ACC Football: Preview and Predictions for 2023 Season
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Logan Whitton/Getty Images
The 2023 college football season is just weeks away, and the ACC looks like it will have a couple of legitimate College Football Playoff contenders in Clemson and Florida State.
Playoff contenders aside, the league also features some talented quarterbacks, high-powered offenses and impressive defensive units.
Conference realignment rumors have been heating up within the last few weeks, as Cal and Stanford look like possible additions to the ACC. In 2023, it will include the usual teams like Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Duke, Louisville and others.
Let's preview the ACC for the 2023 season.
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Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jordan Travis.Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
North Carolina QB Drake Maye
Drake Maye had a breakout season in his first year as the North Carolina starter in 2022. He finished with 4,321 yards passing with 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while adding 698 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. His 5,019 yards of offense were first in the country.
In 2023, he might regress a bit—his offensive coordinator from last season, Phil Longo, is now with Luke Fickell at Wisconsin. He also lost leading receivers Josh Downs and Antoine Green to the NFL, and the NCAA denied the hardship waiver of Kent State transfer Devontez Walker to play for the Tar Heels this season, so guys such as Bryson Nesbit and J.J. Jones will need to step up.
Clemson QB Cade Klubnik, LB Jeremiah Trotter
After a season of mostly backing up DJ Uiagalelei last season, Cade Klubnik will be Clemson's starter for 2023.
Uiagalelei transferred to Oregon State following Clemson's 2022 ACC Championship game. Klubnik came off the bench for him against North Carolina in December and threw for 279 yards and a touchdown with another score on the ground.
Klubnik should thrive in new offensive coordinator Garrett Riley's scheme. A former 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas, he was 2022's No. 1 overall quarterback recruit.
On defense, Clemson returns its leading tackler in linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. He finished with 92 total tackles, 6.5 sacks and another six pass breakups. He'll lead a veteran linebacking corps in 2023, featuring the likes of Jalyn Phillips and Barrett Carter.
Florida State QB Jordan Travis, DE Jared Verse
The Florida State Seminoles have quite the talented team heading into 2023, and their leader is quarterback Jordan Travis.
The redshirt senior finished last season third in the conference with 3,214 yards and 24 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He rushed for 417 yards and seven scores, too.
Defensive end Jared Verse was a potential first-round pick for the 2023 NFL draft, but he opted to return to Florida State. He led the Noles with nine sacks last season, including another 48 stops and three quarterback hurries.
If the 22-year-old has another big season as he did last year, he could be a top-five draft pick in 2024.
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Florida State Seminoles head coach Mike Norvell Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
How far can Mike Norvell take his veteran Florida State team?
There is a ton of hype surrounding this Noles team, and for good reason—Florida State is a talented, experienced team in 2023. They return 17 starters on both sides of the ball, as head coach Mike Norvell enters his fourth season in Tallahassee.
The Noles' schedule features a game with huge playoff implications in Week 1, when they take on LSU on Sept. 3 in Orlando, Florida. A win over the SEC West champions would vault FSU into the playoff conversation immediately.
After Week 1, the toughest game on the schedule includes a Week 4 road trip to Clemson. The Tigers are 30-3 at home over the last seven seasons, but even if FSU loses that game, it still can play in the conference title game. The ACC is doing away with divisions in 2023, so FSU might have to play Clemson twice. Regardless, this season looks like the Noles' best chance at winning the conference for the first time since 2014.
But the Noles aren't out of the woods after that Clemson game—FSU has back-to-back road trips to Wake Forest and Pitt on Oct. 28 and Nov. 4, respectively, followed by a home game against rival Miami.
FSU closes out the season against in-state rival Florida on Nov. 25. The team has a real shot to win the ACC this season, but it'll have to navigate a tricky schedule to do so.
What will a division-less ACC look like in 2023?
For the first time since 2005, the ACC will no longer have divisions this season. Instead of teams playing inside the ACC Coastal and ACC Atlantic divisions, all 13 teams will play a 3-5-5 schedule that gives each team three permanent rivals and five opponents that will alternate each season.
This season, some teams were luckier with their ACC schedule draws than others. Clemson has to play Florida State and Notre Dame, but both games are at home. The Tigers' road trips to Duke, Syracuse, Miami and NC State all seem like winnable contests.
Meanwhile, Duke and Georgia Tech weren't so lucky. The Blue Devils play Clemson in Week 1 and then have a brutal five-week stretch starting Oct. 21 featuring road trips to FSU and Louisville, a home game against Wake Forest, and consecutive road trips to UNC and Virginia.
