In what is already going to be a season unlike any other in college football, the ACC enters unprecedented territory with a 15-team, one-division league in 2020. Not only are Atlantic and Coastal Divisions gone for a year as the league adopts a 10-game conference schedule in response to the challenges of playing football in the era of coronavirus, but Notre Dame is all in. A partial member with 5-6 games against ACC opponents in a normal year, the Fighting Irish have their own 10-game conference slate, which will make them eligible to play for and potentially win the 2020 ACC Championship Game.
This in a conference that has become all too easy for expert picks at this time of year. You write in Clemson as the winner of the Atlantic, randomly pick literally any of the teams from the Coastal -- seven different teams have won the division in the last seven years -- and then pick the Tigers to win in Charlotte to claim the conference championship. Now there's more to consider, not only with Notre Dame but with the potential of a Louisville or Florida State to finish with the second-best winning percentage in the one-division setup and thus earn a spot at the league title. North Carolina and Miami, a pair of teams that would be in the running for that Coastal spot if divisions were being played, still have a shot at Charlotte but now have to fend off a certified top-10 to top-15 program in Notre Dame.
All of the sudden, the ACC has taken on more intrigue. Clemson remains the overwhelming favorite, but how the rest shakes out and how the notably independent Fighting Irish fare in their one year of conference dependence will bring some unpredictability to a league that has become among the most predictable in the College Football Playoff era.
Our CBS Sports college football experts have provided their picks and predictions for the ACC ahead of the 2020 season. Check them all out below.
Most overrated team
Miami: The defense will be strong and D'Eriq King will provide enough highlight-worthy plays to live up to the hype, so to speak, but the Hurricanes were not only a quarterback away from being an ACC contender last year and are getting overrated as a result of King's arrival. The offensive struggles run deeper than quarterback and offensive coordinator, and the unusual offseason doesn't help Rhett Lashlee's efforts to get it all fixed. I still have concerns for an offensive line that underperformed in 2019, and the receivers (not counting Brevin Jordan here) are speedy but unproven. I see a positive year ahead for Miami in the macro, but the oddsmakers have them solo third on the ACC title board behind Clemson and Notre Dame, and I think that's a spot or two too high in the pecking order. -- Chip Patterson (also Tom Fornelli, Ben Kercheval, David Cobb)
North Carolina: Look, I get it. Sophomore quarterback Sam Howell had a phenomenal true freshman season, running back Michael Carter is back to lead the charge, and the Tar Heels have two 1,000-yard receivers in the fold. Is that enough to make North Carolina the primary threat to Clemson in the new-look, no-division ACC? Nope ... especially with Notre Dame in the mix. The Tar Heels are in the same boat as Louisville, Florida State and Miami. They're potentially explosive on offense and have playmakers in key spots. Potential isn't something to bank on ... at least not in terms of being in the same stratosphere as Clemson or Notre Dame. -- Barrett Sallee
Wake Forest: OK, I know your first reaction: "Why is Dodd picking on the little ol' Deacs?" Jamie Newman is gone. So is supreme weapon Sage Surratt at wide receiver. With Surratt injured, Wake finished 1-4 in 2019. In a 15-team, one-division ACC there, will be no division for which Wake Forest can compete, diluting their accomplishments. A fifth straight bowl is a possibility. That would be an ongoing school record. -- Dennis Dodd
Louisville: The Cardinals got off to a promising start under new coach Scott Satterfield last season, but we shouldn't get carried away with the preseason hype just yet. Some think this is a sleeper team for the ACC title game, but that is more the product of their schedule than their talent. Louisville misses Clemson and North Carolina in the regular season, but it does have a trip to Notre Dame. It will have to be much better on defense if they have ACC title game aspirations. The Cards gave up 34 or more points eight times last season, although they won three of those games. -- Jerry Palm
Most underrated team
Florida State: Honestly, it's not easy finding the underrated team in the ACC. For the last few years, the conference has been "Clemson and 13 other teams." That's a little different in 2020 as it's now "Clemson, 13 other teams, and hey, look, Notre Dame, too!" The overall point remains. Who is the team that's going to step up and pretend to challenge Clemson for conference supremacy? A lot of people are pointing toward North Carolina, but I think too many are looking past Florida State. And I understand why. The Noles haven't been great lately, but they're still a talented roster and Mike Norvell is somebody I believe to be a good coach. It's not crazy to think that when you combine good coaching with talented football players, wins just might follow. -- Fornelli (also Patterson)
