ACC Season Preview

July 23, 2012; Greensboro, NC, USA; The helmet of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and the ACC Championship trophy during the ACC media day at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro NC. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-US PRESSWIRE

It's hard to believe, but we're less than a week away from the kickoff of the college football season. After each weekend's games I'll be publishing my power rankings of how I see the conference from top-to-bottom. Here are my predictions for how I see the conference playing out. I'll give you all a hint and say that I'm all-in on the Florida State hype this season.

I welcome all of you to comment on the article, and tell me how you see the conference shaping out. It's definitely hard to pick overall records because there are so many games that could go either way, but ultimately some team has to win those games. I've included information on 2011 record, offensive and defensive returning starters, key returning players, as well as key departures.

Check out all of the predictions after the jump.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

1. FLORIDA STATE

2011 Record (9-4, 5-3)

Returning Starters 8 Offense/9 Defense

Key Returning Players: QB E.J. Manuel, DE Brandon Jenkins, K Dustin Hopkins , DT Everett Dawkins

Key Departures: CB Greg Reid (Dismissed), CB Mike Harris, OT Andrew Datko, LB Nigel Bradham

The 2012 Florida State Seminoles have national championship aspirations, and rightfully so. They return a total of 17 starters including quarterback EJ Manuel. The Seminoles also bring in one of the best recruiting classes in the country, and should have the best defensive line in the country. Their two biggest challenges in conference will be a September 22nd game against Clemson, and a Thursday night game at Virginia Tech on November 8th. I know people have been saying this is Florida State's year for several years now, but I truly believe they will go undefeated in conference and be playing in a BCS game this January.

Projected Record (12-0, 8-0)

2. CLEMSON

2011 Record (10-4, 6-2)

Returning Starters 7 Offense/7 Defense

Key Returning Players: QB Tajh Boyd, WR Sammy Watkins, RB Andre Ellington, K Chandler Katanzaro

Key Departures: TE Dwayne Allen, DE Andre Branch, CB Coty Sensabaugh, DT Brandon Thompson

Clemson look to repeat as ACC Champions, but in order to do that, they will need to beat Florida State at Tallahassee. Clemson returns a tremendous amount of offensive firepower in Boyd, Ellington, and Watkins, but their offensive line may struggle against the better pass rushes in the conference. Florida State has arguably the best pass rush in the nation, and I think that will be the difference in the game. Clemson will also lose some talent from the defensive line, and a big story line for them will be how much pressure they are able to apply to opposing quarterbacks.

Projected Record (9-3, 6-2)

3. N.C. STATE

2011 Record (8-5, 4-4)

Returning Starters 7 Offense/6 Defense

Key Returning Players: CB David Amerson, QB Mike Glennon, RB James Washington

Key Departures: DT Markus Kuhn, LB Terrell Manning, DE JR Sweezy, WR T.J. Graham

I believe their October 6th game against Florida State will be a battle of two undefeated teams. They will miss deep threat T.J. Graham, but State fans should appreciate the continued development of Mike Glennon. Their game at Death Valley on November 17th will probably go a long way in determining who comes in second place in the Atlantic Division.

Projected Record (9-3, 5-3)

4. WAKE FOREST

2011 Record (6-7, 5-3)

Returning Starters 4 Offense/7 Defense

Key Returning Players: QB Tanner Price, WR Michael Campanaro, DT Nikkita Whitlock, CB Merrill Noel

Key Departures: WR Chris Givens, OG Joe Looney, LB Kyle Wilber, S Josh Bush

From everything I've seen at practices and scrimmages, the Demon Deacon defense promises to be excellent. In addition to returning 7 defensive starters, Wake also returns Kevin Johnson, who has had an outstanding camp. Tanner Price has shown great growth, but the offensive line will need to provide him adequate time to make reads and get the ball to his receivers. I also think this is the year that Josh Harris breaks out. We saw plenty of signs last year before his hamstring started to bother him, but I get the feeling this will be his year. I believe Wake's games at Virginia and home against Vanderbilt will go a long way in determining our bowl eligibility.

Projected Record (6-6, 4-4)

5. BOSTON COLLEGE

2011 Record (4-8, 3-5)

Returning Starters 10 Offense/7 Defense

Key Returning Players: QB Chase Rettig, DT Kaleb Ramsey, OT John Wetzel

Key Departures: LB Luke Kuechly, CB Donnie Fletcher, RB Montel Harris (Dismissed)

Boston College is going to struggle to score enough points to be competitive this season. Last year they only scored 18.2 points per game, and this year they won't have Montel Harris. Their schedule is also very difficult. In addition to their ACC schedule, they play at Northwestern and take on Notre Dame at home. It could be a long year in Chestnut Hill. I expect a lot of BC fans to be looking forward to watching the Patriots play on Sundays.

