Yes, ACC, you were the best conference of 2016. But what about 2017? Though Clemson has suffered heavy losses, Florida State appears to be reloaded and a legitimate College Football Playoff contender. Louisville returns the defending Heisman Trophy winner. Miami is once again predicted to win the Coastal for the first time in program history. And myriad other teams in the league appear to be on the upswing after hiring new coaches a year ago.

However, as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. The pressure is now on the ACC to hold on to the mantle it snatched away from the SEC a year ago while other conferences breathe down their collective neck. Keep on reading to see the CBS Sports college football team’s unique takes on the ACC entering the 2017 season.  

Most overrated team

North Carolina: The expectations are not quite as high for UNC this season after winning the Coastal division in 2015 and being the favorite in 2016 but falling short. There is a lot of production gone from both sides of the ball.  The Heels will likely ask LSU transfer Brandon Harris to fill the shoes of the No. 2 pick Mitch Trubisky. Harris was not all that good at LSU, though, and he will have a lot of inexperienced people around him.  Some see this as a step back year that could find the Heels in the middle of the typically unstable Coastal.  An unfavorable schedule may send them even lower than that. — Jerry Palm (and Ben Kercheval)

Miami: I think Miami will win the ACC Coastal. A 9-3 record is a pretty reasonable expectation this season and 10-2 wouldn’t shock me. But we should all tap our breaks a little bit if the Canes are heading into November at 7-1. “The U” isn’t all the way back just yet. Despite an impending division title, put Miami in the Atlantic and it might finish fifth. Put it in the Big Ten East and it’s fourth; in the Big Ten West it finishes third. It’d be the fifth-best team in the SEC West, middle of the pack in the Big 12, and it would fit in nicely with the unpredictable SEC East. So yes, I think Miami is properly rated as the favorite in the ACC Coastal but that’s the only division in Power Five football that it would top. — Barton Simmons

Clemson: You don’t lose Mike Williams, Jordan Legget, Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman and contend for the ACC title, much less the playoff. Sorry. Dabo Swinney has established Clemson as a national power, no doubt about that. But for this one season, the Tigers take a step back, out of the top 10. — Dennis Dodd

Louisville: I love Lamar Jackson, but I just don’t see how he’s going to have success this year in this particular division. What is Louisville’s weakness? An offensive line that looked more like a turnstile than a functional unit. And that group is going to hold off Clemson, NC State, Florida State, Boston College led by Harold Landry, and not suffer any random upsets when the line doesn’t come to play? I don’t see it. Louisville is, at best, a three-loss team this year. After all, Jackson can’t do it all. — Barrett Sallee 

Virginia Tech: The Hokies are going to field one of the best defenses in the ACC this year. I’m a huge Tremaine Edmunds fan — the guy is an absolute heat-seeking missile on the field — and think that Bud Foster will have that group ready to dominate every time they take the field. But in conversations with others around the ACC, I find myself a little bit less enthused with the offensive potential than others. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Josh Jackson has been given the keys to Justin Fuente’s offense, but until he’s out there on Saturdays, I’m not ready to assume he’s going to be able to replicate the production of record setting quarterback Jerod Evans. I just don’t think things are going to come as easily on offense in 2017 — between the quarterback and the skill position turnover — making another 10-win season seem like a stretch. Virginia Tech could definitely still win the ACC Coastal again, but this group won’t be as electric as some are expecting. — Chip Patterson

Pittsburgh: It’s hard to overrate anybody in the Coastal because it’s so wide open on an annual basis, so this isn’t a knock on Pitt’s potential as much as it’s a gut feeling I have that the Panthers could slide a bit this year. It’s not just that Pitt is one of the younger teams in the ACC this season, it’s that it also must replace its quarterback, running back, nearly its entire front seven and half of its secondary. Oh, and offensive coordinator Matt Canada left to take the same job at LSU. I just see this team taking quite a few lumps in 2017. — Tom Fornelli


Most underrated team

Georgia Tech: From tackle-to-tackle, Georgia Tech has a stellar offensive line and one of the most experienced groups Paul Johnson has had in a handful of years. This team has been building back to ACC title contention since the bottom fell out in 2015, winning nine games a year ago and finishing the season with wins against Georgia and Kentucky. I think the Yellow Jackets will show up in a big way on Monday night against Tennessee in Atlanta and get to work on chasing their first ACC Coastal title since 2014. — Chip Patterson (and Barton Simmons)

Clemson: Where does this mindset come from that Clemson’s success came on the shoulders of Watson? It didn’t. It came from Swinney’s ability to recruit a balanced and lethal roster that, in the case of this season, matches up really well with its division foes. The Tigers are set on both lines of scrimmage, especially on the defensive side of the ball where Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell will dominate weaker offensive lines at Florida State and Louisville — two of the primary contenders in the division. Kelly Bryant, Hunter Johnson, Zerrick Cooper or whoever takes the snaps still has a talented group of skill players with whom to work — including receivers Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow — and he won’t be asked to be a difference-maker early on. — Barrett Sallee (and Tom Fornelli)