North Carolina: The Tar Heels might have more going for it than any 7-6 team in the country. The second act of Mack Brown has included the development of Heisman Trophy candidate Sam Howell at quarterback. Recruiting is through the roof. Brown was one of the more transparent coaches during the offseason. He sold himself and the program well. The one-point loss to Clemson and blowout of Temple in the Military Bowl showed what the Heels can be. A nine-win season isn't out of the question. -- Dodd (also Palm)
Miami: The entire college football world has been waiting on Miami to be "back" for what seems like a century. There's a good chance that it might actually happen this year. The combination of quarterback King and Lashlee should terrify ACC defenses, especially considering the experience up front. Losing defensive end Gregory Rousseau before the season started hurts, but Temple transfer Quincy Roche will be a force to be reckoned with for second-year coach Manny Diaz. If the defense plays up to its potential, Lashlee should only have to produce an adequate offense to keep the Hurricanes in ACC contention. -- Sallee
Virginia Tech: If there's ever a time to replace an icon like longtime former Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, this is it. Even with star cornerback Caleb Farley sitting out the season to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft, the Hokies still return nine starters on defense. The offense is nearly as experienced with quarterback Hendon Hooker set for a breakout season behind an offensive line that returns all of its starters. Don't be shocked if the Hokies are a one-loss team playing for a spot in the ACC title game when they meet Clemson in the final week of the regular season. -- Cobb
Pittsburgh: The Panthers have been consistently OK under coach Pat Narduzzi. I don't necessarily expect them to punch too far above their weight in 2020, but they are a catalyst team that could make life difficult for some of the ACC's top teams. For one, Narduzzi finally has the type of defense on campus that he needs to keep this program competitive with the league's top dogs. And while not having star defensive lineman Jaylen Twyman, who has opted out, hurts, this is still one of the ACC's better D-lines. Find a big time playmaker on offense to succeed the departed Maurice Ffrench, and you'll be cooking with oil. -- Kercheval
- Dennis Dodd: Notre Dame will split with Clemson with the two teams will meeting for a second time in the ACC Championship Game.
- Chip Patterson: Notre Dame beats Clemson in November but loses the rematch in the ACC Championship Game. The Tigers are 6-0 when playing for the conference crown in Charlotte. The Fighting Irish might be able to take them down in the biggest game of the ACC conference season, but championship season is where Clemson has separated itself from the rest of the league (and college football).
- Tom Fornelli: Clemson and Notre Dame will be the only two teams in the conference to lose three games or fewer.
- Barrett Sallee: Virginia Tech won't take a step forward. In normal years, that might result in the dismissal of coach Justin Fuente. The COVID-19 financial landscape might prevent it from actually happening, though.
- Ben Kercheval: Pitt will continue its tradition of knocking off college football giants, beating Notre Dame at home and even giving Clemson a bit of a heart attack, though ultimately falling short against the Tigers.
- Jerry Palm: Notre Dame will find that life in a conference isn't as bad as they have always thought and will eventually join the ACC for good.
- David Cobb: Clemson will lose to Notre Dame in the regular season but still win the league title.
ACC predicted order of finish
Clemson: Don't overthink this. Clemson has won 38 of its last 40 regular-season ACC games and won each of the last five ACC titles. There absolutely could be a loss in the making in 2020 when you consider an increased conference schedule, the presence of a road game at Notre Dame on said schedule and the unknowns associated with frequent COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and players missing action as a result. There might be one, but there probably won't be two. And if Clemson makes it to Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game, it won't lose there because peaking in the postseason is what the Tigers do best. Dabo Swinney is 6-0 in Charlotte when the conference crown is on the line, and since I don't see the Tigers finishing with the third-best winning percentage and missing the title game, I'll write their name in pen as 2020 conference champs. -- Patterson (unanimous)