only thing that really matters and it’s tough to imagine the results being there for the Yellow Jackets this season, no matter how improved they are. About the only one who’s optimistic about their chances is Collins. At least someone is.”


Crystal Ball prediction: 9-3 (6-2)

Actual record: 5-7 (3-5)

Nailed it: The Hurricanes were picked to win the Coastal Division in the ACC’s official preseason poll, but I wasn’t convinced. OK, so I had them finishing 2nd behind Pittsburgh. But hey, they didn’t finish 1st. And they lost all 3 games I predicted them to drop – at Texas A&M, at Clemson and at home against the Panthers. 

Among my concerns about this year’s team was the quality of the receiving corps surrounding quarterback Tyler Van Dyke with the departure of his 2 leading targets from 2021, Charleston Rambo and Mike Harley. Here’s what I wrote: “While there’s still some talent among their replacements, experience is in short supply other than 5th-year tight end Will Mallory.” Sure enough, Mallory led the team with 42 receptions. No one else had more than 33.

Injuries to Van Dyke and the ineffectiveness of his 2 replacements had something to do with that lack of production. But that was by far the only problem that plagued Miami in coach Mario Cristobal’s rookie season.

Big whiff: The biggest miss was the home loss to Middle Tennessee State from which Miami never fully recovered. The 2 most regrettable predictions, however, were forecasting wins against Duke and Florida State.

I referred to the Blue Devils as “the soft underbelly of the ACC” and wrote that the game could get ugly. Well, it did. But not the way I thought. The Hurricanes committed 8 turnovers and gave up 21 unanswered points during the 4th quarter to lose 45-21.

The rivalry showdown against the Seminoles was an even more embarrassing pick. After kicking a field goal to pull to within 7-3 with 9:16 left in the 1st quarter, the Hurricanes surrendered the next 38 points in a 45-3 loss that marked the most-lopsided road win for either team in the series and Miami’s worst loss since a 47-0 drubbing during 1997.

Notable: The Hurricanes lost their final 5 games at Hard Rock Stadium for their longest home losing streak since 1973-74. The last time they lost 5 home games in a row during the same season was 1963.

They also allowed 40 or more points 5 times. It’s the 1st time in program history that has happened. The only other time Miami surrendered 40 points or more 4 times during a season was 2012, when it went 7-5 under Al Golden. 

Quotable: “As much as Cristobal is trying to create a fresh narrative for his program, some things never change. The Hurricanes have been picked by the media to win the Coastal Division. It’s the 5th time that’s happened and the 13th time in the 18 seasons Miami has been in the ACC that it’s been projected to finish either 1st or 2nd. Only once, in 2017, has it lived up to the hype and made it to the league championship game.

“If anyone knows what it takes to reverse that trend, it’s Cristobal. He was born in south Florida and grew up rooting for Miami, played on 2 national championship teams for the Hurricanes, earned 2 degrees and got his first coaching job at the school and was even featured as part of an ESPN “30 for 30” production about the program’s glory days. In other words, he’s all about The U.”

North Carolina

Crystal Ball prediction: 7-5 (5-3)

Actual record: 9-4 (6-2)

Nailed it: It would be an exaggeration to say I saw Drake Maye emerging as the ACC Player of the Year and a Heisman Trophy candidate when the season began. Nobody did, with the possible exception of Maye himself and coach Mack Brown. But I did get it right when I predicted that “the degree of success achieved by Maye will have a major impact on the kind of season UNC will have.”

Big whiff: My prediction that UNC’s defense would be vastly improved with the arrival of new coordinator Gene Chizik didn’t age very well, did it? The Tar Heels gave up 61 points during a wild victory at Appalachian State in the 2nd game and went on to win the Coastal Division in spite of a defense that ranked last in the ACC in scoring and yardage. 

I also came up short in forecasting that the Tar Heels’ rebuilt offensive line would do a better job of protecting Maye than it did last season with Sam Howell. UNC gave up 38 sacks, the 4th-most in the conference.

