If we are being honest, the Atlantic Coast Conference is really a Big 2 of Clemson and Florida State. Here is a positive and negative for every school along with NCAAF odds to win the championship.
Positive: It's all about quarterback Deshaun Watson, who the reigning ACC Player of the Year and third-place finisher in the Heisman Trophy voting. He's the single-most electrifying talent in college football and a Heisman favorite on college football odds at many sportsbooks. Simply put, no other team in the nation has anyone like him. He's Michael Vick 2.0.
Negative: Just four starters back on defense. Plus the Tigers have to visit Tallahassee on Oct. 29 in the ACC Game of the Year and they very rarely win there.
Positive: How often do you hear of a national championship contender bringing back every single starter on one side of the ball? That's the case for FSU, which returns all 11 offensive starters, led by running back and Heisman candidate Dalvin Cook. He'll be Watson's top competition for ACC Player of the Year.
Negative: The toughest overall schedule of any ACC team. Out of conference, the Noles have to play SEC powers Ole Miss (to open season) and Florida (to close regular season) as well as of course Clemson in ACC play. FSU also has tough road challenges at Louisville and Miami.
Miami Hurricanes (+900)
Positive: The best pure passing quarterback in the ACC and one of the best in the nation in Brad Kaaya. Some NFL experts have him projected as a higher pick in the 2017 draft than Watson. And Kaaya should only improve this year with the addition of noted quarterback guru and head coach Mark Richt. The Hurricanes are +175 favorites on college football picks to win the Coastal Division.
Negative: Only five starters back on defense and the secondary looks especially thin. Three other key defenders, linebackers Juwon Young Jermaine Grace and end Al Quadin Muhammad, are facing possible suspensions of undetermined lengths.
Louisville Cardinals (+900)
Positive: Unless you follow the Cardinals, you may not be aware how exciting that sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson is. He had 2,347 yards of offense last regular season to break Teddy Bridgewater's school record. And Jackson blew up in a Music City Bowl win over Texas A&M with 227 yards passing and 226 rushing, only the third QB to put up 200/200 in a bowl game.
Negative: The Cardinals play in the Atlantic Division with Florida State and Clemson. If Louisville were in the Coastal, it would be favored to win it. Instead, U of L is +600 on college football picks in the Atlantic.
Positive: Heels finally got over the hump last season in winning the Coastal Division and then pushing Clemson to the limit in the conference title game. On that terrific offense, receiver Ryan Switzer, running back Elijah Hood and four starters on the offensive line return.
Negative: The loss of quarterback Marquise Williams, who was Deshaun Watson-Lite. Also, the Coastal Division hasn’t had a repeat team in the ACC Championship Game since Virginia Tech went in 2010-11.
Virginia Tech (+1600)
Positive: School appears to have hit a home run in hiring Justin Fuente as the new head coach, replacing the legendary Frank Beamer. Fuente was also able to convince long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster to stay on.
Negative: The Hokies haven't been a good offensive team in about five years. Who plays QB? Jerod Evans, the nation’s No. 1 dual-threat junior college quarterback, is battling fifth-year senior Brenden Motley for the job.
Positive: One of the best stories in all of college football this year will be the return of Pitt running back James Conner. He was the ACC Offensive Player of the Year in 2014, rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns. Conner was hurt in Week 1 last year and then diagnosed with cancer. He's healthy now and will participate fully in practice when the Panthers open Aug. 8. He will form a terrific duo with Qadree Ollison, the 2015 ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year after rushing for 1,121 yards.
Negative: The loss of one of the best receivers in school history in Tyler Boyd, a two-time first-team All-ACC selection. He finished his career as Pitt's all-time leader in receptions (254) and receiving yards (3,361) and second in career all-purpose yards (5,243) to a guy named Tony Dorsett 97,117).
Georgia Tech (+2200)
Positive: As usual, the triple-option Jackets are deep at running back, and quarterback Justin Thomas is back for his final season. Perhaps he will play more like he did in 2014 than last year.
Negative: Jackets were one of nation's most disappointing teams last year in going 3-9 and winning just one ACC game. The defense was awful and that once-vaunted offense averaged only 5.8 yards per play, the program’s lowest mark since 2010. Some think the days of that triple-option scheme working at the FBS level are gone.
NC State (+3300)
Positive: The Wolfpack ranked 29th nationally in total defense last season and bring back eight starters on that side of the ball. Solid group of running backs as well, led by Matt Dayes.
Negative: The past couple of years, the Wolfpack have beaten up on a weak non-conference schedule and then lost to all the good teams in the ACC. They also have to replace dual-threat QB Jacoby Brissett, a third-round pick of the Patriots.
Positive: The basketball team is the betting favorite to win the 2016-17 national title. Actually, any time that Duke is able to hang on to excellent football coach David Cutcliffe, it's a positive. He gets feelers from better programs every year.
Negative: Just 11 starters back overall, including the loss of All-American safety Jeremy Cash. QB Thomas Sirk tore his left Achilles tendon during conditioning in February so his status is up in the air.
Boston College (+8000)
Positive: There's no way things can be worse than 2015, when BC was winless in the ACC and its only victories overall were against MAC team Northern Illinois (barely) and FCS schools Maine and Howard. Eight starters are back on offense, although that group ranked 126th overall in the country last year.
Negative: The loss of highly regarded defensive coordinator Don Brown to Michigan. In 2015, BC led the ACC in points allowed, rushing yards and passing yards allowed and led the country in allowing just 254.3 yards per game. Brown was replaced by Iowa linebackers coach Jim Reid.
Wake Forest (+10000)
Positive: Wake had its seventh straight losing season in 2015 and won one ACC game for the second year in a row -- including the worst game of the season to watch, 3-0 over Boston College. But you could see progress. An eight-point loss to Florida State. A one-point defeat to Louisville. Losing by only six to Duke. It's time to turn close losses into wins.
Negative: This has been one of the worst offensive teams in the nation in Coach Dave Clawson's two season and likely will be again. The running game was practically non-existent last year.
Positive: The school upgraded at head coach in dumping Mike London and hiring Bronco Mendenhall, formerly of BYU. In his 11 seasons with the Cougars, he compiled a record of 99-42, winning Mountain West titles in 2006 and 2007.
Negative: The defense needs major fixing as it allowed an ACC-high 32.2 points per game last year and 37 plays of 30 yards or more overall, which was 111th nationally.
Positive: I believe the Orange also upgraded in hiring former Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers to replace Scott Shafer. SU was an incredibly boring offensive team under Shafer but that won't be the case in Babers' fast-paced scheme. Syracuse finished 118th overall in total offense (310.5 yards per game) and that's going to get much better. At least fans will have reason to go to the Carrier Dome now.
Negative: Babers doesn't coach defense, and that group needs help. SU allowed 31 points and 472.5 yards per game, both among the worst in the ACC. Maybe a switch to a Tampa-2 scheme will change things.