The ACC has not yet collapsed. As such, I parsed through all 14 teams and selected winners for all 54 ACC games and each team’s non-conference slate. We’ll start from the bottom and go up. All records shown are my projected 2023 records unless otherwise stated.
Virginia 2-10 (0-8): After a very successful run as Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator and two less successful years (2020-21) as the lone offensive coordinator, UVA hired Tony Elliott as head coach. Year one saw the offensive output cut by about half with QB Brennan Armstrong’s passing yardage dropping from 4,449 to 2,210 passing yards. Armstrong has since transferred and I’m not confident Virginia wins a single conference game without him.
Virginia Tech 5-7 (2-6): The Hokies won just three games and now look to improve from their worst season since 1992 in year two under Brent Pry. Adding Old Dominion WR transfer Ali Jennings will help, but they may not have the necessary QB play to be a bowl team.
Boston College 6-6 (2-6): An easy non-conference schedule and favorable draw in the ACC that sees them host two of the weakest teams in the conference (Virginia and Virginia Tech) should be enough to get the Eagles back to a bowl. They lost Zay Flowers, but added WR Ryan O’Keefe (UCF) from the portal and should have a much improved offensive line.
Syracuse 6-6 (3-5): After two warm-up games, Syracuse has likely losses to Purdue, Clemson, UNC, and Florida State over the next five weeks. If they hold strong, late season wins against Boston College, Pittsburgh, and Wake Forest (all in New York) could push them into a bowl.
Wake Forest 6-6 (3-5): The Deacs lost QB Sam Hartman, WR AT Perry, and WR Donavon Greene. Clawson’s “Hang & Bang” offense puts up points, but they likely take a step back there while the defense is vulnerable as usual.
Georgia Tech 6-6 (4-4): Brent Key provided a spark of life as interim head coach and now will begin his first full season coaching his alma mater. QB Jeff Simms transferred to Nebraska, but their best wins (Pitt, Duke, UNC) were largely a credit to their defense. Ole Miss and Georgia are a brutal draw in the non-conference, but Boston College, Syracuse, and UNC at home as well as Virginia on the road are all very winnable.
Miami 7-5 (3-5): A favorable ACC schedule that includes Virginia, Boston College, and Georgia Tech along with Miami (Ohio), Bethune-Cookman, and Temple means the Hurricanes should be bowling after just five wins last season. They could steal a seventh win against the likes of Texas A&M or Louisville to flip last year’s 5-7 record around.
Duke 7-5 (4-4): The Blue Devils return a lot of production — especially on offense — from a 9-win team, but the schedule gets much tougher. Wake Forest and UCF were the only bowl teams they beat last year.
North Carolina 7-5 (4-4): Drake Maye is awesome, but who else is on UNC? WR Josh Downs is off to the NFL and Offensive Coordinator Phil Longo is at Wisconsin. ACC games at Pittsburgh, Clemson, and NC State are likely losses and after losing to GT at home last year, who’s to say they don’t go lose in Atlanta? A non-conference slate that includes U of SC, Minnesota, and App State likely draws a loss too. I don’t see a reason to believe this team will be better than they were a year ago. This could be Mac Brown’s swan song in Chapel Hill.
Pittsburgh 8-4 (5-3): Although they avoid Clemson, the Panthers face Florida State, North Carolina, and Notre Dame. Nevertheless, this is a program that’s won 20 games over the past two seasons and routinely has an upper-half defense in the ACC. Phil Jurkovec comes back to his hometown of Pittsburgh to finish his college career. With a better offensive line, he stands a chance to stay healthy and top his career-high 2,558 passing yards and 17 passing touchdowns (to 5 INTs) from 2020. Pitt will start 7-0 or 6-1 before running into a brutal close to the season that includes at Notre Dame, Florida State, at Syracuse (Yankee Stadium), a brief respite with Boston College at home, and then a season finale at Duke.
Louisville 8-4 (6-2): New coach Jeff Brohm has brought the excitement back to Louisville and a look at their schedule reveals a huge opportunity in year one of the new regime. They avoid Clemson, Florida State, and North Carolina. To reach 6-2 in ACC play, all they have to do is split with NC State, Miami, Duke, and Pittsburgh. That’s exactly what I have them doing along with losing to both Notre Dame and Kentucky. Anything less than 8 wins would surprise me.
NC State 9-3 (6-2): Clemson fans have some negative feelings towards Coach Doeren and justifiably so. Nevertheless, we’d all have to admit he has turned NC State into a consistently competitive and physical group even if they haven’t reached 10 wins or played for an ACC title.
This year he’s used the departure of Tim Beck to Coastal Carolina to (in his words) “evolve the offense” by bringing in Syracuse offensive coordinator Robert Anae. Of course, prior to his one year at Syracuse, Anae was the OC at Virginia where his quarterback, Brennan Armstrong threw for over 4,400 yards. NC State has added Armstrong via the transfer portal uniting the two.
If you believe that a Dave Doeren team is going to be good on the offensive and defensive lines — which I do — and now you have the combo of Anae/Armstrong on offense, watch out! Vegas isn’t high on NC State, but I am. I believe they’ll have a marquee win against Clemson or Notre Dame and beat UNC again.
Florida State 10-2 (7-1): I buy the hype! Jordan Travis is a legitimate top-level QB. After he threw for 3,214 passing yards that’s hard to deny. The duo of Johnny Wilson and Keon Coleman (a Michigan State transfer) at wide receiver will be hard to stop and Trey Benson is a well-above average running back. They finally have some depth on the offensive line after using the portal to fortify themselves there too. The offense looks to be the best in the ACC!
The defense isn’t bad, but I have questions. They surrendered 34 points to Clemson. In their final two games against Florida and Oklahoma they gave up a total of 70 points. Adding CB Fentrell Cyprus from Virginia is huge. Adding Braden Fiske from Western Michigan, who is expected to be a starting DT, also helps, but Clemson should have the advantage here.
Florida State beat LSU to open the season. The only other teams they beat that finished with winning records were Louisville and Syracuse. This year they avoid NC State, Louisville, and North Carolina, but go to Clemson and Pittsburgh. They also face LSU in Orlando. I believe they’ll drop two of those three with the most likely losses being at Clemson and vs. LSU.
Clemson 11-1 (7-1): The defending ACC champs have a relatively tough schedule with Florida State and Notre Dame coming to Clemson and road trips to NC State and U of SC. For the past few years, the ACC has been kind to Clemson by not giving them too many tricky back-to-backs or teams coming off open dates. That changes a bit this year when they play back-to-back road games at Miami and NC State before coming home to host Notre Dame. That’s a tough stretch to get through unscathed, even if they’re the better team in each game.
Clemson finished last season 10-2 despite having a passing game that tended to disappear and a running game that the staff strayed away from too often. With a new QB, new OC, and a potentially healthier WR corps, they should be better. The bad news is Florida State, NC State, and Notre Dame should all be better and the latter two come in a brutal back-to-back. NC State has an open date prior to facing Clemson too! I predict Clemson will drop one of those contests, (my guess is NC State) but still head to the ACC Championship with an opportunity to make the College Football Playoff.