Graphic by Mike Meredith

Putting together expert picks and preseason predictions for the ACC starts as a fairly easy exercise. Write Clemson in as the pick to win the Atlantic in pen, not pencil. Then, unless you are feeling really frisky about one particular team from the Coastal -- a division that produced seven different winners in seven years between 2013-20 -- repeat the process with the Tigers as the pick to win the conference. 

Clemson winning in Charlotte has become a staple of ACC football, and as we preview the 2021 season, Dabo Swinney and the Tigers are yet again the pick to win what would be the program's seventh-straight conference championship. It's hard to doubt this team even in the wake of the departures of Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne, considering what we've seen from D.J. Uiagalelei already and what we expect from a defense that returns significant talent and experience at all three levels. 

After Clemson, there's little that you can feel certain about in the ACC. There's plenty of excitement for Coastal favorites North Carolina and Miami, but while each is led by a quarterback who has proven to be a difference-maker, both teams have questions to answer. The spots below Clemson in the Atlantic are undetermined as well with as many as four or five teams battling it out for conference wins that will likely determine postseason futures. And it should be noted that North Carolina and Miami are not to Clemson-level status with their position atop the Coastal as teams like Virginia Tech and Pitt are capable of handling themselves and sending the division into chaos.

So while picking the champion is easy -- and in 2021, unanimous -- the rest is up for debate. Our CBS Sports college football experts have provided their picks and predictions for the ACC ahead of the 2021 season below.

Most overrated team

North Carolina: My main concern with North Carolina is how overmatched it looked in games against Notre Dame and Texas A&M last season. The Tar Heels defense was overwhelmed in the trenches. While I think the defense is getting bigger and stronger, I'm not sure it's closed the gap enough to warrant the top 10 spot the Heels currently hold. I can see this team being just as good as last season yet still losing 3-4 games in the process. -- Tom Fornelli (also Barrett Sallee, David Cobb, Jerry Palm)

Miami: The two-team preseason race out of the ACC Coastal has featured the Hurricanes and Heels, but I'm not buying MIami as the real challenger to Clemson in the conference. For the record, I'm a big D'Eriq King fan, and he has some weapons around him. But the schedule has some tough spots even though the Canes don't get Clemson in the regular season. Opening up against Alabama will give us a real look at whether Miami is even a borderline playoff-caliber team. The follow-up against Appalachian State isn't a gimme, either. The midseason back-to-back at North Carolina and then against NC State is difficult, too. Make no mistake, Miami will be good, but the path out of the Coastal is typically chaotic. -- Ben Kercheval (also Chip Patterson)

Florida State: Everyone wants FSU to be good again. I'm among them in the college-football-is-better-with-(traditional power)-on-top crowd. I know the offensive line is better, and I'm hoping McKenzie Milton finishes off the best comeback story ever. But there's just too many question marks. I'm still not convinced Mike Norvell can pull this off. He's a good coach, but it's possible FSU is sinking to Nebraska levels where the brand is now damaged. Oh, and for FSU to make progress this season, it will have to beat some combination of Notre Dame, North Carolina, Clemson, Miami and Florida. This has 5-7 written all over it. -- Dennis Dodd

Most underrated team

Boston College: BC has been more consistently good in recent years than any team in the ACC except for the juggernaut that is Clemson. The Eagles have qualified for bowl games seven of the last eight seasons, although they opted out of participating last year. With 20 starters returning and a favorable schedule, Boston College has a chance to be better than simply good. Nine or even 10 wins would not be a surprise. -- Palm (also Dodd, Kercheval)

NC State: It's the same every season. Nobody expects much of anything from NC State, but at the end of the season, there's the Wolfpack, comfortably settled in as the second-best team in the Atlantic. Dave Doeren's program has done an excellent job of capitalizing on the recent struggles of Florida State and Louisville, and I can once again see the 'Pack flirting with the top 25 all season long. -- Fornelli

Pittsburgh: The Panthers have become a model of Power Five stability that often gets overlooked in preseason projections. Pat Narduzzi is entering his seventh year at the helm, and in the six seasons under his guidance, Pitt has never had a losing record and carries a 29-20 record against ACC opponents with a Coastal title in 2018. The 2021 Panthers are a consistent ground game away from having one of the better offenses in the ACC with Kenny Pickett and a talented wide receiver room already in place and proven. That with the usual Narduzzi defense makes the Panthers a threat to anyone (yes, anyone) in the conference on any given Saturday.  -- Patterson

Florida State: There's this idea out there that the Seminoles will continue to struggle in a division that is essentially "Clemson and everybody else." The quarterback spot is in good hands with either Milton or Jordan Travis, the experience along the offensive line will help fix a decade-long problem up front, and two of its four conference road games are against Wake Forest and Boston College. Caesars Sportsbook set its over/under win total at 5.5. That's insane. Even if FSU doesn't finish one spot behind Clemson in the Atlantic, it will certainly do enough to make a bowl game -- and should make a pretty decent one. -- Sallee

Miami: North Carolina's 62-26 thrashing of Miami at the end of the 2020 regular season is skewing perception of how things stand in the Coastal entering 2021. UNC loses the majority of its skill production, while Miami brings back its leading rushers and receivers from last season. Miami's only other regular season loss last season came against Clemson, whereas UNC lost to Florida State and Virginia, in addition to Notre Dame. The UNC-Miami rematch comes on Oct. 16 this season, and while the game is in Chapel Hill, Miami will be coming off a bye looking for revenge on a Tar Heels team that will be playing for a seventh consecutive week. -- Cobb

Bold predictions

  • Dennis Dodd: ACC quarterbacks Uiagalelei (Clemson) and Sam Howell (North Carolina) will both be Heisman Trophy finalists. 
  • Tom Fornelli: At the end of the regular season, Clemson will be the only ACC team ranked in the top 15 by the CFP.
  • Chip Patterson: The ACC will have two Heisman finalists -- and there's options beyond the two Dodd mentioned in Miami QB D'Eriq King and my vote for ACC Preseason Player of the Year in Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee. 
  • Barrett Sallee: North Carolina is getting all of the love, but there are too many holes on that team. Those holes will prevent them from contending for the CFP. They won't be able to overcome the losses of Michael Carter, Javonte Williams, Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome and Chazz Surratt.
  • Ben Kercheval: Duke coach David Cutcliffe has done a good job with the Blue Devils; however, after a third straight losing season that ends with Duke finishing last in the Coastal, Cutcliffe will reflect on his nearly 40-year career as a college coach and decide to follow Mike Krzyzewski into retirement (at least for now).
  • David Cobb: Miami will get revenge on North Carolina after last season's 62-26 loss to the Tar Heels.
  • Jerry Palm: Only one ACC team all season long will make Clemson work four full quarters for a victory and that team will be Boston College.

ACC predicted order of finish

ACC champion

Clemson: There are going to be games this year where Clemson is going to look a bit clunky on offense. But if you give Uiagalelei enough possessions, he's going to find success. That's why I think there's no concern about Clemson in the post-Trevor Lawrence era. The Tigers have the best defensive line in the country, and that group is going to absolutely manhandle most teams on its schedule. Nearly the entire two-deep has some level of starting experience. Players like Bresee and Myles Murphy are future first-round talents. The offense and even the back end of Clemson's defense doesn't even have to be excellent for the Tigers to win their seventh-straight ACC title because opponents just aren't going to be able to move the ball against this defensive front. By the way: If Clemson's offense is not clunky and the wide receivers can stay healthy and productive, it's a wrap for the rest of the league. Clemson will not only win the conference, it might be playing backups in the fourth quarter of every ACC game. -- Patterson (unanimous)