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5 burning questions: Can FSU dethrone Clemson atop ACC

Does Florida State have enough to dethrone Clemson as ACC’s best team?

Florida State (3) and Clemson (8) have dominated the ACC landscape, winning 11 of the last 12 conference titles, making their annual matchups a must. However, the Tigers have mastered this series, winning seven consecutive games against the Seminoles. Stability has been the key for Clemson, while FSU has undergone three coaching changes during its losing streak. But the Tigers were the ones who made changes this offseason, revamping its offensive system and promoting a new starting quarterback. Florida State, meanwhile, returns most of its coaching staff along with 17 starters led by quarterback Jordan Travis. This roster represents the best chance to upend Clemson’s reign.

Can Miami rebound from a disappointing Year 1 under Mario Cristobal?

The Hurricanes couldn’t live up to the preseason expectations, dropping out of the top 25 after the season’s first month. The only luck they seemed to favor was bad, suffering through injuries and inconsistencies, particularly at quarterback where Tyler Van Dyke regressed from ACC Offensive Player of the Year form in 2021. After missing a bowl game for the first time since 2007, Cristobal went back to the drawing board, replacing seven assistant coaches, including both coordinators. The roster should be better with the help of a top-10 recruiting class and a litany of transfers that provide depth and experience.

Can ACC return to the College Football Playoff after a two-year absence?

After placing a team in the College Football Playoff in the first seven seasons, ACC teams have finished outside the top four in the past two seasons. Clemson (11-2) claimed the conference title but found itself behind Alabama (10-2) and Tennessee (10-2) at No. 7. According to ESPN’s latest Football Power Index, Ohio State (82%), Georgia (63%), Alabama (62%) and Texas (34%) are projected as having the best chances to make the Playoff. Clemson (24%) is the highest-projected ACC team, followed by Florida State (4.4%) and North Carolina (0.5%). Whoever wins the ACC won’t have an easy path to the semifinals, leaving the conference out of the Playoff for a third straight season.

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Who is the surprise team in the ACC in 2023?

It was a surprise when Duke finished with nine wins for the first time since 2014, so another strong performance shouldn’t catch anybody off guard. The Blue Devils return a conference-best 17 starters from last season, seven of which were named all-conference, including quarterback Riley Leonard (3,666 total yards, 33 total touchdowns) and defensive tackle DeWayne Carter (36 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks). The challenge for coach Mike Elko will be a schedule that features Clemson (Sept. 4), Notre Dame (Sept. 30), at Florida State (Oct. 21) and at North Carolina (Nov. 11).

Who has a better shot at the Heisman Trophy: UNC quarterback Drake Maye or FSU’s Jordan Travis?

While USC quarterback Caleb Williams figures to be the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy for a second time, there are plenty of contenders. North Carolina’s Drake Maye finished 10th in voting for the Heisman after he led the ACC with 4,321 passing yards and 38 touchdowns. The sophomore was the early favorite of Vegas oddsmakers, but it’s not a given he’ll win. UNC must replace its top two receiving threats (Josh Downs, Antoine Green) and Maye must deal with a new offensive coordinator in Chip Lindsey. Florida State’s already ramped up a Heisman campaign for quarterback Jordan Travis, who is coming off a career season with 3,631 yards with 32 total touchdowns. The Seminoles return the top offense in the conference, their leading receiver (Johnny Wilson) and several playmakers that should help Travis.

Email Matt Murschel at mmurschel@orlandosentinel.com or follow him on Twitter at @osmattmurschel.