Pitt and Syracuse join from the Big East Conference which will operate as the American Athletic Conference in 2013.
Despite the two new additions to the ACC roster of teams, each school will continue to play an 8-game conference slate, tackling every team in its own division plus 2 cross-over opponents.
Last year, Florida State claimed its first ACC title since 2005 and will be back in the running this year. But the Congrove Computer Rankings give the nod to Clemson as the Tigers get a 7.75-point edge at home over the 'Noles on October 19. Clemson's only other forecasted loss is at home to Georgia by 1.09 in the season opener.
Florida State is a 6.86-point underdog at rival Florida in the season finale as the Seminoles, like Clemson, are predicted to go 10-2 overall on the season. But either team could have a difficult time advancing to a BCS title showdown as FSU's strength of schedule ranks 89th while Clemson comes in at 84th with a pair of FCS teams on the slate.
Miami is Clemson's forecasted opponent in Charlotte on December 7 and would mark the 'Canes first-ever appearance in the game. The Tigers would be a preseason favorite over any Coastal team on an neutral field and are a 4.34-point favorite to down Miami in the hypothetical contest. The two teams do not meet during the regular season.
Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech are Miami's stiffest challengers, but the Hurricanes get both Techs at home, in addition to North Carolina. The computer's 10-2 forecast for Miami includes a loss at home to Florida in week 2 by just 0.33 points and a 2.47-point setback at Florida State on November 2. But the Hurricanes are also favored by less than a single point in two other contests (Georgia Tech, UNC), and by fewer than 4 versus Virginia Tech and Pitt.
Virginia Tech is expected to improve from 6-6 (regular season) a year ago to 9-3 this year, but the Hokies have to travel to both Miami and Georgia Tech where they are on the wrong side of projected 5.56-point and 3.29-point margins, respectively. The Hokies open in Atlanta against Alabama as surprisingly low 6.15-point underdogs.
North Carolina could also be a factor. The computer has the Tar Heels going 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the ACC with road losses to South Carolina (9.69), Georgia Tech (8.47), Virginia Tech (5.92) and Pittsburgh (0.39), and a home setback to Miami by 0.21 points.
Syracuse should pose the closest challenge to FSU and Clemson in the Atlantic. The Orange are projected as a 7-5 team overall, 5-3 in the ACC. The school's conference draw brings Clemson, Wake Forest, Pitt and Boston College to the Carrier Dome while facing N.C. State, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Florida State on the road. The 'Cuse opens in East Rutherford against Penn State before traveling to Northwestern. They are 5.45-points underdogs to the Nittany Lions and a huge 16.40-point dog at the Wildcats.
Wake in the Atlantic, and Pitt in the Coastal, are forecasted to limp into bowl eligibility with 6-6 records. The Panthers have been a 6-6 team in the regular season each of the last two years.
Overall, the computer sees 9 of the league's 14 teams filling bowl slots. However, Duke isn't far off from being the 10th to achieve postseason eligibility for a second straight season. The Blue Devils' 5-7 forecast includes just 1 conference win, but 3 of the projected losses are by less than a point.
Boston College, N.C. State and Syracuse all start the season with a different head coach. Steve Addazio takes over at B.C. after Frank Spaziani was fired; Tom O'Brien is out at N.C. State and Dave Doeren moves to the Wolfpack from Northern Illinois where he led the Huskies to two MAC titles in two years; and Scott Shafer was promoted from defensive coordinator after Doug Marrone became the head honcho with the NFL's Buffalo Bills.