This was far from a quiet offseason throughout the ACC footprint, as conference realignment elsewhere has only added to the unease among many of the members about the future.
On the field, the product has been going through some ups and downs as well, with the middle class of programs looking stronger but the league failing to produce a CFP contender for the second year in a row.
Despite all that, this just might be the most interesting season in a while along the coast. Clemson and Florida State are both ranked in the top 10 and could play twice, there’s a potential No. 1 overall pick at North Carolina, and new coaches like Jeff Brohm are bringing plenty of fresh energy to dark horse contenders like Louisville.
With that in mind, here’s a look at every team in the ACC listed in a predicted order of finish:
Coach: Dabo Swinney (15th season, 161-39 overall)
Last season: 11-3 overall, 8-0 ACC
Postseason: Lost to Tennessee in Orange Bowl
Players to Watch: QB Cade Klubnik — Threw for 680 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs in his final two games in taking over for DJ Uiagalelei. RB Will Shipley — First-Team All-ACC pick rushed for 1,182 yards and 15 touchdowns while also being a threat out of the backfield. LB Jeremiah Trotter Jr. — 2022 All-American after leading the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks.
What we’re excited to watch: Broyles Award winner Garrett Riley arrives from TCU to revamp an offense that struggled to find much consistency or explosiveness.
What success looks like: The Tigers failed to make the CFP in consecutive seasons for the first time since the playoff began and ending that streak is the goal for Swinney and company.
Achilles’ heel: The lack of explosive playmakers beyond Shipley remains a cause for concern as Antonio Williams led the team in receiving as a freshman and there were no notable transfers added to the offense.
X-Factor: How much a difference the new offense will make for a team that remains far more talented than anybody on their schedule.
Clemson replaces Brandon Streeter with TCU’s Garrett Riley | Number One College Football Show
Coach: Mike Norvell (4th season at FSU, eighth as a head coach. 56-31 overall)
Last season: 10-3 overall, 5-3 ACC
Postseason: Beat Oklahoma in Cheez-It Bowl
Players to Watch: QB Jordan Travis — Heisman Trophy candidate had 32 touchdowns and just five interceptions last year when he led the league in quarterback rating. WR Johnny Wilson — Notched 202 of his nearly 900 yards in the bowl game and is Travis’ go-to pass catcher. DE Jared Verse — Potential top-10 pick returned to school after recording nine sacks and earning first-team All-ACC honors.
What we’re excited to watch: Are the ‘Noles back? A difficult early schedule will put a loaded roster to the test.
What success looks like: Winning the ACC and threatening a return to the College Football Playoff are the aims in Tallahassee.
Achilles’ heel: FSU has lost seven straight to conference rival Clemson and have to go to Death Valley this year.
X-Factor: Wideout Keon Coleman transferred in after leading Michigan State in receptions, yards and touchdowns to give Travis yet another dangerous target in the passing game.
Coach: Jeff Brohm (1st season at Louisville, 10th as a head coach. 66-44 overall)
Last season: 8-5 overall, 4-4 ACC
Postseason: Beat Cincinnati in Fenway Bowl
Players to Watch: QB Jack Plummer — Former Purdue and Cal transfer has experience in Brohm’s system and 25 starts under his belt. RB Jawhar Jordan — Averaged 5.7 yards/carry last season while doubling as a threat out of the backfield. WR Jamari Thrash — First-Team All-Sun Belt selection at Georgia State after 1,122 yards and 7 TDs.
What we’re excited to watch: Brohm knows as well as any head coach how to put on an offensive show and should have plenty to work with taking over at his alma mater.
What success looks like: The schedule sets up for nine or more wins but the key for the new staff is getting even with in-state rival Kentucky to end the campaign.
Achilles’ heel: The offensive line is replacing three of five starters up front while not adding too much in the trenches via the portal.
X-Factor: The secondary has been completely revamped for new defensive coordinators Ron English and Mark Hagen, which could help the Cardinals remain salty on the backend.
North Carolina State
Coach: Dave Doeren (11th season at N.C. State, 13th as a head coach. 95-58 overall)
Last season: 8-5 overall, 4-4 ACC
Postseason: Lost to Maryland in Duke’s Mayo Bowl.
Players to Watch: QB Brennan Armstrong — Prolific passer and Virginia transfer reunites with OC Robert Anae. WR Bradley Rozner — Eighth-year senior receiver arrives from Rice after averaging nearly 20 yards per catch in 2022. CB Aydan White — First-team All-ACC pick had four interceptions last season.
What we’re excited to watch: Armstrong and Anae should be throwing the ball all over the yard to help juice an offense that had finished 116th in FBS in yards per play a year ago.
What success looks like: Reaching double-digit wins is an elusive mark the Wolfpack have aiming for but matching last year’s win total with a much more productive offense will probably be enough.
Achilles’ heel: There will be new faces all throughout the spine of the ACC’s best defense from the past two years.
X-Factor: Armstrong is a veteran and can help win games if he cuts down on the turnovers that plagued him during his final year in Charlottesville.
