CHARLOTTE, N.C. — I left Orlando in December thinking Florida State should be favored to win the ACC championship this season. Nothing that has happened since then has changed my mind, which is why I picked the Seminoles to beat Clemson to win the conference in the league’s media poll and predicted order of finish.
The gap isn’t big, and I don’t think FSU will run away with its first ACC title since 2014. But the ‘Noles have an experienced, talented roster, led by my ACC preseason player of the year, quarterback Jordan Travis. I trust him more than Clemson’s Cade Klubnik, just as I trust Mike Norvell’s offense more than whatever the Dabo Swinney-Garrett Riley system looks like. I also give FSU an edge on offensive skill talent, and I think the defense will be good again.
There are, however, a few potential pitfalls. Clemson has generally outrecruited FSU, so depth is a concern. There’s a big gap between star defensive end Jared Verse and the Seminoles’ options to replace him, if he suffered a significant injury. It’s also possible that Riley is a wunderkind like his older brother, USC coach Lincoln Riley. Maybe he’ll immediately fix the Tigers’ offense. The fact that their Week 4 matchup is at Clemson is another factor, though a rematch in the title game would be here in Charlotte at a neutral site.
A few other thoughts from my ballot before the full media poll comes out Tuesday:
• As usual, I had no idea what to do about Miami, which is consistently one of the hardest teams in the nation to figure out. If quarterback Tyler Van Dyke returns to his 2021 form and the Hurricanes’ talent plays up to its potential, Miami could finish third, if not higher. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Miami continued to struggle and finished as low as ninth. I settled in the middle at No. 6.
• North Carolina was an easy choice at No. 3 for me because of star quarterback Drake Maye (whom I also strongly considered as my preseason player of the year). The future first-round pick is the separating factor between the Tar Heels and the rest of the ACC’s large middle class. No need to overthink things, despite my concerns surrounding the defense.
• Though I like Jeff Brohm’s long-term future at Louisville, I’m not sure about what he’ll field in his first season at his alma mater. The Cardinals’ schedule doesn’t include Florida State, Clemson or North Carolina, which pushed them to fifth.
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• The most important stat at Duke last year was 9-4 — its record in Mike Elko’s debut. The second most important stat was this: plus-16. That was the Blue Devils’ turnover margin last year, and it’s an unsustainable figure. I’m expecting a regression and Duke to finish seventh.
• My final three teams, in order, are Georgia Tech, Boston College and Virginia. The Eagles are the most interesting of the three. Former Bucs assistant Jeff Hafley went 12-11 in his first two seasons (fine for Boston College) but stumbled to 3-9 last year. I don’t think he makes it to Year 5.
My ACC predicted order of finish:
1. Florida State
3. North Carolina
8. North Carolina State
9. Wake Forest
11. Virginia Tech
12. Georgia Tech
13. Boston College
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