As the college football world dramatically shifts, anxiety reigns supreme in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Concerns over the growing revenue gap between themselves and the “Big 2” conferences has left some of the league’s football powers looking at the exit door, with one of them already trying to kick the door down. Nevertheless, the on-field product in 2023 should be interesting as the ACC’s two resident powerhouses in Clemson and Florida State enter the year jockeying for supremacy over the league.
The Tigers are once again the defending champions as last year, they claimed their seventh league title in eight seasons. However, that 2022 team was considered a disappointment compared to other recent Dabo Swinney teams and them missing the College Football Playoff for a second year in a row led to questions over if the program is on the downswing. On the upswing, however, is FSU, who doubled its win total to 10 wins in 2022. The Seminoles have the most returning production out of any program in FBS and are already being considered as a playoff dark horse.
Trying to break into the upper tier of the league will be the usual suspects of North Carolina, Miami, and NC State, all of whom have come close but failed in their pursuit of a conference title for several years now. The Hurricanes in particular are trying to get things moving in an upward trajectory after going 5-7 in Mario Cristobal’s first season last year.
As is the case every season, it is difficult to predict the middle class of the league and it will be even more difficult now that the league has eliminated divisions (RIP Atlantic and Coastal). Any number of programs can either overachieve or underperform, from a Louisville team finally being led by Jeff Brohm, to a Syracuse team where Dino Babers escaped the hot seat last year, to a Boston College team that is still waiting to launch under Jeff Hafley. ACC Wheel of Destiny baby!
Preseason Media Poll results
Clemson Tigers (103)
Florida State Seminoles (67)
North Carolina Tar Heels (5)
NC State Wolfpack (1)
Duke Blue Devils
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Virginia Tech Hokies
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Boston College Eagles
() indicates number of first place votes
Preseason Win Totals from DraftKings Sportsbook
Clemson: 10 (Over -105, Under -115)
Florida State: 10 (Over +130, Under -150)
North Carolina: 8 (Over -130, Under +110)
Louisville: 8 (Over -110, Under -110)
Miami: 7.5 (Over +100, Under -120)
Pittsburgh: 7 (Over -120, Under +100)
NC State: 6.5 (Over -145, Under +125)
Duke: 6.5 (Over +130, Under -150)
Wake Forest: 6.5 (Over +115, Under -135)
Syracuse: 6.5 (Over +130, Under -150)
Boston College: 5.5 (Over -130, Under +110)
Virginia Tech: 5 (Over -120, Under +100)
Georgia Tech: 4.5 (Over +110, Under -130)
Virginia: 3.5 (Over +125, Under -145)
Clemson will once again enter a new season as the preseason favorite to win the ACC, but there will be a few things that are different in Tigertown. For one, sophomore quarterback Cade Klubnik will be the new starter and he already enters the season as one of the preseason odds favorites for the Heisman Trophy. Head coach Dabo Swinney showed restraint in sticking with the struggling DJ Uiagalelei throughout the 2022 season until finally relenting and benching DJU for Klubnik in the ACC Championship Game. The new starting QB will have a new offensive coordinator to work with in Garrett Riley, who Clemson poached from TCU following the Horned Frogs’ run to the national title. Dumping longtime assistant Brandon Streeter for Riley was a rare case of Swinney looking outside the Clemson family for help, so we’ll see if it pans out.
The Florida State hype machine has been cranked up over the offseason and with good reason. As mentioned before, the Noles are returning nearly all of their primary playmakers from last year’s 10-win team, including preseason Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Travis at quarterback. Travis will have dangerous weapons like running back Trey Benson, receiver Johnny Wilson, and tight end Jaheim Bell at his disposal throughout the year. Meanwhile, All-American defensive end Jared Verse skipped out on the NFL Draft to return to Tallahassee, FL, and is a prime candidate to win ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
North Carolina has been synonymous with explosive offenses during Mack Brown’s second stint with the program and that could once again be the case this season. Quarterback Drake Maye is back to operate the controls and not only is he a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate, there are some murmurs of him potentially being the No. 1 overall pick of next year’s NFL Draft. He now has new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey to work with and unlike his predecessor Phil Longo, his style may allow for the much maligned defense to get a breather in between drives.
QB Brennan Armstrong: Virginia to NC State
QB Phil Jurkovec: Boston College to Pitt
CB Fentrell Cypress: Virginia to Florida State
WR Devontez Walker: Kent State to North Carolina
WR Jamari Thrash: Georgia State to Louisville
OL Javion Cohen: Alabama to Miami
TE Jaheim Bell: South Carolina to Florida State
WR Keon Coleman: Michigan State to Florida State
DL Braden Fiske: Western Michigan to Florida State
WR Ali Jennings: Old Dominion to Virginia Tech
Miami over 7.5 wins (+100)
Ok, let’s not get too crazy here. Miami most likely will not serious compete for the ACC title this season. However, there is a path to eight wins for Cristobal’s bunch. The team has a returning starting quarterback in Tyler Van Dyke and the scheme being implemented by new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson should allow for TVD to chuck in all over the yard this year. The staff went hard in the transfer portal to fortify different positions on the field and you could see more cohesion this season. Assuming that games like Clemson and Florida State will be L’s for the Hurricanes, there’s plenty of other matchups on the schedule that could have Miami 8-9 win territory by the end of the year.
Boston College under 5.5 (+110)
Boston College finished with a mediocre 3-9 record in 2022 and while things may get marginally better in Chestnut Hill this fall, I don’t see the Eagles making a bowl. There’s plenty of question marks on offense and Zay Flowers is no longer there to bail them out on big plays. The team is ranked 89th in preseason offensive SP+ and may have to grind out defensive slugfests to win. Even with what looks like a manageable schedule on paper, I’d take the under on BC wins.
The 2023 ACC champion will be... Florida State
I’m buying into hype and picking FSU to reclaim its crown at the top of the ACC. As mentioned before, the Noles’ roster is loaded and brought legitimate NFL talent back from a 10-win team last season. That much experience on both sides of the ball is too much to ignore and I think that they will topple Clemson in Charlotte come December.