Coach: Dino Babers (8th season at Syracuse, 12th as a head coach. 73-65 overall)
Last season: 7-6 overall, 4-4 ACC
Postseason: Lost to Minnesota in Pinstripe Bowl
Players to Watch: QB Garrett Shrader — Sneaky dual-threat who had 17 touchdowns through the air and nine on the ground. TE Oronde Gadsden II — First-team All-ACC last year who was among the best pass catchers at his position last year in FBS (969 yards, 6 TDs). LB Marlowe Wax — Had a team-high 91 tackles (10.5 for a loss) and 4.5 sacks last season.
What we’re excited to watch: Veteran head coach Rocky Long is running the 3-3-5 defense in upstate New York this year.
What success looks like: Reaching a bowl game is always the goal for the Orange but a better second half of the year is paramount.
Achilles’ heel: The loss of tailback Sean Tucker leaves a massive vacuum in the run game and could make Syracuse even more one-dimensional.
X-Factor: There’s an almost entirely new secondary for Long to develop if the team has a hope of slowing opponents down this year.
Coach: Dave Clawson (10th season at Wake Forest, 24 as a head coach. 149-133 overall)
Last season: 8-5 overall, 3-5 ACC
Postseason: Beat Missouri in Gasparilla Bowl
Players to Watch: RB Justice Ellison – All-ACC caliber back who had 707 yards and six touchdowns last season. WR Donavon Greene — Leading returning receiver for the Deacs averaged 17.4 yards per catch in 2022. DL Jasheen Davis — Disruptor up front had six sacks and 13 TFL a year ago.
What we’re excited to watch: Despite losing plenty on the offensive side of the ball, the slow mesh is a thing of beauty and is why Wake has averaged 35+ points per game the last three years.
What success looks like: Reaching or exceeding eight wins would be a big accomplishment given the number contributors Clawson must replace.
Achilles’ heel: The defense has been near the bottom of the ACC for the past several years and returns only five starters.
X-Factor: New QB Mitch Griffis is replacing a school legend in Sam Hartman and will determine just how much of a rebuilding job this season will be.
Coach: Jeff Hafley (4th season, 15-20 overall)
Last season: 3-9 overall, 2-6 ACC
Players to Watch: RB Pat Garwo III — Second-team All-ACC in 2021 when he rushed for over 1,000 yards, he’s a workhorse back with size. WR Ryan O’Keefe — UCF transfer had 13 touchdowns in the past two seasons is a much-needed vertical threat. DE Donovan Ezeiruaku — Team leader in sacks (8.5) and tackles for loss (14.5) was an All-ACC selection last year.
What we’re excited to watch: There are three new coordinators running the show in 2023 for the Eagles.
What success looks like: A bowl game and an offense that is passable to watch will take the heat off Jeff Hafley coming out of year four.
Achilles’ heel: The offensive line gave up more sacks than anybody in the Power Five and contributed to BC coming in dead last in FBS in rushing.
X-Factor: The secondary is replacing all four starters but got several key transfer additions via the transfer portal, including corner Khari Johnson.
Coach: Mack Brown (15 season at UNC, 35th as a head coach. 274-144-1 overall)
Last season: 9-5 overall, 6-2 ACC
Postseason: Lost to Oregon in Holiday Bowl
Players to Watch: QB Drake Maye — Future top-five pick is reigning ACC Player of the Year and led the country in total yards last season. RB Elijah Green — Averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry and rushed for eight touchdowns in the final six games of the regular season. LB Cedric Gray — Led the ACC in tackles with 146 while also pulling down a pair of interceptions.
What we’re excited to watch: Maye is a legitimate Heisman Trophy favorite and will put plenty of pressure on NFL teams to take him over Caleb Williams with the top pick in the draft.
What success looks like: Reaching the ACC title game again and making the most of Maye’s time in Chapel Hill.
Achilles’ heel: Gene Chizik returns as coordinator for a defense that was dead last in the ACC.
X-Factor: New OC Chip Lindsey brings a new offensive mindset that will be quite the contrast to Phil Longo’s up–tempo Air Raid attack.
UNC’s Drake Maye passes to Bryson Nesbit for a TD
Coach: Mike Elko (2nd season, 9-4 overall)
Last season: 9-4 overall, 5-3 ACC
Postseason: Beat UCF in Military Bowl
Players to Watch: QB Riley Leonard — Future NFL draft pick had just six turnovers last season while accounting for 33 total touchdowns. WR Jalon Calhoun — Dangerous All-ACC receiver who recorded 873 yards and four scores in 2022. DT DeWayne Carter — Recorded more quarterback pressures the past two season than any other Power 5 tackle.
What we’re excited to watch: The Blue Devils recorded their best finish in a decade thanks largely to their ability to win close games and record the second-best turnover margin in FBS. Can they keep that trend up?
What success looks like: Equaling last year’s nine-win would be an incredible accomplishment but reaching a bowl game for back-to-back seasons remains the bar to clear in Durham.
Achilles’ heel: Despite progress under Elko, Duke still had the worst third–down defense in the ACC in 2022.
