Summer is winding down and that must mean that the college football season is almost here. This means it’s time for the return of my possibly-award-winning conference preview series. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at all the FBS conferences, from the mighty SEC down to the WAC. First up is the ACC. Set to expand to 14 teams with the addition of Pitt and Syracuse next year, the conference will be trying to re-establish itself as a power football conference after going 2-6 in bowls last year, including losing both BCS games it had teams in. Florida State will battle it out with Clemson for the Atlantic division crown with NC State possibly sneaking in,  while Virginia Tech will in all likelihood win the Coastal without much trouble.

Atlantic Division
1) Clemson
The biggest question for the Tigers coming into this season is its defense which got obliterated by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. How new coordinator Brent Venables handles the defense and how much it can cut down on the number of big plays it allowed last year will go a long way towards determining how well the team does overall. The D-line must be reconfigured, but S Rashard Hall is a steady performer in an otherwise inconsistent secondary. The team is utterly stacked at the skill positions on offense with QB Tajh Boyd, RB Andre Ellington and WRs Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, but the O-line must replace three starters.

2) Florida State
The Noles will attempt to start the march back to glory that was supposed to begin last year. One of the top defenses in the country will lead the way, with the line and secondary the strongest points. With DEs Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner rushing the QB and CB Xavier Rhodes and SS Lamarcus Joyner patrolling the deep routes, it will be tough to score on FSU. The problem will be the offense scoring enough. QB EJ Manuel will need to step up his game and while there is depth at both running back and wide receiver, no one has distinguished themselves. They there will be the offensive line which struggled with injuries and its play last season.

3) North Carolina State
The best bet to unseat Clemson and FSU in the Atlantic, NC State heads into the season with plenty of optimism. Mike Glennon is one of the most underrated QBs in the country and has some nice receiving options in WRs Tobais Palmer and Quintin Payton as well as TE Mario Carter. The pressure will be on the O-line, which had trouble opening up running lanes last season. The defense will be breaking in two new DTs and the LBs, though having promise, have questions of their own. The consolation is that the secondary will be outstanding. CB David Amerson is one of the best shutdown corners in the nation and Ss Earl Wolff and Brandon Bishop are stellar in coverage.

4) Wake Forest
Wake’s season was highlighted by a fast start out of the gate and an equally fast fast fall in the latter half. The focal point of the offense will be QB Tanner Price, who isn’t a prototype for the position, but doesn’t make many mistakes. He’ll have RB Josh Harris to hand off to and WR Michael Campanaro to pass to as safety valves. Besides NT Nikita Whitlock. there is not much of a pass rush from the defensive front seven, something that must change if the Deacons are to win more games. The bright side is they have a trio of CBs in Kevin Johnson, Merrill Noel and Kenny Okoro who should cause problems for opposing QBs.

5) Maryland
Things can’t possibly get any worse then they were last season for the Terps, right? Logic suggests an improvement, but that might be hard to do with their offense. WR Kevin Dorsey and TE Matt Furstenburg are veteran receivers, but a reworked offensive line and lack of a feature running back doesn’t bode well. At least the defense will be there to keep things interesting. DE Joe Vellano is a relentless pass rusher, while LBs Demetrius Hartsfield, Kenny Tate and Darin Drakeford combine with him to form a formidable front wall, which will help the secondary in coverage.

6) Boston College
Last season wasn’t a good one for the Eagles, as they snapped a 12-year bowl attendance streak and things aren’t looking up this time around. The offense was listless at best last season and turning that around starts with QB Chase Rettig, who must take a step forward in production. All time leading rusher Montel Harris is gone and the team has 3 RBs who should combine to form a potent approach by committee. TE Chris Pantale doesn’t have the big numbers, but he does all the little things well. Jason Pierre-Louis takes over for Luke Kuechly and along with DTs Kaleb Ramsey and Dillon Quinn should form a tough middle as they lead the defense.

Coastal Division
1) Virginia Tech
An otherwise great season was marred by big losses to Clemson and Michigan. However, with Frank Beamer around, you can be sure they’ll be right back in the thick of it. This could be the year QB Logan Thomas takes that step forward into stardom. He’ll have a trio of tall WRs in DJ Coles, Dyrell Roberts and Marcus Davis to try to, but he doesn’t have David Wilson to hand off to anymore. Tech’s calling card has always been its Bud Foster defense and they’re stacked at each level. DEs James Gayle and JR Collins will be in opponent’s backfields, LBs Bruce Taylor and Traiq Edwards patrol the second level, while CBs Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum take care of the back end.

2) Georgia Tech
The Jackets will try to prove they’re the team that started last season 6-0 and not the that finished 2-5. Like always, the offense will churn out plays. Tevin Washington is the starter at QB, but talented backups Synjyn Days and Vad Lee might get time. RBs Orwin Smith and David Sims lead the rushing attack behind a stout line led by All-America candidate OG Omoregie Uzzi. The defense allowed too many points down the stretch and the turnaround starts with improved secondary play and the continued development of LB Jeremiah Attaochu and DE Izaan Cross.

3) Virginia
Coach Mike London has the Cavaliers in an upswing and hoping to continue that this season. Perry Jones is the top RB on the team and possibly the bets receiver. He’s a weapon QB Michael Rocco will need to utilize in order to develop further, as he’s the key to the teams success this year. OT Oday Aboushi’s performance will also help determine that. The defense lost half of its starters and replacing them will be a big task. Still the Cavs have talent at each level in DT Will Hill, LBs Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds and CB Demetrious Nicholson.

4) North Carolina
Now that the penalties have been handed down, the team and new coach Larry Fedora can focus on righting the ship. OT James Hurst and OG Jonathan Cooper will help pave the way for RB Giovanni Bernard, one of the top rushers in the conference, as well as QB Bryn Renner. On defense, LB Kevin Reddick is the leader and can play both the run and the pass equally well. DT Sylvester Williams and DE Kareem Martin will provide production upfront, but the secondary has to improve if the Tar Heels want to have a winning record.

5) Miami
The Hurricanes still have the Nevin Shapiro cloud hanging over their heads, though coach Al Golden can provide the necessary discipline. The biggest question on offense is who the starting QB will be, either Ryan Williams or Stephen Morris and it’s a true toss-up. Since their best player on offense is extremely reliable OG Brandon Linder, there is work to do for the team. DE Anthony Chickillo has a chance to be the star player on a defense that doesn’t have a clear cut leader, but a number of possible candidates.

6) Duke
Like Sisyphus pushing the rock up that seemingly endless hill, Duke just can’t seem to break out of the ACC cellar. There are just too many questions for them to finally do that this season. QB Sean Renfree has progressed in his career, but hasn’t taken the proverbial next step. WR Conner Vernon is the only legit playmaker on offense and RB Desmond Scott is not showing his stuff as a runner. The defense is being changed to employ 5 defensive backs, so pass coverage should improve. DE Kenny Anunike is the most talented of the front seven, but he’s coming off an injury that wiped out most of last season.