Thanks to Clemson, the ACC has current possession of the national championship trophy. The Tigers rolled to a 44-16 victory over Alabama to win their second national title in the last three years. Clemson and 'Bama have been the National Championship game participants three times in the short five-year history of the playoff format. They also met in the semifinals in 2017 with the 4th-seed Tide knocking out Clemson, 24-6.
Prior to the playoff format, Clemson had won just one national title (1981).
Based on the preseason Congrove Computer Rankings at CollegeFootballPoll.com, the Tigers are projected to make the playoffs again in 2019 - this time as the 3-seed against LSU. The computer has Clemson favored by 13.49 points over Virginia in the ACC Championship game, but lists the Tigers as a 4.99-point underdog to the Bayou Bengals in the playoff semifinals.
Clemson's closest competitor in the ACC Atlantic division appears to be Syracuse. The Orange host the Tigers on September 10th as a mere 3.01-point underdog.
QB Tyler Lawrence is among a host of returning skill position players for Clemson. As a freshman, Lawrence completed 65.2% of his passes for 3,280 yards, 30 TD's and just 4 INT's. The top three receivers from a year ago - Justyn Rose, Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers - also return, as does leading rusher Travis Etienne.
The Clemson defense, however, will be rebuilt behind junior linebacker Isaiah Simmons who had a team-leading 97 tackles a year ago. Simmons is just 1 of 4 returning starters on that side of the ball.
The lofty expectation for Syracuse is somewhat surprising, if only because head coach Dino Babers loses 38-game starter Eric Dungey, the school's career passing leader. Sophomore Tommy DiVito is the presumed starter.
Wake Forest, Florida State and N.C. State are found in a 3-way tie for a distant 3rd-place spot in the Atlantic division. The Demon Deacons, 'Noles and Wolfpack are all given a 4-4 conference forecast.
If the computer's pick of Virginia as the Coastal champ is to hold true, the Cavs will have to figure out a way to end a 15-game losing streak to Virginia Tech. Both schools are projected to finish 10-2 over-all and 7-1 in the conference. UVa hosts the Hokies in the regular season finale in Charlottesville as a scant 2.19-point favorite.
Duke and Pittsburgh are each expected to go 5-3 in the conference.
The computer disagrees with some experts who have Miami at the top of the Coastal division in Manny Diaz's first year as head coach. Instead, it has the 'Canes taking a small step backward from last year's 7-5 season with a forecast of 6-6 over-all and just 3-5 in the ACC.
Georgia Tech, Louisville and North Carolina, which also welcome new leadership, are predicted to bring up the rear of their respective divisions.
Georgia Tech: Geoff Collins comes to Atlanta via Philadelphia where he spent just two seasons leading Temple to records of 15-10 overall and 11-5 in conference play. However, his teams were only 4-5 in non-conference games. Paul Johnson announced his retirement on November 28, a move that became official after a 34-10 loss to Minnesota in the Quick Lane Bowl. Johnson finished his career with a 189-99 record, including a mark of 83-60 with the Yellow Jackets (51-37 in conference play). Under Johnson, Georgia Tech beat Clemson in the 2009 ACC Championship game, but the title was forced to be vacated as one of the NCAA penalties enforced on the school in July, 2011.
Louisville: Scott Satterfeld (Appalachian State) fills the vacancy left by the firing of Bobby Petrino on November 11, two days after the Cardinals fell to 2-8 with a 54-23 loss to Syracuse. Petrino was 77-35 in nearly 5 full seasons with the Cards. It was Petrino's second stint at Louisville as he also served as head coach from 2003-2006, amassing a 41-9 record. Lorenzo Ward was named interim head coach for the final 2 games of the season which Louisville lost 52-10 to N.C. State and 56-10 to Kentucky. Satterfeld was 10-3 with Appalachian State, including a 30-19 win over Louisiana-Lafayette in the first Sun Belt Championship game which was hosted by the Mountaineers. For the 5 years he coached Appalachian State as a FBS team, Satterfeld was 47-16 overall and 34-6 in the Sun Belt.
Miami (FLA): Manny Diaz was the head coach at Temple for 17 days. He was hired by the Owls on December 13, but then Miami got shocked by the sudden resignation of Mark Richt on December 30 and Diaz, the Hurricanes' defensive coordinator under Richt, was immediately promoted to head coach. Last year, the Hurricanes concluded a 7-6 season with a 35-3 loss to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl. Richt's first season in Miami in 2016 produced a 9-4 record and a Russell Athletic Bowl (now Camping World Bowl) win over West Virginia. Miami won its last 5 games of 2016 and the first 10 games of 2017, but has since fallen apart. The 'Canes are just 7-9 in their last 16 games. Richt leaves with a 26-13 record over-all and a 16-8 mark in the ACC. He has a career record with Georgia and Miami of 171-64.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels have had very little success and a lot of turmoil since Mack Brown left for Texas after the 1997 season. It seems as though there have been endless NCAA investigations and there has definitely been a revolving door in the head coach's office. Five different head coaches have filled the space between Brown's departure and return - Carl Torbush, John Bunting, Butch Davis, Everett Withers and Larry Fedora. Fedora had the most success, leading the Tar Heels to the ACC Championship game in 2015 where they lost 45-37 to Clemson.
Brown was 69-46-1 in his first go-around in Chapel Hill and never won an ACC title.
Fedora's Tar Heel teams were 40-25 through his first 5 campaigns (26-14 in the ACC), including a Coastal Division title in 2015 (lost to Clemson in ACC Championship game). However, UNC was only 5-18 over the last two seasons (2-14 in the ACC) and Fedora was fired after a 2-9 campaign last year.
At Texas, Brown won Big 12 conference titles in 2005 and 2009 and played for the BCS National Championship in both of those seasons, beating USC in the first and losing to Alabama in the second. He was 158-48 at Texas, but was forced out under pressure at the end of the 2013 season despite the national title, 15 bowl appearances and 10 bowl wins. He was inducted into the College Football Hall-of-Fame this past January.
*-Tie-breakers: Wake Forest beats Florida State and N.C. State; Florida State beats N.C. State
NOTE: North Carolina at Wake Forest on 9/13 is a Non-conference game
*-Tie-breakers: Virginia beats Virginia Tech; Duke beats Pittsburgh
*-Championship: Clemson over Virginia
1. Clemson (171) - 1,209 points
2. Syracuse (2) - 913 points
3. Florida State - 753 points
4. NC State - 666 points
5. Boston College - 588 points
6. Wake Forest - 462 points
7. Louisville - 253 points
1. Virginia (82) - 1,003 points
2. Miami (55) - 992 points
3. Virginia Tech (20) - 827 points
4. Pitt (8) - 691 points
5. Duke (6) - 566 points
6. North Carolina (1) - 463 points
7. Georgia Tech (1) - 302 points
Predicted Champion: Clemson