• FLORIDA STATE
Last season: 9-4, 5-3 ACC; Beat Notre Dame in Champs Sports Bowl
Last non-bowl season: 1981
Coach: Jimbo Fisher (19-9, third season)
Player to watch: QB E.J. Manuel. The Seminoles possess plenty of talent on offense, but few legitimate stars. Manuel, who started all but two games last season, is the exception after throwing for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior. He’ll be the favorite for ACC player of the year if Florida State wins the Atlantic.
Outlook: Time for a recurring question: Is this the year the Seminoles win their first ACC title since 2005? They might finally live up to those annually colossal expectations, assuming Clemson doesn’t get in the way. Most of the key pieces of a stout defense are back, and Florida State’s three ACC losses last fall came by a combined 11 points. Look for the Seminoles to make it to Charlotte.
Prediction: 10-2, 6-2 ACC
Last season: 10-4, 6-2 ACC; Lost to West Virginia in Orange Bowl
Last non-bowl season: 2004
Coach: Dabo Swinney (29-19, fifth season)
Player to watch: WR Sammy Watkins. As if people weren’t paying attention last year, when Watkins uncorked an 82-catch, 1,219-yard season a few months removed from high school. The preseason ACC player of the year has the task of replicating his electric performance as a sophomore.
Outlook: Watkins and fellow wideout DeAndre Hopkins return, as does quarterback Tajh Boyd and tailback Andre Ellington. There’s no doubt about the skill positions, but this is Clemson — the last four times the Tigers began a season ranked, they finished out of the final poll. The defense is a bit of a question, but the Tigers should still be in the conference title race well into November.
Prediction: 9-3, 6-2 ACC