1. Virginia Tech Hokies (7-1, 10-3)
2. North Carolina Tar Heels (6-2, 9-3)
3. Miami Hurricanes (6-2, 9-3)
4. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (5-3, 8-4)
5. Pittsburgh Panthers (3-5, 6-6)
6. Duke Blue Devils (1-7, 4-8)
7. Virginia Cavaliers (1-7, 3-9)
1. Florida State Seminoles (8-0, 13-0)
2. Clemson Tigers (7-1, 10-2)
3. Maryland Terrapins (4-4, 7-5)
4. North Carolina State Wolfpack (3-5, 6-6)
5. Boston College Eagles (2-6, 5-7)
6. Syracuse Orange (2-6, 4-8)
7. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (1-7, 3-9)
ACC Championship Game: Florida State Seminoles over Virginia Tech Hokies
Will Florida State tease once again? - The talent has been undeniable, the expectations realistic, the results disappointing. Jimbo Fisher finally got an ACC Championship last season, but the Seminole fan base craves more. Gone are E.J. Manuel at quarterback and 7 defensive starters, but the expectations will remain the same...this team is good enough to play for the final BCS Championship 16 years after playing in the first. Start with a defense that allowed just 14.7 ppg and the second fewest yards in the country. There are starters to be replaced, especially along the defensive line, but some of the replacements were more effective than the starters last season. The defense may face some early bumps, but the Seminoles should not be seriously challenged in the first five weeks. On offense, most of the skill players return along with 4 offensive lineman. The big change is at quarterback, where redshirt freshman Jameis Winston steps in for Manuel. The early reviews are glowing and Winston seems most likely to follow in the Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel footsteps. If he is as good as advertised, this is a Championship contender.
I obviously am buying the hype with my 13-0 prediction. The biggest games are at Clemson and at Florida. A week off before the Clemson game works in the favor of the 'Noles. Florida is poised for a challenging season and will not be the roadblock many would expect. The obvious challenge might be avoiding a loss to a surprise opponent.
Right now, my Bowl Projection has Florida State out of the National Championship Game. With the current uncertainty surrounding Manziel at Texas A&M, they could find themselves in that slot before the season starts (as I promise not to give you Alabama).
Is the Tigers defense ready for prime-time? - Other than Louisville, Clemson might have the most positive momentum from their bowl victory after upsetting LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. With Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins back, the Tigers offense looks to be prolific once again. The key is the development on defense, especially in games against Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State. Georgia is loaded on offense, South Carolina currently has Clemson's number and FSU rang up over 600 yards and 49 points a year ago against Clemson.
The Georgia and Florida State games come first and are both at home, where traditionally Clemson is tough to beat. If they can win those and avoid the pitfalls that can be NC State and Georgia Tech, the South Carolina game could vault Clemson into National Title contention. One key component that should not be overlooked is if these games are close, Clemson has the top kicker in Chandler Catanzaro.
Who returns to the top, the Hokies or Hurricanes? - There is a lot of hype surrounding the return of the Miami Hurricanes to the top of the ACC. They are a popular pick to win the Coastal and play in the ACC Championship game. There is a lot to like about this team, with senior Stephen Morris leading the way at quarterback, but the defense remains a huge question mark. I have a hard time backing a team that gave up over 30 ppg last season and looked lost in the spring. The Hurricanes will be good, but not Coastal-winning good.
That brings me to Frank Beamer's Hokies, who struggled on defense for a time last season before turning it around late. That turn-around, with 9 defensive starters returning is reason for great optimism. Florida State and Clemson are also off the schedule, replaced by Maryland and Pittsburgh. The key will be Logan Thomas and the offense, who will need to score points against the likes of Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Miami.
- The Tar Heels should not be counted out of the Coastal race. Bryn Renner is a stud and the Tar Heels had the best scoring margin in the Coastal last season by almost 10 points. If the defensive improves slightly, this team could be playing for the ACC Championship.
- Maryland was injury-riddled last season, so you probably missed the emergence of Stefon Diggs. The wide receiver/return man is as explosive as any player in College Football. The key for the Terps will be finding ways to put the ball in his hands as often as possible.
- Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the conference, but hardly a peep is expected from either as they adjust to ACC-life. That will change come basketball season.
Worst Non-Conference Schedule: Maryland. FIU, Old Dominion, UConn and West Virginia provide the Terrapins a legit chance at starting off the season 4-0.
Thank You ACC Schedule: Clemson. The Tigers play in the weaker Atlantic where Florida State is the only major challenge. Cross-over games against Georgia Tech and Virginia are manageable.
Curse You ACC Schedule: Virginia. The Cavaliers play in the tougher Coastal Division, plus they draw Clemson and Maryland in cross-over. It could be a long year.
Best Player: Tajh Boyd, Clemson. Want a sleeper pick for the Heisman? Boyd has the marquee games to steal the award.
Best Newcomer: Jameis Winston, Florida State. There will be no Heisman to steal if Winston's Seminoles go into Clemson and win.
Weekly Games to Watch
Aug 31 - Virginia Tech vs Alabama (Atlanta)...This will be a good measuring stick for the Hokies defense, trying to contain the Crimson Tides power running game and speed on the outside.
Sept 7- Florida at Miami...An in-state rivalry is renewed and the ACC hopes to get one from the SEC.
Sept 14 - Virginia Tech at East Carolina...This could be a tricky road game for Beamer's boys.
Sept 21 - North Carolina at Georgia Tech...Two Coastal Division hopefuls try to take an early-season advantage.
Sept 26 - Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech...If the Yellow Jackets are for real, we will know after this 5-day stretch.
Oct 5 - Georgia Tech at Miami...A third straight week of Coastal contenders for the Ramblin' Wreck.
Oct 12 - Virginia at Maryland...Not much going on this week, so check out Stefon Diggs if you have the opportunity.
Oct 19 - Florida State at Clemson...The biggest game on the list, the Seminoles haven't won at Clemson since 2001.
Oct 26 - Clemson at Maryland...A tricky game on the Tigers schedule, considering the week prior.
Nov 2 - Miami at Florida State...See above. The Hurricanes could ruin the Seminoles season.
Nov 9 - Virginia Tech at Miami...The back-end of a tough two-game stretch for the Hurricanes.
Nov 14 - Georgia Tech at Clemson...I am not sure the Clemson defense has figured out the Tech offense, despite last season's victory.
Nov 23 - Pittsburgh at Syracuse...Don't confuse this for the Big East when you look at the schedule.
Nov 30 - Clemson at South Carolina...Depending on how things fall, this game could have National Title implications.
Dec 7 - ACC Championship Game...Florida State and Clemson hope bigger things are on the line than the Orange Bowl if they get to here.
BCS Orange Bowl: Florida State Seminoles
Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Clemson Tigers
Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami Hurricanes
Sun Bowl: Virginia Tech Hokies
Belk Bowl: North Carolina Tar Heels
Music City Bowl: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Advocare V100 Bowl: North Carolina State Wolfpack
Military Bowl: Pittsburgh Panthers
Pinstripe Bowl: Maryland Terrapins (replacement for Big 12)