X-Factor: Leonard remains one of the savviest dual-threat QBs in the country and could take his game to another level given how much of his supporting cast has returned.
Coach: Mario Cristobal (2nd season at Miami, 12th as a head coach. 67-67 overall)
Last season: 5-7 overall, 3-5 ACC
Players to Watch: QB Tyler Van Dyke — Struggled last season but burst onto the scene in 2021 with 26/6 touchdown/interception ratio. WR Tyler Harrell — Speedster should boost a healthy receiving corps after arriving from Alabama. S Kamren Kinchens — All-American safety is one of the best around and led the Power 5 in interceptions last season.
What we’re excited to watch: New coordinators Shannon Dawson (offense) and Lance Guidry (defense) are both big upgrades for either side of the ball.
What success looks like: Winning eight or nine games and regaining some of the swagger The U lost last year.
Achilles’ heel: RB Henry Parrish Jr. was an All-ACC selection but the Hurricanes finished 96th in rushing offense and must replace four starters up front.
X-Factor: DE Akheem Mesidor (seven sacks) and DT Leonard Taylor III both had 10.5 TFL and could be primed for monster years together in a new system.
Coach: Pat Narduzzi (9th season, 62-41 overall)
Last season: 9-4 overall, 5-3 ACC
Postseason: Beat UCLA in Sun Bowl.
Players to Watch: QB Phil Jurkovec — Boston College transfer replaces Kedon Slovis and reunites with OC Frank Cignetti. RB Rodney Hammond Jr. — Looked great in the bowl win over UCLA as the top option replacing Israel Abanikanda (21 TDs last year). CB MJ Devonshire — Lockdown corner was All-ACC selection last season after recording three interceptions.
What we’re excited to watch: The names may change but the Panthers’ defense is continually one of the best in the conference.
What success looks like: The toughest conference games all come at home so equaling last year’s nine wins and potentially going to the ACC title game is a worthy bar to set.
Achilles’ heel: The offense is replacing their workhorse in Abanikanda who had half of Pitt’s touchdowns last year.
X-Factor: Jurkovec can be a reliable signal-caller but injury issues have kept him from 10 games the last two years.
Coach: Brent Key (2nd season, 4-4 overall)
Last season: 5-7 overall, 4-4 ACC
Players to Watch: QB Haynes King — Texas A&M transfer started for the Aggies each of the past two seasons and gives the Yellow Jackets a veteran signal-caller who can push the ball down the field. WR Christian Leary — Alabama transfer is a versatile threat who can run the ball as easily as he can catch it out of the slot. S LaMiles Brooks — One of the best safeties in the ACC had 52 tackles and three picks last season.
What we’re excited to watch: The Brent Key era is fully underway on the Flats and there’s some optimism around Atlanta after a strong finish with the alum installed as the fulltime head coach now.
What success looks like: A bowl game would be a welcome sight for the Yellow Jackets.
Achilles’ heel: The run defense was the worst in the ACC last year and gave up over 200 yards on the ground in losses.
X-Factor: New offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner won a couple of titles up the road in Athens and takes over an offense that has several notable transfers and the entire offensive line back.
Coach: Brent Pry (2nd season, 3-8 overall)
Last season: 3-8 overall, 1-6 ACC
Players to Watch: QB Grant Wells — Had as many touchdowns as interceptions (nine) last season while transitioning to Power Five football after an All-CUSA campaign at Marshall. WR Ali Jennings — First-team All-Sun Belt last year after averaging 107 yards/game. CB Mansoor Delane — One of the better corners in the ACC was a one-man island that QBs avoided.
What we’re excited to watch: Wells’ penchant for running around and making plays leads to as many amazing scores as it does puzzling turnovers. We’ll see how he does with another year in the system.
What success looks like: A bowl game and winning more than one ACC game, as they did a year ago, would be big progress in Blacksburg.
Achilles’ heel: The defense had the fewest takeaways of any Power 5 team last year.
X-Factor: The Hokies ceiling and floor will ultimately be decided by how Wells plays and takes care of the ball.
Coach: Tony Elliott (2nd season, 3-7 overall)
Last season: 3-7 overall, 1-6 ACC
Players to Watch: QB Tony Muskett — First-team All-Big South the past two seasons while leading FCS Monmouth. RB Mike Hollins — Survived tragic shooting at UVA to return to the field. DE Chico Bennett Jr. — Had a team-high seven sacks last season as one of the few consistent threats off the edge.
What we’re excited to watch: The defense made big strides in Elliott’s first year but will the offense match them in Year 2?
What success looks like: Reaching a bowl game and showing some progress will lead to plenty of optimism around Charlottesville.
Achilles’ heel: The Hoos have to replace the all-time leading passer, four offensive linemen and three of their top wideouts.
X-Factor: Muskett put up some great numbers at the FCS level but it remains to be seen how he’ll translate to the Power Five to boost an offense that was one of the worst in the country.
ACC STANDINGS PREDICTIONS:
- Florida State
- North Carolina State
- Wake Forest
- Boston College
- North Carolina
- Georgia Tech
- Virginia Tech
Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.
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