My game-by-game projections also were more miss than hit. I had the Tar Heels losing to Appalachian State, Miami and Pittsburgh, all of which they beat. Conversely, they lost games against Georgia Tech and NC State that I predicted them to win. 

Notable: UNC’s inability to win on the road proved to be its downfall during 2021. The Tar Heels went 0-5 away from Kenan Stadium on their way to a 6-6 regular-season record. They reversed that trend during 2022 by going 6-0 on the road en route to the Coastal Division championship. All 6 of those road wins were by a touchdown or less, including 5 by a field goal or less.

Quotable: “UNC has landed 4 5-star prospects and 28 4-stars since 2020, including newly named starting quarterback Drake Maye. Even with last year’s disappointment on the field, its most recent class was ranked No. 2 in the ACC behind only Clemson and No. 8 nationally by 247Sports.

“At some point, Brown and his staff are going to have to find a way to turn those recruiting victories into wins on the field. Maybe this will be the year it finally happens.”


Crystal Ball prediction: 11-1 (8-0)

Actual record: 8-4 (5-3)

Nailed it: The Panthers ranked 2nd nationally in sacks last season, but with the majority of their defensive line back I predicted they had a chance to be even better this year. And they were. Led by ACC Defensive Player of the Year Calijah Kancey, Pitt was the Football Bowl Subdivision leader in sacks before being surpassed by conference rival Louisville last Saturday.

Offensively, I was just as spot-on about the strength of the Panthers’ ground attack. Pointing to the return of all 5 starters on the line and a rotation of 3 backs that combined for 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns during 2021, I predicted that “this year’s offense will feature more of an emphasis on the running game than it did a year ago.”

Did it ever. With Doak Walker Award finalist Israel Abanikanda doing the bulk of the damage, Pitt averaged 181 yards on the ground and scored 28 rushing touchdowns this season.

Big whiff: If you’re going to miss, you might as well miss big. And man, did I ever go big when it comes to the Panthers’ 2022 projection. Coming off an ACC championship, with many of their key elements returning, I was inclined to anoint coach Pat Narduzzi’s team as a darkhorse contender for the College Football Playoff.

The path was realistic, thanks to a schedule that began with Power 5 tests against West Virginia and Tennessee. Both at home. But those hopes ended quickly with an overtime loss to the Volunteers, then a stunning upset loss to Georgia Tech.

One reason for the disappointments was the inconsistency of Pitt’s passing game. Quarterback Kedon Solvis, who has re-entered the transfer portal, wasn’t able to live up to the promise he brought with him from Southern Cal. As it turned out, Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett wasn’t as easily replaced as I predicted he would be. 

Notable: Pitt went undefeated during November for a 2nd straight year and finished the regular season with 8 victories. It marks the 5th time within the past 8 seasons they’ve won at least that many.  

By beating Miami in the regular-season finale, Narduzzi passed Hall of Famer Glenn “Pop” Warner for 2nd place on the Panthers’ all-time coaching wins list. Narduzzi’s record in 8 seasons at Pitt is 61-14. Warner went 60-12-4 in 1915-23. Narduzzi’s 41 ACC wins since 1995 are 2nd-most to Clemson’s 60 during that span.

Quotable: “Even though the Panthers are defending ACC champions, the league’s preseason poll has provided them with an opportunity to play the underdog card again this season. Only 3 of the 164 voters that cast ballots picked them to repeat as conference champions. Given the history of Coastal chaos and the loss of Pickett and (Jordan) Addison, the lack of confidence is somewhat understandable.

“But the Panthers still have plenty of veteran talent to go around, both homegrown and imported from the transfer portal. They have a conference schedule that avoids Clemson and NC State, the Atlantic Division’s top teams. And they have their sights set on a goal even higher than a 2nd straight league title.”


Crystal Ball prediction: 6-6 (2-2)

Actual record: 3-7 (1-6)

Nailed it: John Rudzinski’s history suggested he’d make an immediate positive impact on a UVA defense that ranked next-to-last in the ACC and 121st nationally in total defense last season while allowing 466 yards and 31.8 points per game. 

And he came through, as predicted.

