Why UNC is an ACC contender

North Carolina QB Marquise Williams played a big part in the Tar Heels' second-half surge in 2013. Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

Before the Florida State Seminoles hoisted the BCS National Championship trophy in January, they thoroughly dominated their ACC conference competition. FSU won its regular-season ACC games by an average score of 51-12, and throttled Duke in the ACC championship game by 38 points. The defending champs will have defending Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston back for his sophomore campaign, and there's little dispute that they are the class of the conference heading into 2014.

Is there anyone who could challenge them for the ACC throne?

Our early FEI projections don't favor any other ACC teams to be in the national championship hunt like the Seminoles, but a few may be candidates to spoil Winston & Co.'s repeat plans. The North Carolina Tar Heels are at the top of our list, in large part because their potential shot at the Noles would come in the ACC title game.

The Tar Heels finished the 2013 season ranked fifth in the ACC Coastal Division with a 4-4 conference record, but their strong finish bodes well for the fall. After a 1-5 start, North Carolina won six of its last seven games in 2013, including a 22-point victory over Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. The Tar Heels ranked 86th in our drive-based FEI ratings through the first six weeks, but climbed 43 spots over the second half of the season, the biggest positive swing in the nation in that span.