Georgia Tech has to travel to Wake Forest, Miami, Virginia and Clemson this season.
The ACC title game will also look a bit different this year, and it could be a rematch of a regular-season game. Instead of the winner of the Atlantic and Coastal divisions facing off against each other, the teams with the highest winning percentage will feature.
Will the ACC's realignment rumors continue?
Conference realignment is everywhere in college football these days, and the ACC isn't immune from talk of it happening there, either.
Earlier this month, Florida State president Richard McCullough said the Noles would "very seriously consider" leaving the ACC. But as the Aug. 15 deadline to inform the ACC came and went, Florida State remains a conference member.
Meanwhile, CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd reported that neither the Big Ten nor the SEC has much desire to add Florida State or Clemson.
And what about Stanford and Cal? The longtime Pac-12 teams—along with SMU—are being lobbied to join the ACC by the likes of Cardinal graduate Condoleezza Rice and SMU grad George W. Bush, according to Ross Dellenger of Yahoo Sports.
At least for 2024, it looks like conference realignment is staying quiet inside the ACC. But as we saw the Pac-12 dissolve seemingly overnight at the hands of the Big Ten, which will add USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington in 2024, you can never say never.
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Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.Eric Espada/Getty Images
Winning seven of the last eight ACC titles comes with some lofty expectations. That's why Clemson is the preseason favorite to win the ACC for 2023.
Although the Tigers missed out on the College Football Playoff last season, Dabo Swinney's team looks primed to reload and have a big season.
For starters, Clemson returns 15 starters on both sides of the ball. Eight of those are on defense, but we'll talk about that unit later.
Offensively, the Tigers made one of the splashiest coordinator hires of the offseason in landing Garrett Riley from TCU. He spent 2022 on TCU's staff, where he helped lead the Horned Frogs to an 11-2 season and guided quarterback Max Duggan to become a Heisman finalist.
Riley should be able to coach quarterback Cade Klubnik to a big season in the same way.
Clemson also gets four starting offensive linemen back from last season, as well as 1,000-yard rusher Will Shipley at running back.
Florida State last beat Clemson in 2014. If the Noles want to reclaim the ACC title, it has to beat their nemesis to do so.
The good news is that Florida State's 2023 roster is the deepest and most talented we've seen in years in Tallahassee. It's led by quarterback Jordan Travis, but we'll dive into the FSU offense more in a bit.
Defensively, the Noles return a whopping nine starters from last year, including potential first-round draft pick Jared Verse at defensive end. Starting linebackers Tatum Bethune and Kalen DeLoach, who combined for 149 tackles and six sacks in 2022, also return to the unit.
We'll see if Florida State can live up to the hype it has heading into the 2023 season.
Clemson and Florida State are the front-runners to compete for the conference title, but we can't forget about North Carolina, which played in the ACC title game just a season ago.
The Tar Heels return nine starters on offense, including standout quarterback Drake Maye. On defense, UNC gets eight starters from last season, including leading tackler Cedric Gray. The linebacker had a whopping 145 total tackles with 11 for loss last season. Middle linebacker Power Echols also returns, and he had 103 stops in 2022.
The Tar Heels' ACC schedule also looks pretty favorable. Their road trips include Pitt, Georgia Tech, Clemson and NC State. Meanwhile, UNC gets Syracuse, Miami, Virginia and Duke at home.
Best Offense: Florida State
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FSU running back Trey Benson.Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Florida State has a Heisman-worthy candidate in quarterback Jordan Travis. He is coming off his best season in 2022 and has seven returning starters coming back with him in 2023.
Travis will get back his go-to receiver in Johnny Wilson, who led the Noles in receiving last year with 897 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 20.9 yards per reception.
Also back is starting running back Trey Benson, who finished with 990 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground last season. Not to mention they have an experienced offensive line returning that boasts 206 career starts among the unit.
The Noles also added South Carolina transfer Jaheim Bell this offseason. He will be a valuable asset to both the running and passing game after recording 261 rushing yards and three touchdowns last year. He also added 231 yards receiving with two scores.
Best Defense: Clemson Tigers
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Clemson Tigers DE Xavier ThomasJoe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
All eyes will be on the Tigers' offense this season, under a new offensive coordinator and with Cade Klubnik at quarterback. But the defense looks primed to reload in 2023, as well.
Last season, the unit wasn't as dominant as it has been in years past, allowing 20.9 points per game.