Miami: One of the nation’s best front seven will carry the Hurricanes close to — if not on top of — that elusive first Coastal title despite breaking in a new quarterback. Also watch for the leading returning rusher in the ACC, Mark Jackson (1,117 yards in 2016). And isn’t it about time Miami beat FSU? It hasn’t happened since 2009. It’s time for the Canes, who have more “30 for 30” documentaries (two) than ACC division titles (none) since joining the league in 2004, to get it done. — Dennis Dodd 

Louisville: The Cardinals’ biggest problem is that they are in the same division as Florida State and Clemson. This is no worse than the third-best team in the ACC, and with Jackson back to defend his Heisman Trophy, you can count on more video game numbers on offense.  Last season, Jackson was sacked too much and often had to make plays on the run.  If the offensive line improves, the offense could be even more frightening to opponents.  Louisville’s defense will return most of the unit that finished in the top 20 in the nation.  The biggest question mark is new coordinator Peter Sirmon.  Don’t be surprised of the Cards take a step forward this year despite sharing a division with the Noles and Tigers. — Jerry Palm

Syracuse: When Dino Babers took this job, it was positioned as a much-needed jolt for a program that had fallen on hard times. A high-powered offense on the fast track of the Carrier Dome? You can sell that. Though ‘Cuse went 4-8 in Babers’ first season, a 31-17 home upset over then-No. 17 Virginia Tech was validation that Babers and Syracuse were on to something. The Orange played a ton of young guys last season, so just about everyone is a year older and wiser. Plus, Eric Dungey returns as one of the better quarterbacks in a conference that will break in a lot of new signal-callers. The schedule is brutal — no team should have road games at LSU, NC State, Miami, Florida State and Louisville in the same season — so don’t be surprised if the Orange finish under .500 again. But this should be a team better than the record indicates. Who knows, maybe there’s another surprise upset in store leading the way to a third-year leap for Babers in 2018. — Ben Kercheval


Bold predictions

  • Dennis Dodd: FSU will go unbeaten in the regular season. That means wins over Alabama and at Clemson. You got a problem with that?
  • Barton Simmons: The ACC Championship Game will feature a battle between two true freshman at starting quarterback after Miami’s N’Kosi Perry and Clemson’s Hunter Johnson take over starting jobs midway through the season.
  • Jerry Palm: Louisville may finish third in its division again, but Lamar Jackson will be the first since Archie Griffin to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner.
  • Chip Patterson: Georgia Tech beats both Tennessee and Georgia, extending the Yellow Jackets’ win streak over the SEC East to four games.
  • Tom Fornelli: Despite the losses of Deshaun Watson and its top receivers, Clemson will still have the most potent offense in the ACC.
  • Ben Kercheval: The Coastal Division champion will fail to reach nine victories. A lack of quarterback experience will hurt.
  • Barrett Sallee: NC State’s defensive line is the most important unit in the ACC this year. With offensive line issues at Florida State and Louisville, NC State will spring those two upsets and clear the road a bit in the Atlantic for the two-time defending ACC champion Clemson to make it three in a row. 

ACC predicted order of finish

ACC champion

Florida State: During the hot, grinding days of training camp, Florida State has been laser-focused with an eye on meeting college football’s juggernaut, Alabama, on Sept. 2 in Atlanta. Not Texas State, not Bethune-Cookman, but Ala-freaking-bama. In a steel-sharpens-steel projection, I think the Seminoles will be better prepared for an ACC title run because of the level of work required to get ready for the Tide. My confidence lies mostly in the Seminoles’ defense, led by Derrick Nnadi and Josh Sweat up front with a pair of superstars in Derwin James and Tarvarus McFadden in the back. As long as Deondre Francois is healthy — and protecting the young quarterback is certainly a concern — I like Jimbo Fisher to win his fourth ACC title in six years. — Chip Patterson (and Dennis Dodd, Jerry Palm, Ben Kercheval)

Clemson: If you think the loss of Watson ends Clemson’s cute little run, you’ve got the wrong team. This isn’t Virginia Tech climbing on Michael Vick’s back or Auburn going through a post-Cam Newton hangover. Swinney has built this thing with a foundation. He’s stacked recruiting classes. He’s got five-stars waiting their turn. It’s time for the next man up at Clemson. Sure, there will be some feeling around at the quarterback position early in the season but a stacked arsenal of skill and an experienced beefy offensive line will ease that transition. So too will the best starting defensive line in college football. Getting Florida State at home in November makes all the difference. That game will decide the ACC and can erase a road loss to Louisville or NC State if the Tigers slip up early. — Barton Simmons (and Tom Fornelli, Barrett Sallee)


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