Under his guidance, the Cavaliers improved by more than 100 yards allowed per game while jumping all the way to 7th in the league in total defense. That translated into a touchdown less allowed per game. Their sack total also took a significant jump from 19 in 2021 to 30 this season.

Big whiff: It figured to be a safe assumption that the Cavaliers would have a smooth transition from former coach Bronco Mendenhall to new boss Tony Elliott. They were a bowl team in 2021, after all, and they returned the ACC’s leading passer Brennan Armstrong with a stable of capable veteran receivers.

Armstrong, however, turned out to be a bad fit for the offensive scheme Elliott brought with him from Clemson and the high-powered attack many predicted of the Cavaliers – including me – never materialized. At just 17 points per game, they were the lowest-scoring team in the conference.

One thing nobody could have predicted was the tragic way UVA’s season would end. The Cavaliers canceled their final 2 games after team members Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry were gunned down as they returned to Charlottesville from an off-campus field trip.

Notable: Armstrong’s season was a forgettable one, but he at least ended up with something to show for his frustration. By throwing for 152 yards during a loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 12, Armstrong passed Wake Forest’s Tanner Price to become the ACC’s all-time leading left-handed passer. His 9,034 yards are the 12th-most by a southpaw quarterback in FBS history.

Defensively, cornerback Fentrell Cypress finished the season with an ACC-leading 14 pass breakups, a total that tied for 8th nationally. Cypress and fellow corner Anthony Johnson, who had 12 PBUs, are the 1st UVA duo with 12 or more breakups since Percy Ellsworth and Joe Crocker did it during 1995.

Quotable: “While Elliott may have won his new players over initially with his youth and energy, it’s his championship experience at Clemson that will likely have a more substantive impact over the long haul.

“The new coach spent 11 seasons with the Tigers, his alma mater, including the past 7 as offensive coordinator. That background, combined with the return of quarterback Brennan Armstrong and other key elements of the ACC’s best passing attack, put the Cavaliers in a strong position to continue building on the foundation Mendenhall set and win right away.”

Virginia Tech

Crystal Ball prediction: 5-7 (2-6)

Actual record: 3-8 (1-6)

Nailed it: New coach Brent Pry injected a badly needed dose of energy and optimism upon his arrival in Blacksburg. But with a roster depleted of talent, it was obvious he would have to finish tearing Tech’s once-proud program down before he could start building it back up. It would have been an extreme longshot for the Hokies to earn bowl eligibility in Year 1.

That’s exactly how Pry’s rookie season played out. The situation was exacerbated by the growing pains Pry experienced, most notably in the areas of game management and preparation. 

Another prediction that hit the mark was Tech’s anticipated struggles on offense, particularly its lack of experienced receivers beyond former walk-on Kaleb Smith, who led the team with only 37 catches. The Hokies were next-to-last in the ACC in passing offense and averaged just under 20 points per game, 4th-worst in the conference.

Big whiff: While the expectations for the Hokies were low, they weren’t low enough to include a season-opening loss to Old Dominion, a result that set an ominous tone for the rest of the season. What made the 20-17 defeat all the more frustrating is that Tech did as much to bring it about as the Monarchs, thanks to 15 penalties and 5 turnovers. And yet, it still took until the final 33 seconds for ODU to score the go-ahead touchdown.

Notable: Tech’s 7-game losing streak was its longest since losing 7 straight during 1951. Its 8 losses were its most since going 2-8-1 in 1992, when it still was a member of the Big East. This year’s 3-8 record was its worst since joining the ACC in 2004.

The Hokies finally snapped the streak with a 23-22 win against Liberty in what turned out to be their season finale, a game in which they wore orange as a show of support for rival UVA in the wake of the shooting tragedy that killed 3 members of the Cavaliers. 

Quotable: “Pry has already made progress in mending some of the relationships that were either strained or broken during the (Justin) Fuente era, both with the fans and high school coaches around Virginia who felt alienated by the previous staff.

“Now he can turn his attention to picking up the pieces of a program that was once the gold standard of consistency. He’ll likely have to take a step back before moving the Hokies forward thanks to an inherited roster light on offensive playmakers.”