Last season: 2-10, 1-7 ACC
Quick hit: First-year coach Steve Addazio came up with the catchy phrase “Be a dude” (or be a playmaker) to rally the fortunes of the once-proud program. The Eagles are trying to reverse a five-year slide in the win column, punctuated by last season’s 2-10 record.
Duo of note: Senior quarterback Chase Rettig threw for 3,055 yards with 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season. He’ll also work with his fifth offensive coordinator in four seasons. … Kevin Pierre-Louis was a preseason All-ACC pick at linebacker after 252 tackles in the past three seasons.
They’ll win the division if: Unlikely, but one or two ACC wins, along with continued momentum in recruiting, would be success.
They’ll come up short if: They lose on the road to New Mexico State on Nov. 9. Boston College will be favored, but will also be coming off an intense three-game stretch against Clemson, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. A loss to the Aggies may signal that they won’t get those one or two ACC wins.
Must-see game: Wake Forest at Boston College on Sept. 6. This is a Friday night game in prime time and will let everybody know how competitive BC will be in the ACC this season.
Last season: 11-2, 7-1 ACC
Quick hit: This may be Clemson’s best chance for a national championship since 1981. Heisman Trophy candidate Tajh Boyd returned for his senior season at quarterback, while Sammy Watkins may be the best wide receiver in college football, when healthy.
Duo of note: Offensive coordinator Chad Morris is college football’s highest-paid assistant coach ($1.3M). If Clemson puts up Nintendo-like numbers again (they averaged 41 points per game last year), it will be almost impossible to keep Morris around for another season. … Boyd will have his blind side protected by All-ACC left tackle Brandon Thomas.
They’ll win the division if: If Clemson’s high-powered offense can score more points than its lackluster defense gives up. Get ready for a lot of basketball scores. Clemson was picked to win the ACC (by a large margin of votes) over FSU.
They’ll come up short if: Dabo Swinney and his players can’t handle the media attention that comes along with being a top-10 team. He got off to a good start by banning the team from Twitter during the season.
Must-see game: UGA and Clemson on Aug. 31. It’s a matchup of two elite quarterbacks, but more important, Clemson gets the spotlight to prove it belongs in the discussion for the national title.
Last season: 12-2, 7-1 ACC
Quick hit: Is Florida State on the brink of returning to the glory days? Last year, FSU won the ACC (first time since 2005) and had more players selected in the NFL draft (11) than any other college. The only thing missing is contending for a national title.
Duo of note: Linebacker Christian Jones could’ve left early for the NFL, but decided to stay around to refine his raw but ridiculous athletic skills under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, the former Alabama assistant. Pruitt already has moved All-ACC safety Lamarcus Joyner back to his natural position of cornerback.
They’ll win the division if: Jameis Winston, a five-star recruit, turns out to as good as advertised when he finally gets the chance to run the offense. Winston might be coach Jimbo Fisher’s best quarterback yet, even though he follows NFL first-rounders Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel.
They’ll come up short if: The radically changed coaching staff doesn’t bond well. There are six different assistants from last year.
Must-see game: Florida State at Clemson on Oct. 19. These two teams are the ACC’s best hope of getting the conference back into the race for the national championship. The ACC hasn’t really been in that discussion in late November since maybe 2000.
Last season: 4-8, 2-6 ACC
Quick hit: This is Maryland’s final curtain call in the ACC before departing for the Big Ten next season.
Duo of note: Stefon Diggs lived up to the recruiting hype last season and set an ACC freshman record with 174.4 yards all-purpose yards per game. Randy Edsall, who has NFL experience, says Diggs might be the best he’s been around in 30 years of coaching. There are also high expectations for junior college transfer Deon Long.
They’ll win the division if: Unlikely in the Terrapins’ ACC lame-duck season, but Maryland wants the final season to be memorable. A winning conference record would be a success.
They’ll come up short if: The quarterback position is a disaster again. Maryland lost four quarterbacks to season-ending injuries last year. It got so bad that a linebacker Shawn Petty finished the season at the position.
Must-see game: Maryland at Connecticut on Sept. 14. Edsall will coach against his former team, and the way he left didn’t go over well at UConn. He informed his former players through emails, text messages, voice mails and an awkward conference call.
North Carolina State
Last season: 7-6, 4-4 ACC
Quick hit: N.C. State is starting over with first-year coach Dave Doeren, who has a friendly schedule with eight home games. The Wolfpack tanks on the road (2-5 last season) but is 16-3 at home over the past three seasons. N.C. State leaves the state twice, to play at Florida State and Boston College.
Duo of note: N.C. State is a popular place for quarterback transfers. Pete Thomas (Colorado State) and Brandon Mitchell (Arkansas) are battling it for this year’s starting job, while Jacoby Brissett (Florida) will likely take over next year after having to sit out.
They’ll win the division if: Unlikely, as N.C. State’s last ACC Championship was won in 1979. The Wolfpack probably are a year or two from being serious challengers.
They’ll come up short if: The defense, which had to replace six starters, struggles with the 4-3 scheme installed by new defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable.
Must-see game: Clemson at N.C. State on Sept. 19. The Wolfpack upset an overconfident FSU squad at home last year, so Clemson needs to be alert.
Last season: 8-5
Quick hit: Syracuse debuts in the ACC and aims for consecutive bowl appearances for the first time since 1988-89. The Orange tied for first in the Big East last season.
Duo of note: The team’s deepest position may be running back, with Jermone Smith (1,100 yards last year) being pushed by Prince-Tyson Gulley (213 yards in bowl game) and freshman George Morris II.
They’ll win the division if: Unlikely, and the season-ending game against Boston College may decide who stays out of last place in the Atlantic, despite bold predictions of competing immediately for an ACC championship by linebacker Dyshawn Davis.
They’ll come up short if: They can’t find an elite pass rusher. Markus Pierce-Brewster was dismissed in the spring, and Donnie Simmons is out with a knee injury. There’s also some concern about chemistry on the offensive line.
Must-see game: Syracuse at Northwestern on Sept. 7. After opening against a depleted Penn State squad, Syracuse hits the road against a ranked team out of the Big Ten.
Last season: 5-7, 3-5 ACC
Quick hit: Jim Grobe is the dean of ACC coaches, but feels some pressure after last season’s 5-7 mark — the fourth losing season in a row for the Demon Deacons. The program also was embarrassed when eight players were suspended, reportedly for marijuana use.
Duo of note: Quarterback Tanner Price has started 34 games and passed for 6,666 yards and 34 touchdowns in his career. He was one of five ACC quarterbacks invited to the Manning Passing Academy. Look for Price to become more of a running threat. … Wide receiver Michael Campanaro is one of the ACC’s most versatile playmakers and has three seasons of 70 or more receptions.
They’ll win the division if: Unlikely, but a winning record would ease things for Grobe. Notre Dame and Presbyterian have been replaced on the schedule by Liberty and Louisiana-Monroe.
They’ll come up short if: The offensive line can’t protect the quarterbacks, which were sacked 27 times last season.
Must-see game: Wake Forest at Clemson on Sept. 28. Clemson has so many big games early that they it could overlook Wake Forest.