Posted: Fri August 16, 2013 12:30PM; Updated: Mon August 19, 2013 9:09AM
Zac Ellis

Clemson, Florida State lead 2013 ACC preview

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Tajh Boyd
Quarterback Tajh Boyd will look to lead Clemson to an ACC title after opting to return to school in 2013.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Can Clemson live up to its lofty preseason hype? Can a redshirt freshman quarterback lead Florida State to the BCS? Which team will emerge from a suddenly competitive Coastal division? Zac Ellis answers these questions and more in his ACC preview. For more coverage, check out's 2013 college football preview content archive.

Note: The projected standings reflect the author's opinion, not's.

ACC 2013 Report
How They'll Finish
ATLANTIC Conference Overall
Clemson 8-0 12-1
Florida State 7-1 10-2
NC State 4-4 8-4
Wake Forest 3-5 6-6
Maryland 3-5 6-6
Syracuse 2-6 4-8
Boston College 1-7 4-8
COASTAL Conference Overall
Miami 6-2 9-4
Virginia Tech 5-3 8-4
Georgia Tech 5-3 8-4
North Carolina 5-3 8-4
Pittsburgh 3-5 6-6
Duke 3-5 6-6
Virginia 1-7 3-9
Conference championship: Clemson def. Miami
Offensive MVP
Tajh Boyd
2012 stats: 287-of-427, 3,896 passing yards, 36 TD, 13 INT
2013 projection: 295-of-440, 4,250 passing, 39 TD, 12 INT
The reigning ACC Player of the Year bypassed the NFL to return to Clemson for his senior year, where he'll look to add to his already impressive legacy. After three seasons with the Tigers, Boyd holds program records for passing touchdowns (73) and career passing efficiency (149.6). A run a the Heisman isn't out of the question, as Boyd will benefit from the return of receiver Sammy Watkins and four members of the offensive line.
ELLIS: Clemson ranks No. 10 in SI's preseason Top 25
Defensive MVP
Christian Jones
2012 stats: 95 tackles, 7 TFL, 3 passes defended, 2 fumbles recovered
2013 projection: 110 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 10 TFL, 2 forced fumbles
With 27 career starts under his belt, Jones is the anchor of a Florida State defense that stifled the ACC last season. He racked up 95 total tackles for a unit that finished second in the nation in total defense (254.1 yards per game). Factor in another year of experience and a move from weakside to middle linebacker and Jones could become one of the most dangerous defensive players in the entire country.
STAPLES: Florida State ranks No. 13 in SI's preseason Top 25
Breakout Star
Deon Bush
2012 stats: 34 tackles, 3 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles
2013 projection: 55 tackles, 2 INT, 6 pass breakups, 4 forced fumbles
Bush was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise sorry Hurricanes' defense in 2012. A Miami native, he played in 10 games and started six as a freshman before coaches tabbed him the program's Newcomer of the Year. He tied for second in the ACC with three forced fumbles -- he forced two in a loss to Notre Dame -- and recorded 34 total tackles. Bush is coming off offseason groin surgery, but his skills in the secondary should help Miami's defense reclaim some respect this fall.
Impact Freshman
Jameis Winston
2012 stats: N/A (redshirted)
2013 projection: 2,150 passing yards, 17 TD; 750 rushing yards, 8 TD
Jimbo Fisher has yet to officially name Winston the 'Noles starter, but the redshirt freshman all but solidified his hold on the job this spring. Winston's performance in workouts -- he threw for 205 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game -- prompted backup Clint Trickett to transfer to West Virginia. Winston will have the tools around him to succeed: FSU returns experience at receiver (Rashad Greene), tailback (Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr.).
STAPLES: FSU's Jameis Winston battling for starting job amid hype
Coach On The Hot Seat
Randy Edsall
Last season: 4-8 (2-6 ACC)
Career at Maryland: 6-18 (3-13 ACC)
Edsall's tenure in College Park has been marred by his team's health issues; in 2012, the Terps had four quarterbacks go down with season-ending injuries. Still, Maryland fans likely expected more than a combined six wins heading into the coach's third season at the helm. The Terps ranked 12th in the ACC in total offense last season even with explosive playmaker Stefon Diggs at wideout, and despite a drastically improved defense, Edsall's team dropped eight games, including three losses by three points or fewer. If Maryland can't show some signs of progress before moving to the Big Ten in 2014, it might need to look elsewhere for leadership.
RICKMAN: Hot Seat Watch: Which coaches have the most at stake in 2013?
ACC Video Preview
Staples' Three Keys: ACC
Source: SI
Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples breaks down three things to watch for in the ACC in the 2013 season.
Three Key Nonconference Games
Georgia at Clemson
Saturday, Aug. 31
8 p.m. ET, ABC
The matchup in Death Valley might be the most anticipated game of the season's opening weekend. Two of the country's top passers will meet in Boyd and Georgia's Aaron Murray, and early-season BCS implications could be on the line. Bragging rights are also at stake: Tigers receiver Watkins told reporters this offseason that Clemson should "beat the mess out of" the Bulldogs.
Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (in Atlanta)
Saturday, Aug. 31
