2023 NCAAF: Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

August 30, 2023

As other Power 5 conferences are adding teams left and right, jockeying for position as the college football landscape continually changes in response to a new Playoff format in 2024 (but even moreso, to the changing financial landscape that exists with NIL), the Atlantic Coast Conference is simply trying to find its way back into the national title conversation.

Luckily for the now singular 14-team league (bye bye, Atlantic and Coastal divisions), there are at least a couple of bona fide national title contenders heading into the 2023-2024 season, as well as one or two dark horses. It is fitting and a benefit to the conference that the elimination of the two divisions, which means the top two teams overall will face off in the ACC title game at the end of the regular season, coincides with a potential return to national prominence.

Teams I Like


The Tigers come into the 2023 campaign hungry to return to the College Football Playoff, territory that Dabo Swinney’s team lived in from 2015-2020, qualifying for a semifinal spot every year during that span. Now it has been two years since Clemson has been present at college football’s biggest event. Swinney has brought in Garrett Riley to run the offense, which should be a boon for the Tigers and new quarterback Cole Klubnik. Riley was the architect behind TCU’s improbable run to the national title game last season and has a knack for turning relatively unknown assets into household names.

If the defense can take a step forward in year two of Wes Goodwin’s tenure as defensive coordinator, the Tigers appear to have the talent to return to the CFP. A lot will hinge on the readiness of Klubnik, but a positive is that Clemson’s toughest games (Florida State, Notre Dame, North Carolina) will all be played at Death Valley.


A lot of hype in the ACC is being targeted towards the school some 12 miles down the road from Durham, but the Blue Devils may end up being the kings of the state when all is said and done this season. Riley Leonard is the most underrated passer in the conference and will have nearly all his top receivers and running backs from 2022 around him for another year. It is likely that the passing game will continue to improve and Duke could boast a scoring offense that ranks in the top 20 nationally.

It is hard to believe that the Blue Devils are being overlooked for a second straight year, one which follows a campaign where Mike Elko’s team improved its win total by six games over 2021. Duke gets both Clemson and Notre Dame at home in September, so if the Blue Devils are to cause a stir, it’ll happen early.

Not High On

North Carolina

It’s somewhat difficult to determine where the hype for this teams stems from, outside of do-it-all quarterback Drake Maye. The Tar Heels have pieces to replace on offense, struggled mightily to defend the pass in 2022 and dropped its final four games of the season. Arguably, the best victory of 2022 was by three points at Duke.

Maye has the capacity to be great, and the Tar Heels will need him to be to have any shot at vying for the ACC title. Difficult games to begin the season (South Carolina and Appalachian State) await, and Clemson and North Carolina State are both road games to close out the regular season. Mack Brown has the ability to do more with less, but nine wins could be the ceiling once again.

Players to Watch

Drake Maye, North Carolina quarterback

The reigning ACC Player of the Year will be counted on to do a lot for the Tar Heels, and even if it’s not enough to return to the conference title game, Drake Maye will ensure it’s an exciting ride. The dual threat quarterback is one of the top prospects for next year’s NFL Draft, and for good reason. The League is shifting towards a preference for quarterbacks with athleticism as well as a strong arm, and Maye has both.

While we may not see quite as much downfield running from Maye in 2023, chances are good that he’ll still be using his legs to scramble. If North Carolina’s defense is again porous and the Tar Heels are fighting for an ACC title game berth, chances are good that Maye will also be in the Heisman Trophy conversation as the regular season wanes.

Will Shipley, Clemson running back

If you’re aware of a more useful Swiss army knife in college football than Shipley, please speak up. The junior earned All-ACC honors at three separate positions (running back, all-purpose back and specialist) in 2022 and may have more to offer this coming season.

In new offensive coordinator Garrett Riley’s Air Raid offense, Shipley will be asked to catch the ball out of the backfield far more than he did last season. It should be no problem for the talented Shipley, who has already proven himself capable of excelling in multiple areas. Clemson’s offense may find a new year under Riley in 2023 and if it does, Shipley will surely be one of the primary benefactors.

Jordan Travis, Florida State quarterback

The maturation of Jordan Travis as a passing quarterback has been a multi-year endeavor, but there is no denying that the senior has blossomed into everything that Florida State’s coaching staff hoped he could become. Now a complete player that has quietly situated himself amongst the preseason Heisman Trophy favorites, Travis’s return to Tallahassee for this season is a big reason why so many other important pieces decided to stick around as well.

While Mike Norvell’s offensive philosophy is predicated on a strong rushing attack, there is no doubt that trust has been placed in Travis to make decisions on the fly. Florida State is the senior quarterback’s team, and he has the chops to take it back to the CFP.

Games to Watch (Non-Conference)

Notre Dame at Duke (September 30, TBA time)

That this is arguably Notre Dame’s fourth toughest game of the season is a testament to the gauntlet that it must run through in 2023. Duke will be no slouch at home, dropping only one such game last season (by a field goal).

Clemson at South Carolina (November 25, TBA time)

The Gamecocks’ victory in the Palmetto Bowl last season snapped a streak of seven straight by the Tigers, who very well may come into this game looking to preserve a potential CFP berth.

Games to Watch (Conference)

Clemson at Duke (September 4, 8 PM ET)

This Labor Day special is a good one, pitting two of the ACC’s better offensive units against one another. Riley Leonard is the more proven commodity at quarterback, but Cole Klubnik is provided an excellent opportunity to introduce himself to the country.

Florida State at Clemson (September 23, TBA time)

Not much has been said about the Seminoles in this preview, but Mike Norvell’s team is very good and will be treating this game as a potential resume highlight. On paper, this is the game of the year in the ACC.

North Carolina at Clemson (November 18, TBA time)

If the Tar Heels are for real, there is a possibility that they come into this game with a lot on the line (unbeaten record?). North Carolina hasn’t beaten Clemson at Death Valley since 2001, but Mack Brown also did it in 1997.


  1. Clemson (11-1, [7-1])
  2. Florida State (9-3, [6-2])
  3. Duke (9-3, [6-2])
  4. North Carolina State (8-4, [5-3])
  5. Georgia Tech (7-5, [5-3])
  6. Virginia Tech (7-5, [5-3])
  7. Pittsburgh (6-6, [4-4])
  8. North Carolina (8-4, [4-4])
  9. Louisville (6-6, [4-4])
  10. Syracuse (6-6, [3-5])
  11. Wake Forest (6-6, [3-5])
  12. Miami (6-6, [2-6])
  13. Boston College (5-7, [1-7])
  14. Virginia (1-11, [0-8])

Conference Title Game

Clemson vs. Florida State

Conference Champion: Florida State

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