The 2023 ACC football season is shaping up to be one of the most unique in league history as the conference says goodbye to divisions and eyes a return to the College Football Playoff after a two-year absence. While the ACC is undergoing a major shift, the conference championship race features a return to normalcy, of sorts, as No. 8 Clemson and No. 9 Florida State enter the year as the league's clear-cut frontrunners.
The ACC Championship Game has featured either Clemson or Florida State in all but four season since division play began in 2005 with the two programs combining for 12 of 18 conference titles in that span. The Tigers and Seminoles have been the class of the conference, though not always at the same time. Clemson has had the upper hand recently, winning the ACC in seven of the last eight years. Mike Norvell's breakthrough 2022 season with Florida State, however, has the 'Noles back in the top 10 and eyeing a return to the top of the league.
The two will face off at least once, on Sept. 23, and possibly stage a rematch on Dec. 2 in the ACC Championship Game now that they're no longer members of the same division.
Can anyone other than the Tigers or Seminoles break through and throw the ACC into chaos, though? Let's have a look as our CBS Sports college football experts have provided their picks and predictions for the ACC ahead of the 2023 season.
Most overrated team
Florida State: Florida State's national rating is fair; anywhere between Nos. 7 and 12 feels appropriate given the returning production and offseason roster additions. I even agree with the media's preseason order of finish putting the Seminoles at No. 2 behind Clemson. But I believe overrating Florida State is happening with the presumed distance between the Seminoles and the Tigers. The AP Top 25 has Florida State one spot ahead of Clemson, and the betting markets essentially have the two programs listed as co-favorites with the Tigers at +130 and the Seminoles at +140. I think Clemson is the proper favorite, but there's a gap between these two programs that still needs to be closed. Florida State just broke through with a 10-win season but also lost all of its games against ranked opponents. Mike Norvell has built up the most complete roster we've seen in Tallahassee, Florida, in years, but Clemson has been stacking blue-chip-laden recruiting classes for a decade. I'm not ready to put them on the Tigers' tier just yet. -- Chip Patterson
Miami: The Hurricanes' first season under Mario Cristobal was a complete disaster as Miami failed to reach bowl eligibility for the first time since 2007. Still, the preseason ACC poll slotted Miami at fifth; for context, Miami finished fifth in its own division one year ago. Modest improvements are expected in Cristobal's second season, but no magical turnaround is coming. The schedule is even harder in 2023 as a division-less setup means Clemson, Florida State, NC State and No. 21 North Carolina are all on the schedule. Miami doesn't even have the benefit of continuity after both coordinators left the program. Don't be surprised if the Hurricanes are fighting for bowl eligibility at the end of the year. -- Shehan Jeyarajah (Barrett Sallee, Jerry Palm, David Cobb)
North Carolina: North Carolina has some talent, for sure, but the roster is filled with too many holes to confidently say the Tar Heels are one of the ACC's three best teams. With Devontez Walker's eligibility in question, star QB Drake Maye lacks proven weapons (outside the tight end room). Retaining defensive coordinator Gene Chizik after a woeful 2022 was questionable, and the secondary -- which anchored a pass defense that ranked 121st out of 131 FBS schools last season -- lost a ton of proven options and will rely heavily on transfer contributions. -- Will Backus (Tom Fornelli)
Louisville: Jeff Brohm was the perfect choice to succeed the middling Scott Satterfield (26-24 in four seasons). He is a legacy. He can coach. He guided Pur -- friggin' -- due to the Big Ten Championship Game. Louisville isn't competing for the ACC title, though. Not anytime soon. It is a middle-of-the road ACC program that has finished above third place in its division twice since 2014. It certainly is not a national program it was threatening to be 10 years ago. God bless Lamar Jackson and all, but is it fair to say Louisville has slipped? In one sense, that's why Brohm was hired. Cal/Purdue transfer QB Jack Plummer comes in knowing the system. But this is a league that is still ruled by Clemson, with Florida State coming on strong. Louisville is a program that has barely averaged seven wins the last five years. The last coaches to really win big with the Cardinals were Bobby Petrino and Charlie Strong, and that was a while ago. Satterfield didn't leave much talent on the roster and only four starters return on offense. -- Dennis Dodd
Most underrated team
Pitt: Pitt followed up its 2021 conference title by finishing tied for third in terms of ACC record last season. Yet the Panthers tied for sixth in the league's preseason media poll. Perhaps voters forgot that Boston College transfer quarterback Phil Jurkovec thrived in offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr.'s system during their time together at BC in 2020 and 2021. Perhaps they also forgot that ninth-year coach Pat Narduzzi always reloads his defensive front seven amid seemingly significant departures. Pitt doesn't play Clemson, Miami or NC State, and it gets Florida State and North Carolina at home. With that schedule, this team has all the makings of a darkhorse league title contender. -- Cobb (Patterson, Palm)
