<
>

ACC mailbag: New coaches, deep sleepers and chances for two playoff teams

play
Does the ACC Atlantic or SEC West have the best top three teams? (2:03)

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney joins College Football Live to debate Paul Finebaum on whether the top three teams in the ACC Atlantic are more dominant than the SEC West's top teams. (2:03)

It’s mailbag time. Find a comfy seat, kick back and enjoy ...

David Hale: There are a few factors at work here. First is that having blue-chip talent is nothing new at Miami, but the Hurricanes haven't won big in more than a decade. That's reason for caution. The second is that, though Mark Richt's hire has been roundly applauded in most media circles, he's also been the first to temper expectations. It takes a lot to turn good recruits into star players, and even the best coaches can't do that overnight. But we did look into this idea -- mixing a new, veteran head coach with elite recruits -- earlier this offseason, and the closest situation to Miami's was actually last season's Michigan team. Following in Jim Harbaugh's footsteps would certainly be a positive step for the Canes, but it's also worth remembering that even Michigan didn't win a division title last season.

Hale: Given that the playoff committee strongly considers a conference title -- perhaps above all else -- when making its decisions, the idea of two ACC teams heading to the playoff seems remote, even if both are quite good. Meanwhile, Louisville is lurking in the division. The Cardinals have led FSU at the half each of the past two years, and they had a chance to beat Clemson on their final drive in each of the past two years. The notion that Bobby Petrino's crew could knock off one of the elites en route to at least a tie atop the Atlantic doesn't seem so crazy, so that's my vote.

Hale: As a follow up, it's not impossible for Clemson and Florida State to make the playoff, but Clemson would have the tougher road if it loses a game. Its non-conference schedule -- Auburn and South Carolina -- isn't exactly thrilling (assuming preseason expectations hold), and FSU gets North Carolina and Miami as cross-division games, and has non-conference matchups against South Florida, Ole Miss and Florida. If the Seminoles go 11-1 with just a close loss to Clemson, they would be tough to overlook.

Hale: For what it's worth, ESPN's Football Power Index predicts 8.4 regular-season wins for North Carolina, with just better than a non-zero chance of going undefeated. So, 11-1? I'd put the chances for that at about 12.692 percent. And the biggest obstacles, in descending order: Florida State, Georgia, Miami and Pitt.

Hale: Most predictions I've seen have Duke at about 6-6, which was about where I might have targeted the Blue Devils, too. I mentioned to David Cutcliffe this offseason that his team might be the toughest to project in the ACC, and he didn't disagree. But he also said this was his most talented Blue Devils team, with the athleticism at receiver and linebacker, in particular, at another level from the past. The question is at quarterback, where Thomas Sirk's health is a concern and the downfield passing game has been lacking. It will be tough to overcome a lackluster passing game with a more difficult schedule in 2016.

Hale: Everything I've heard about Jerod Evans this offseason has been positive, and his ceiling is probably as high as any first-year starter in the league. Add to that a strong defense with Bud Foster at the helm, a veteran offensive line and some top-level skill players on offense, and it's not hard to envision a Coastal title for the Hokies. The problem might be depth. If the injury bug bites early or often, there are major question marks behind the No. 1 unit. It's also tough to project a first-year coach to make a major improvement (see above, re: Miami) because so much of the system is new. Conservatively, I'd have Virginia Tech at 7-5, but I'm bullish on its chances to improve on that number.

Hale: I have to think Deshaun Watson wants to run a little less this season -- he had at least 10 carries in each of his last eight games, including 20-plus in the final four -- so getting multiple 1,000-yard rushers might be tough. Meanwhile, Mike Williams and Artavis Scott have a good shot at 1,000 receiving yards, particularly if Clemson plays 15 games again.

Hale: Asked to pick a winner in each game, I'd probably lean toward a 3-0 weekend for the ACC. But when is the last time the ACC won three marquee games in the same weekend? The league has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, and its talent in Week 1 certainly matches what the SEC brings ... but something tells me there will be at least one game that ends poorly for the league. I'll take Florida State and Clemson to win, and North Carolina to lose a close one.

Hale: A quick refresher on conference wins from 2015: Syracuse had two, Miami had five, Virginia had three and Virginia Tech had four. In truth, I don't envision any adding more than one win to those totals in 2016, but if I'm picking one to take a bigger leap, it's probably the Hokies, who get Boston College, Miami, Georgia Tech and Virginia at home, and have winnable road dates at Syracuse and Duke.

Hale: The non-Clemson or FSU games I'm most looking forward to: Pitt vs. Penn State, Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee, North Carolina vs. Georgia, Miami at Appalachian State, Louisville vs. Houston, Duke vs. Miami ... honestly, there are a ton to get excited about. This has the potential to be the best ACC season in a long time. (Though, don't we say that every year?) Either way, I couldn't be more excited to finally have some real game action on the horizon.