Projected Record (3-9, 1-7)

6. MARYLAND

2011 Record (2-10, 1-7)

Returning Starters 6 Offense/9 Defense

Key Returning Players: OLB Kenny Tate, DT Joseph Vellano, LB Demetrius Hartsfield, S Eric Franklin

Key Departures: CJ Brown (Injury), CB Cameron Chism, RB Davin Meggett

If I was a Maryland fan, I would do everything possible to avoid watching them play this year. Their defense should be better as they return 9 starters, but their defense gave up 34 points per game last year. Even though they return 15 starters, they only return 42 scholarship players from last year. It was terrible to hear that C.J. Brown got injured, but it's unlikely that he would've helped them win many games anyway.

Projected Record (2-10, 0-8)

COASTAL DIVISION

1. VIRGINIA TECH

2011 Record (11-3, 7-1)

Returning Starters 3 Offense/9 Defense

Key Returning Players: QB Logan Thomas, DE James Gayle, LB Bruce Taylor, LB Jack Tyler

Key Departures: RB David Wilson, WR Danny Coale, CB Jayron Hosley, WR Jarrett Boykin

The Hokies will go as far as Logan Thomas takes them. If you buy into the pre-season hype and the NFL draft boards, then Thomas can take the Hokies very far. Their non-conference schedule (Austin Peay, at Pitt, Bowling Green, Cincinnati) is very easy, but their conference schedule features some very difficult games. They get to play Florida State at home, but they have to play Clemson in Death Valley. I believe they will be good, but the losses of David Wilson, Danny Coale, and Jarrett Boykin will be significant blows to their offense. As is usual, they will rely on great defense to keep them in games.

Projected Record (10-2, 6-2)

2. NORTH CAROLINA

2011 Record (7-6, 3-5)

Returning Starters 7 Offense/6 Defense

Key Returning Players: RB Giovanni Bernard, DE Sylvester Williams, LB Kevin Reddick, OG Jonathan Cooper

Key Departures: DE Quinton Coples, LB Zach Brown, CB Charles Brown, WR Dwight Jones

The Tar Heels lost a great deal of talent to the NFL, but their past recruiting classes have given this team a lot of depth. Look for Giovanni Bernard to be 1st-team All-ACC this season. With the exception of Louisville, their non-conference schedule is an absolute joke. Idaho, Elon, and East Carolina is just far too easy for this program. Their conference schedule is very easy because they avoid Florida State and Clemson, and they also get to play Virginia Tech at home. This team will easily win enough games to make a bowl, but due to NCAA violations, they are not eligible this season.

Projected Record (9-3, 6-2)

3. GEORGIA TECH

2011 Record (8-5, 5-3)

Returning Starters 7 Offense/6 Defense

Key Returning Players: CB Rod Sweeting, DE Izaan Cross, QB Tevin Washington, RB Orwin Smith

Key Departure: WR Stephen Hill

The good news for Georgia Tech is that they only have to play road games during the first two months of the season. The bad news is that those two games are at Lane Stadium and at Death Valley. They also have road games at Chapel Hill and at Georgia. I expect Orwin Smith will have a solid year, and for Tevin Washington to continue improving in the triple-option offense.

Projected Record (8-4, 5-3)

4. VIRGINIA

2011 Record (8-5, 5-3)

Returning Starters 7 Offense/5 Defense

Key Returning Players: OT Oday Aboushi, RB Perry Jones, LB Steve Greer, WR Tim Smith

Key Departures: DE Cam Johnson, DT Matt Konrath, S Rodney McLeod, CB Chase Minnifield

I think Virginia is going to take a step back this year. I have great respect for Mike London and his staff, but they went 5-1 in one possession games last season. That trend is highly unlikely to continue, and that doesn't bode well for Virginia fans. Their schedule is favorable in that they don't have to play Clemson or Florida State. They also lucked out after the mass exodus from Penn State. I still expect them to make a bowl, but I don't expect them to win 8 games again.

Projected Record (7-5, 4-4)

5. MIAMI

2011 Record (6-6, 3-5)

Returning Starters 4 Offense/6 Defense

Key Returning Players: CB Brandon McGee, LB Drnzel Perryman, S Vaughn Telemaque

Key Departures: RB Lamar Miller, WR Travis Benjamin, LB Sean Spence, DE Oliver Vernon

Al Golden has his work cut out for him this year. They lost a tremendous amount of talent to the NFL, especially Lamar Miller, and last year's team only won 6 games. They have non-conference games at Notre Dame and Kansas State. I believe their game on September 29th against North Carolina State will be critical to determining whether or not they make a bowl.

Projected Record (5-7, 3-5)

6. DUKE

2011 Record (3-9, 1-7)

Returning Starters 8 Offense/9 Defense

Key Returning Players: QB Sean Renfree, WR Conner Vernon, LB Kelby Brown, CB Lee Butler

Key Departure: S Matt Daniels

Duke returns 17 starters this season, but their schedule is extremely difficult this year. While their non-conference schedule is a joke with the exception of Stanford, their conference schedule more than makes up for it. The Coastal Division promises to be very tough week-to-week, and they have to play Florida State, Clemson, and Wake Forest in the Atlantic Division. They should be the underdog in every conference game they play. I think their final game of the season against Miami is their best chance to win. If they played Maryland, I would predict them to win, but unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the Terps aren't on their schedule.

Projected Record (3-9, 0-8)

ACC Champion: Florida State

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