NC State: Dave Doeren has been at NC State for 10 seasons. He's managed to win at least seven games in eight of them, and one of the two seasons he failed to do so was his first. This program has consistently finished in the top half of the ACC's tougher division, and it has worse odds to win the league than North Carolina, Louisville and Miami? Am I the only one who remembers what happened last time Brennan Armstrong and Robert Anae cooked together? -- Fornelli (Dodd, Jeyarajah)
Louisville: I did a double take when I saw that Louisville was picked eighth in the preseason media poll. It's a complete contradiction from the 8.0 win total listed at Caesars Sportsbook. Oddsmakers are right and voters in the ACC poll are wrong. The switch from Satterfield to Brohm is a massive upgrade, and the addition of Plummer through the portal was a coup for a team that needs a gunslinger under center. He threw 26 touchdowns under Brohm at Purdue (2019-21) before throwing for 3,095 yards and 21 touchdowns last season at Cal. Translation: He is fully comfortable with Brohm's system and incredibly experienced. That, coupled with a new defensive scheme that will rely heavily on an experienced secondary, will lead the Cardinals into ACC contention. -- Sallee (Backus)
- Dennis Dodd: Drake Maye not only wins the Heisman and throws for 5,000 yards, but reminds us again if you've got a quarterback you've got a chance as he guides North Carolina to a New Year's Six bowl. That makes it a grand stage for the great Mack Brown to retire (from coaching) and become the new executive director of the College Football Playoff.
- Tom Fornelli: Clemson and Florida State will be the only two ACC teams to finish the regular season with fewer than four losses.
- Chip Patterson: Clemson pulls off a two-game sweep of Florida State. I've got the Tigers beating the 'Noles early in Death Valley before running it back with another win in Charlotte to claim their eighth ACC title in nine years. The addition of Garrett Riley at offensive coordinator will unlock peak efficiency for the offense. The defense, which has never really wavered much in the recent playoff drought, will be elite once again.
- Barrett Sallee: The Seminoles are for real, and will prove it on Sept. 23 in a win over Clemson in Death Valley. They'll drop one game along the way but top the Tigers for a second time in the ACC Championship Game. That'll give them their first College Football Playoff appearance since 2014.
- Shehan Jeyarajah: Clemson will handily beat Florida State in their Week 4 home matchup, seemingly eliminating the Seminoles from the College Football Playoff discussion. But in an ACC title game rematch, Florida State will strike back and beat the Tigers by two touchdowns, setting up a pathway to earn the fourth and final CFP berth.
- Jerry Palm: Clemson, Florida State and Miami, at a minimum, will leave the ACC but not before the 2026 season. That will be the impetus for the next round of realignment.
- David Cobb: Riley's offense will carry Clemson to the CFP. Dabo Swinney made a rare outside hire and turned over the Tigers' underperforming offense to Riley, who was TCU's offensive coordinator last season during the Horned Frogs' remarkable playoff run. Riley will immediately restore Clemson's offense to the status it enjoyed amid six straight CFP appearances from 2015-20, and the Tigers will return to the four-team field.
- Will Backus: The ACC will have three 4,000-yard passers for the second time in three seasons. All eyes are on Florida State's Jordan Travis, North Carolina's Maye and Clemson's Cade Klubnik, but NC State's Brennan Armstrong (reunited with former offensive coordinator Robert Anae), Duke's Riley Leonard and Louisville's Plummer are worth paying attention to.
ACC predicted order of finish
Clemson: Riley's hire sparks memories of what Chad Morris once did to bring a new energy to Clemson's offense. I think it will certainly benefit Klubnik as the former five-star prospect takes control of an offense that should be quarterback friendly and allow the Tigers' wide receiver room to step forward as well. Throughout these "down years" — with 12-straight double-digit win seasons, not making the playoff could be considered a down year, I suppose — the defense has remained strong. I think that group will maintain the standard thanks to the best linebacking corps in the conference and a disruptive interior defensive line. If the passing attack improves significantly, Clemson might not just be a conference champion but a legitimate playoff contender. Even if it's only marginal improvements, the Tigers are well-positioned to win their eighth ACC title in a nine-year run. -- Patterson (Dodd, Fornelli, Palm, Cobb)
Florida State: Buy the Seminoles because they are absolutely loaded. Travis' return at quarterback gives Norvell a perfect chance to get as creative as possible with the offense. The combination of a solid running game led by Trey Benson and a deep, talented and tall receiving corps provides more chess pieces to move around offensively. Plus, the fact that he was able to re-recruit defensive lineman Jared Verse to campus instead of moving on to the NFL was one of the most important moves of the offseason. This is one of the most complete teams in the country, and the Seminoles have a chance to make the College Football Playoff. -- Sallee (Jeyarajah, Backus)