Order of finish based on preseason media poll
CLEMSON — Led by Tajh Boyd, one of the most productive quarterbacks in ACC history, the Tigers face heightened expectations that include a BCS bowl berth. Boyd, who willed Clemson to a gritty Peach Bowl victory over LSU that capped an 11-2 season, will have WR Sammy Watkins, a Biletnikoff Award candidate, as his talented sidekick.
FLORIDA STATE — Fourth-year coach Jimbo Fisher, who owns a 31-10 record, has handed the reins to redshirt freshman QB Jameis Winston, who has reminded many in Tallahassee of former Heisman winner Charlie Ward. Winston will be among 13 new starters and six new assistants for the new-look Seminoles.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE — Transition will be the operative word in Raleigh as first-year coach Dave Doeren, who went 23-4 at Northern Illinois, attempts to stretch the Wolfpack’s streak of bowl appearances to five. He’ll need to replace QB Mike Glennon and four offensive linemen, and overhaul a secondary prone to giving up big plays. Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas could be Doeren’s answer at QB.
WAKE FOREST — Jim Grobe, who is four wins shy of the school’s all-time record (77), returns 17 starters and 44 lettermen from last season’s 5-7 squad. But Grobe is hoping RB Josh Harris, the team’s leading rusher, will lead a thin group. Veteran QB Tanner Price and WR Michael Campanaro, the ACC’s active receptions leader (162), are a formidable duo.
MARYLAND — The Terrapins hope to make a splash in their last season in the ACC before heading to the Big Ten. With 70 percent of its offensive and defensive two-deep roster returning, Maryland could very well make some noise. WR Stefon Diggs, who had a sensational freshman campaign with 848 receiving yards, is the Terps’ most dynamic player.
SYRACUSE — Everything is new again for the Orange, who are making their ACC debut and playing for new head coach Scott Shafer. Syracuse has new coordinators and has to get familiar with a new slate of conference opponents while breaking in a new quarterback, two new starters on the offensive line, and several key players on defense.
BOSTON COLLEGE — The Eagles, who went 6-18 in Frank Spaziani’s last two seasons, will face myriad changes under first-year coach Steve Addazio, who will need some time for his implemented system changes to have a real impact.
MIAMI — With NCAA sanctions hovering over their heads, the Hurricanes will attempt to carry on business as usual on the field. QB Stephen Morris, who won the skills competition at the Manning Passing Academy last month, and RB Duke Johnson, the ACC’s Rookie of the Year, lead 19 returning starters.
VIRGINIA TECH — Apart from opening the season against two-time defending national champion Alabama, the Hokies have no worries, really. The dismissal of RB Michael Holmes following his spring arrest left a gaping hole in the backfield, leaving Frank Beamer to rely upon QB Logan Thomas to stabilize the offense. Defensively, the Hokies return nine starters.
NORTH CAROLINA — The Tar Heels defense, led by a secondary that returns four starters, is solid. Senior QB Bryn Renner, one of the league’s most accurate passers, will be back at the helm and look to improve on the eight wins coach Larry Fedora had last season, the most by a UNC first-year coach.
GEORGIA TECH — Although the Yellow Jackets lost two-thirds of their vaunted triple-option offense in QB Tevin Washington and RB Orwin Smith, who combined for 1,366 rushing yards and 25 TDs, Paul Johnson believes there won’t be much of a drop-off with QB Vad Lee, who passed for 596 yards and 4 TDs last season.
PITTSBURGH — The Panthers likely will get a rude greeting to the league when they host Florida State in their opener. With seven returning starters, including DT Aaron Donald, second-year coach Paul Chryst will be looking for his defense to set the tone. Offensively, Pitt has several holes to fill in the backfield with the loss of RBs Ray Graham (Texans) and Rushel Shell (transfer to West Virginia).
VIRGINIA — After the Cavaliers lost 10 of their last 14 games, coach Mike London faces a pivotal season. He must first solve a QB decision between David Watford and Greyson Lambert. The starter will have an array of targets in WRs Darius Jennings, Tim Smith, Dominique Terrell, and E.J. Scott, and TE Jake McGee, who combined for 163 receptions for 2,212 yards and 17 TDs last year.
DUKE — David Cutcliffe will be hard-pressed to duplicate the success of last season’s 6-7 campaign, which was highlighted by the Blue Devils’ first bowl appearance in 18 years. While seven offensive starters return, including four linemen, few are playmakers. QB Anthony Boone will be expected to spark the offense.
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.