By Ryan Mayer, CBS Local Sports

The college football season is just 9 days away.  With a little over a week remaining before we see these teams hit the field, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what the teams will look like and therefore it’s time to breakdown the teams in each conference.  If you’re wondering about an opponent on your favorite team’s schedule or what to expect from some power conference teams, this is the place for you.  We’ll start with the ACC.

The conference went 4-7 in bowl games last year but did place a team (Florida State) in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The ACC quietly was one of the better conferences in the country despite that bowl record, it’s pretty impressive to place 11 of your 14 teams in bowl games. 

The ACC has mandatory scheduling of Power 5 conference teams in the non conference slate for all of its teams and that will make for some interesting out of conference match-ups this season. 

Pre-Season Media Poll

Atlantic Division

1) Clemson

2) Florida State

3) Louisville

4) NC State

5) Boston College 

6) Syracuse

7) Wake Forest

Coastal Division

1) Georgia Tech

2) Virginia Tech

3) Miami

4) Duke

5) North Carolina

6) Pittsburgh

7) Virginia

Conference Contenders

Florida State Seminoles- The Seminoles have dominated the league over the past couple of years navigating their way to undefeated conference records in 2013 and 2014.  Now, however, they’ve lost Jameis Winston to the NFL along with numerous defensive play makers.  That leaves the door open for other teams to take control. Redshirt junior Sean Maguire is competing with Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson for the starting job. The Seminoles will have electric RB Dalvin Cook after he was found not guilty in the battery case brought against him. Whoever wins the QB battle will be the X-factor for this team offensively, while on defense that guy is DB Jalen Ramsay who is a flat out play maker in every sense. 

Clemson Tigers- Clemson is certainly a candidate with preseason player of the year QB Deshaun Watson who was very good in his freshman season playing in 8 games, completing 67.9% of his passes for 14 TD’s and 2 INT’s. The problem for the Tigers comes when looking at the defense after Vic Beasley, Grady Jerrett and Stephone Anthony all left for the NFL.  The Tigers do have the benefit of getting the Seminoles in Death Valley on November 7th. 

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets- Paul Johnson’s crew returns QB Justin Thomas for his second season operating the triple option attack, which always seems to tie defenses in knots.  The defense was average at best last season ranking 62nd in rush defense, 72nd in pass defense and 52nd in total defense.  That will need to improve if they want to contend for a conference title. An early stretch featuring games at Notre Dame, at Duke, vs. UNC, and at Clemson in consecutive weeks will be the season defining stretch.

Virginia Tech Hokies- This may seem out of place for a team that disappointed last season finishing 7-6 and 3-5 in conference but Frank Beamer’s crew returns a LOADED defense.  Dadi Nicholas, Luther Maddy, and Corey Marshall anchor the defensive line, while Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson lock down both corner spots. The offense as always with the Hokies, needs to be better with Michael Brewer returning under center.  He has a top target outside in Isaiah Ford who had 56 catches for 709 yards and 6 TD’s as a freshman last year. 

Sleepers

Duke Blue Devils- The Blue Devils lose QB Anthony Boone and WR Jamison Crowder from last year’s group, but they return top rusher Shaquille Powell and 2nd and 3rd receiving threats Max McCaffrey and Johnell Barnes. Defensively, safety Devon Edwards is always around the ball with 133 tackles, 7.5 TFL, and 4.5 sacks last season.  With steady head coach David Cutcliffe at the helm, if one of the top teams slips up Duke could find their way into another conference title game. 

Pittsburgh Panthers- The Panthers welcome new head coach Pat Narduzzi, formerly the defensive coordinator at Michigan State. The Panthers offense should be pretty good behind star RB James Conner (1,700+ yards 26 TD’s) and WR Tyler Boyd along with QB Chad Voytik. The question is how quickly can Narduzzi remake the Panthers in his image on the defensive side of the ball. 

NC State Wolfpack- The Wolfpack are the trendy pick this year to win 9 games and could be the dark horse in the Atlantic division. They have Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett returning at QB along with swiss army knife RB Matt Dayes who is the team’s top returning rusher and receiver. The main question for me with this team comes along the defensive front where 3 of 4 starters from last year need to be replaced. 

The Rest

Miami has plenty of talent but have yet to put it all together under coach Al Golden.  Brad Kaaya at QB was good in his freshman year look for him to continue to improve in year 2.

Louisville has an uncertain QB situation with three guys who have playing experience returning, none have really broken away from the pack yet. Coach Petrino does get the benefit of adding Georgia transfer safety Josh Harvey-Clemons to a unit that was 6th in total defense last year. 

Syracuse are looking for more consistency from their QB in Terrel Hunt as a larger part of the offense that needs to be much better to get back to a bowl game. 

UNC can be very good offensively with 10 starters returning and Gene Chizik was brought in to fix the defense.  If he can do that, the Tar Heels can return to a bowl once again. 

Boston College is young but will be tough as head coach Steve Addazio continues to remake them in his image. 

Virginia’s Mike London has the hottest seat in the conference after losing 5 of their last 6 games following a 4-2 start to last season. 

Wake Forest- The Demon Deacons have plenty of returning experience despite their youth as many freshmen and sophomores were pressed into service last year.

Must Watch Games

September 6- Louisville at #6 Auburn 3:30 pm

September 19- #16 Georgia Tech at #11 Notre Dame 3:30 pm

October 3- #11 Notre Dame at #12 Clemson TBD

October 10- #16 Georgia Tech at #12 Clemson

October 24- #10 Florida State at #16 Georgia Tech

November 7- #10 Florida State at #12 Clemson 

November 28- #9 Georgia at #16 Georgia Tech

Conference Title Game Prediction

Clemson vs. Georgia Tech

I tend to agree with the media voting on the conference poll this year. This is the year that I think the Tigers finally find a way to avoid the in season hiccups that have been their downfall in previous years.  Having Florida State at home helps and the Seminoles are breaking in a new QB with either Everett Golson or Sean Maguire.  Georgia Tech comes out of a slightly crowded Coastal Division. In the title game, I’ll take the Tigers to win. 

Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him. Agree/Disagree? Thoughts, comments, complaints? Email or tweet him. 

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