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Why I'm picking FSU to beat UNC for the ACC football championship

I'm predicting FSU to win this trophy, a few blocks away from here, less than five months from now.

Matt Baker | Tampa Bay Times

I'm predicting FSU to win this trophy, a few blocks away from here, less than five months from now.



CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The ACC will announce its preseason predictions and all-conference teams in the coming days. In the meantime, you'll have to settle for picking apart what I submitted Thursday night during my stay here at the ACC Football Kickoff. But please do remember that I get paid to write, not make predictions; if I were any good at that, I'd be living in Vegas and driving a much nicer car.

Preseason Player of the Year

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. I'm really, really high on Florida State's Dalvin Cook, but Watson proved in the national title game that he's the best quarterback in the country.

Atlantic Division
Might as well flip a coin between FSU and Clemson. The winner will almost certainly take the ACC title, and I think, end up in Tampa for the Jan. 9 national title game.

FSU returns at least 16 starters, including 10 or 11 on offense (depending on the health of lineman Chad Mavety). If Sean Maguire doesn't start at quarterback, that's because FSU has a better, younger option in Deondre Francois. DeMarcus Walker will be one of the conference's best pass rushers, and Derwin James might be the best player not named Dalvin or Deshaun. Clemson is really talented, too, especially on offense.

But here's why I chose the Seminoles: Clemson returns only four defensive starters. The Tigers keep producing star defensive linemen, so that's not a concern. The issue is the secondary, which will be almost entirely new. The other deciding factor? The game is in Tallahassee, where Clemson has won only once in the last 25 years.

Predicted order of finish: FSU, Clemson, Louisville, Boston College, North Carolina State, Syracuse, Wake Forest

Coastal Division
The short answer is that I have no idea. The long answer is that I really have no idea, but I talked myself out of Miami and chose North Carolina.

The Tar Heels return 14 starters from last year's 11-win team that challenged Clemson in the conference title game. They do, however, lose quarterback Marquise Williams, which gives me pause.

Miami is in the opposite situation. The Hurricanes are set at quarterback - Brad Kaaya has the talent to be a top-five draft pick - but have issues around him. The running game and offensive line should improve, but the receiving corps was unproven even before it lost Lawrence Cager to a season-ending knee injury. I think new coach Mark Richt gets the most out of Kaaya, but it's not enough for the ‘Canes to finally break through and win the Coastal.

Predicted order of finish: UNC, Miami, Virginia Tech, Pitt, Georgia Tech, Duke, Virginia

ACC championship

FSU over UNC. The Noles make it to the College Football Playoff for the second time in three seasons.

[Last modified: Friday, July 22, 2016 9:25am]


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