The Tigers' defense will be an experienced group. It returns eight starters, including the unit's three leading tacklers from last season in linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, safety Jalyn Phillips and linebacker Barrett Carter.
The secondary also brings plenty of experience, as starting cornerbacks Nate Wiggins and Sheridan Jones return. Safety Andrew Mukuba, who led the team with three interceptions last season, is also back.
The unit also features veteran defensive end Xavier Thomas, who played in just three games last season due to a broken foot. He could have been an early-round draft pick had he declared for the NFL draft after last season.
Instead, Clemson gets back its starting defensive end back who has accounted for 91 total tackles and 15 sacks over five seasons.
Coaches on the Hot Seat
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Syracuse's Dino BabersDavid Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Jeff Hafley, Boston College
Jeff Hafley is entering his fourth season at Boston College. He led the Eagles to a 6-5 year his first season in 2020 and 6-6 in 2021.
Last season, though, BC had its first losing year since 2015, finishing 3-9. And Eagles' starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec transferred to ACC rival Pitt at the end of the year.
There is some room for optimism in 2023, however. The Eagles return 15 total starters from last season, and Boston College's schedule also looks pretty manageable. Their out-of-conference opponents include Northern Illinois, Holy Cross, Army and UConn.
BC's ACC slate features Florida State in Week 3, but games at Louisville, vs. Virginia at home, at Georgia Tech and home games vs. Virginia and Miami seem winnable on paper.
An eight- or nine-win season could renew confidence in Hafley.
Dino Babers, Syracuse
Dino Babers was squarely on the hot seat before the 2022 season, following three straight seasons below-.500.
But the Orange started last season 6-0, and they were ranked as high as 14th nationally. The strong start was impressive, but Syracuse crumbled in the back end of the season.
The Orange team on to lose six of its last seven games. The year was capped off with a 28-20 loss to Minnesota in the Pinstripe Bowl, which was Syracuse's first bowl loss since 2004.
Syracuse's 2023 out-of-conference schedule includes the likes of Colgate, Western Michigan and Army. Its ACC slate features a tough stretch beginning in late September.
On September 30, the Orange get Clemson at home followed by consecutive road trips to North Carolina and Florida State. They close their season with Pitt in Yankee Stadium, a road trip to Georgia Tech and Wake Forest at home.
Even if Babers is somehow able to finish above-.500 this season, that still might not be enough for him to remain with Syracuse.
Best Games on Tap
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South Carolina QB Spencer RattlerEakin Howard/Getty Images
Florida State vs. LSU, Sept. 3
A Week 1 game with legitimate College Football Playoff implications? Sign me up.
This one will be a rematch from last season. The Seminoles won 24-23 in New Orleans last year thanks to a blocked extra point by LSU that would have sent the game into overtime. This year's game will be played in Orlando, which will give Florida State a bit of home-field advantage.
Clemson vs. Florida State, Sept. 23
The last time Florida State beat Clemson in Death Valley came way back in 2011.
And the Tigers will be favored in this one at home after putting up 34 points on FSU's defense last year. Clemson led 34-14 entering the fourth quarter, with the Noles scoring two touchdowns to make it more competitive down the stretch.
Notre Dame at Clemson, Nov. 4
Clemson might have revenge on its mind for this one.
Last season, Notre Dame got out to a 7-0 lead off of a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. The Fighting Irish, which entered this game unranked and 5-3 on the year, didn't let up from there. They led 28-0 entering the fourth quarte and won 35-14, handing Clemson its first loss of the season in the process.
Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman will be looking to make his team into a playoff contender in 2023. Beating Clemson on its home turf is a good way to do just that.
South Carolina vs. Clemson, Nov. 25
Speaking of revenge games. This one was a thriller last season.
The South Carolina Gamecocks trailed throughout the entire game, but they outscored Clemson 17-7 in the second half.
A Mitch Jeter 35-yard field goal with 10:54 left in the fourth quarter gave South Carolina a 31-30 lead that held until the end.
Gamecocks quarterback Spencer Rattler threw for 360 yards with two touchdowns and two picks in the win. The loss effectively knocked Clemson out of the playoff hunt.