5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Crimson Tide have won three of the last four BCS titles, while the Hokies are coming off their worst record in 20 years. Still, this game has the makings of an intriguing Week 1 clash. Frank Beamer overhauled Virginia Tech's offensive staff during the offseason, which could be the spark needed to help quarterback Logan Thomas bounce back from a down 2012. Meanwhile, Nick Saban's squad will be look to pick up right where it left off behind AJ McCarron, T.J. Yeldon and a loaded defense. A monumental Hokies' upset seems unlikely, but if Thomas plays well, this could be closer than many expect.
Clemson at South Carolina
Saturday, Nov. 30
The battle for the Palmetto State doesn't need any extra build-up, but the offseason provided plenty of bulletin-board material nonetheless. South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney told reporters at SEC Media Days that Boyd is "scared" whenever the two teams meet. Clemson's signal-caller responded by saying the verbal sparring would resolve itself on the field. Oh, and this matchup also pits Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney and should factor into the final BCS standings. Don't miss it.
Three Key Conference Games
Florida State at Clemson
Saturday, Oct. 19
The 'Noles handed Clemson one of its two losses in 2012, outscoring the Tigers 35-9 in the second half. The programs are the favorites to emerge from the ACC again in 2013, and this game will likely determine the Atlantic division. Florida State's smothering defense could have its hands full with Clemson's high-powered attack.
Miami at Florida State
Saturday, Nov. 2
Fisher still hasn't lost to Miami during his tenure as head coach, notching his third straight victory in the series with a 33-20 victory in 2012. The rivalry returns to Tallahassee this fall, and it should feature two of the league's brightest stars in FSU's Winston and Miami's Stephen Morris. This game will be a key test for Miami's defense -- which allowed 447 total yards in that '12 matchup -- in reestablishing itself after last season's struggles.
Virginia Tech at Miami
Saturday, Nov. 9
The Hurricanes were outgained on offense (421 yards to 347) and went just 1-of-12 on third-down conversions, but they still managed to beat Virginia Tech 30-12 in last season's clash. It was Miami's third win over the Hokies in its last 10 tries. Both programs have their sights set on competing for a conference crown in 2013, and this game will help set the Coastal division pecking order.
Five Key Questions
Can Clemson take the next step? The Tigers are in position to win the ACC for only the second time since 1991, but coach Swinney isn't putting much stock into the hype. He told reporters at ACC media days that the expectations are "so not even worth having a conversation about." Still, after beating LSU in last season's Chick-fil-A Bowl, Clemson has the talent make a BCS run. It'll be up to Boyd, Watkins and coordinator Brent Venables' D to help the Tigers transform preseason potential into results.
Can Miami finally break free from its NCAA shadow? Miami has played under the constant cloud of an NCAA investigation for two years now. While the situation hasn't been completely resolved, expectations surrounding the 'Canes are finally high enough shift the focus in Coral Gables back to football. A productive offense returns eight starters, including quarterback Morris and tailback Duke Johnson, and a young defense that flopped in 2012 should improve with an additional year of experience. The 'Canes are a popular pick to emerge out of the ACC Coastal, and the 2013 season is a chance for coach Al Golden’s squad to make some on-field headlines for once.
BURKE: Miami's Stephen Morris among top NFL prospects in the ACC
Was Virginia Tech's 2012 a one-year aberration? Beamer's consistent success hit a speed bump last season, when his Hokies struggled en route to a 7-6 finish. Prior to its down year, Virginia Tech had won at least 10 games for eight consecutive seasons; were it not for three wins to close out the '12 campaign, the Hokies wouldn't have even gone bowling. The troubles were enough to force Beamer to make his first major staff changes in years, bringing in three new offensive assistants, including coordinator Scot Loeffler. The key will be the response of Thomas, who must rebound from an up-and-down, 16-interception outing as a junior.
How will Pitt and Syracuse fare in their conference debuts? The Panthers and Orange move from the Big East to the ACC in '13, but both could find limited success in their new home. Pitt finally has stability under coach Paul Chryst, but it still faces several questions on offense; the Panthers must break in fresh faces at quarterback and running back. Meanwhile, first-year 'Cuse coach Scott Shafer could take time to settle in, especially when tasked with replacing an NFL-bound predecessor (Doug Marrone) and quarterback (Ryan Nassib). The ACC newcomers were middle-of-the-pack finishers in a weak Big East last season, so don't expect fireworks in a new league just yet.
Who is the second-best quarterback in the ACC? Clemson's Boyd topped most of the conference's passing categories in 2012, so his spot atop this list is fairly undisputed. But the league boasts a handful of talented quarterbacks behind him. Miami's Morris controlled one of the ACC's most productive offenses last season and fielded praise from NFL scouts at the Manning Passing Academy this summer. North Carolina's Bryn Renner finished third in the conference in efficiency as the Tar Heels set several school records on offense last fall. Even Virginia Tech's Thomas remains an NFL-caliber prospect. Any of those passers, alongside players like Winston at FSU, could take the league by storm on Saturdays.
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