The path to the Atlantic division title couldn't be more different for Clemson and Florida State. The Tigers play one of the weakest schedules in the nation with a combined 60 wins in 2015 for its 11 FBS opponents. The 'Noles FBS opposition accumulated 86 wins last year.
The rosters offer more math that tilts in FSU's favor as Jimbo Fisher's squad returns all but one offensive starter and 17 of 22 overall. QB Sean Maguire injured his right foot in the teams' second fall practice. Clemson returns 12 starters overall, but the 8 offensive returnees include QB Deshaun Watson who last year became the first player in FBS history to pass for over 4,000 yards and rush for over 1,000 in the same season. WR Mike Williams, a 1,000-yard pass catcher in 2014, returns after suffering a neck fracture in the first quarter of the 2015 opener.
Alas, the computer has FSU claiming the crown by virtue of a surprisingly hefty 12.02-point forecasted win over Clemson in Tallahassee on October 29.
In the Coastal, head coach Larry Fedora is expected to lead North Carolina back to the ACC Championship game after bowing 45-37 to Clemson last year. The 11-3 finish a year was the school's first double-digit win season since Mack Brown did the trick in his last season at Chapel Hill in 1997. UNC's closes competition for the division title should come from Pittsburgh. The Tar Heels and Panthers are separated by a mere 0.19 power points.
Virginia Tech gets the computer's 3rd-place nod in its first season without Frank Beamer at the helm since 1986. Justin Fuente moves over from Memphis with the focus of jazzing up the offense. Perhaps Fuente's best move was to insure that defensive coordinator Bud Foster was staying put. The spotlight will be on the Hokies in week 2 when they face Tennessee in front of the largest crowd to ever see a college football game with more than 140,000 spectators looking on at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Miami, Syracuse and Virginia will also open 2016 with new head coaches.
Mark Richt is the new guy in Miami after leading Georgia to a 15-year record of 145–51 overall (83–37, SEC). His Bulldog teams won the SEC East 5 times and took home the SEC Champions Trophy in 2002 and 2005. Richt has past ties to Miami as a backup quarterback to Jim Kelly at Miami (1979-1982). He replaces Al Golden who was 32-27 overall, and 17-18 in the ACC. Golden was sent packing in midseason (October 25) after the 'Canes fell to 4-3 with a humiliating 58-0 loss at home to Clemson. Larry Scott took over as interim coach and guided Miami to 4 wins in their last 5 regular season games. Despite a 20-14 loss to Washington State in the Sun Bowl, Miami still beat most preseason expectations with a final overall record of 8-5.
Syracuse lured Dino Babers over from Bowling Green to replace Scott Shafer. The announcement came the day after BGSU won the MAC Championship game over Northern Illinois. Babers was 18-9 in 2 seasons at BGSU and advanced his squad to the conference title game both years. In 3 seasons under Shafer, the Orange went 14-23 overall, 7-17 in the ACC.
Bronco Mendenall takes over for Mike London at Virginia. He leaves BYU after 11 seasons that produced a 99-43 record overall, 6-5 in bowl games. London was 27-46 in 6 seasons, led the Cavaliers to only one bowl game, and had just one winning season. His teams were a paltry 14-34 in ACC games, including 0-6 vs. rival Virginia Tech.