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Clemson Tigers QB Cade KlubnikJohn Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Clemson (12-0; 8-0 ACC)
Florida State (11-2; 7-2 ACC)
North Carolina (9-3; 6-2 ACC)
Pitt (7-5; 5-3 ACC)
NC State (8-4; 5-3 ACC)
Wake Forest (8-4; 5-3 ACC)
Miami (7-5; 4-4 ACC)
Louisville (6-6;4-4 ACC)
Duke (6-6; 3-5 ACC)
Syracuse (6-6; 3-5 ACC)
Boston College (7-5; 3-5 ACC)
Georgia Tech (3-9; 1-7 ACC)
Virginia (2-10; 1-7 ACC)
Virginia Tech (2-10; 0-8 ACC)
Projected ACC Championship: Clemson vs. Florida State
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Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Since the ACC isn't playing with divisions this season, we're primed to see two ACC Atlantic rivals in the title game.
It seems reasonable that regardless of what happens between these two in the Sept. 23 regular-season matchup, both will finish with the highest conference-winning percentage.
Both teams return several starters on defense—Clemson gets eight starters back, Florida State with nine returnees. So, this one will likely come down to whichever offense can score the most points.
I have more faith in Dabo Swinney and the Tigers' offense than I do Florida State's. A big reason for that is remembering this game last season, which was a home contest for the Seminoles.
Clemson's offense put up 34 points on FSU's talented defense. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei finished with his best passer rating of the season (182.4) while throwing for 203 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for another score.
But here's the thing: Clemson's 2023 offense will not be the same one from last season. It will be even better than the one that put up 34 points last season.
Swinney has landed one of the best offensive coordinators in college football in Garrett Riley. His new OC will have the likes of Cade Klubnik, running back Will Shipley and a veteran offensive line at his disposal.
Clemson's receiving corps isn't as deep, but leading receiver Antonio Williams is back for 2023. He finished with 604 yards with four touchdowns last year. I expect guys like Beaux Collins and tight end Jake Briningstool to step up, too.
I would love for Florida State to pull off the upset and beat Clemson, and it's nice to see the Noles relevant again in the ACC. Having them crash the playoff would be even more fun.
But as talented and deep this Florida State roster is, there's a reason why Swinney has won the conference seven out of the last eight years.
With Riley's hire and a talented quarterback running his offense, Clemson looks primed to get back into the playoff for the first time since 2020.
ACC projected champion: Clemson
Top Challengers. Winning seven of the last eight ACC titles comes with some lofty expectations. That's why Clemson is the preseason favorite to win the ACC for 2023. Although the Tigers missed out on the
However, while Clemson has the best odds to win the ACC Championship in 2023 at +140 at BetMGM Sportsbook, there is the opportunity for Florida State to win its first conference title since 2014. FSU's odds are set at +170.What teams are in the Atlantic Coast Conference? ›
The Atlantic Coast Conference – Clemson Tigers Official Athletics Site.Who is favored to win ACC Championship? ›
To win the ACC this season, the Clemson Tigers (+140) and the Florida State Seminoles (+170) are among the favorites.Who is favored to win ACC football championship? ›
Clemson (+130) is favored to win its eighth ACC football championship in nine years, but just slightly. The Tigers showed some weaknesses last season, and they have shown over the last two that they are beatable.Is Notre Dame in the ACC? ›
Notre Dame plays in the ACC in pretty much all of its other sports. Although they are geographically isolated from pretty much the rest of the league in Northern Indiana, they might actually be the perfect fit in an 20-team Big Ten league.How many colleges are in the Atlantic Coast Conference? ›
The Atlantic Coast Conference, or ACC, is a college-level athletic division whose 15 member schools compete in 27 Division I NCAA sports.Is Notre Dame in the Atlantic Coast Conference in football? ›
Notre Dame is an ACC member for all sports except football and ice hockey. It receives a reduced share of the ACC's media rights revenue because of that agreement. But the big money is in football, where the Irish receive $15 million annually through a deal with NBC to televise its home games.When did FSU join the ACC? ›
FSU became a member of the ACC beginning on July 1, 1991, and entered conference football completion beginning with the 1992 season. It was the school's first entry into a major athletic conference.
Let's examine Clemson's admission to the ACC and the Tigers' progression through the league to this point. The Clemson Tigers were one of the founding members of the AAC when the conference was established on June 14, 1953. It formed the conference along with six other members of the Southern Conference.When did Notre Dame join the ACC? ›
On March 12, 2013, Notre Dame and the Big East announced they had reached a settlement allowing Notre Dame to join the ACC effective July 1, 2013. On November 19, 2012, the University of Maryland's Board of Regents voted to withdraw from the ACC to join the Big Ten Conference effective in 2014.What are the odds Miami wins the ACC? ›
FanDuel lists the Miami football team at +2200 to win the ACC and with a win total of 7.5. Miami is +138 to exceed 7.5 wins and -170 to go under 7.5 wins during the 2023 season.