The Cavaliers made very little of a promising start to last season, as Mike London’s squad fell short of a bowl appearance for the third consecutive season. With games against UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State all in the first four weeks, Virginia’s 2015 season could be over before ACC play even begins.
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Wake Forest Demon Deacons: 3.5 wins (2014 record: 3-9)
The Demon Deacons were the bottom-feeders of the conference last season, winning only one ACC game all season. Wake Forest enjoyed a couple small recruiting victories, but they won’t make even lackluster non-conference matchups versus Elon, Army and Indiana any less of a battle.
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Syracuse Orange: 4.5 wins (2014 record: 3-9)
The Orange weren’t any luckier than Wake Forest in 2014 ACC play, but that was something of an anomaly; Syracuse is usually a bowl-caliber team. A favorable schedule and a healthy Terrel Hunt at quarterback could help ‘Cuse bounce back from last year’s disappointing season.
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Miami Hurricanes: 5.5 wins (2014 record: 6-7)
The Hurricanes appear to be on the decline, as faith in head coach Al Golden is at an all-time low. Last year’s losing season left a terrible taste in the mouths of the Miami faithful. As promising as young quarterback Brad Kaaya is, there’s no way he can carry the ‘Canes all on his own.
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Boston College Eagles: 5.5 wins (2014 record: 7-6)
The Eagles had a decent 2014 season, but it ended with devastating defeat in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. That loss could be a sign of bad luck to come. Boston College should create a nice buffer with a pair of FCS opponents to start the season, but things will only get tougher from there.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY SportsJoe Camporeale
Pittsburgh Panthers: 6.5 wins (2014 record: 6-7)
The Panthers are under new leadership with Pat Narduzzi taking over Paul Chryst’s old squad in 2015. The pieces are there for Pitt to take the next step, too; running back James Conner and wide receiver Tyler Boyd are a couple of the conference’s biggest skill-position standouts.
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY SportsGregory Fisher
North Carolina Tar Heels: 7.5 wins (2014 record: 6-7)
The Tar Heels are going to be unrecognizable on defense this year. Last season looked a lot like basketball on turf, but that’s sure to change with Gene Chizik now in charge of the defensive unit. Because of this, star quarterback Marquise Williams shouldn’t have to play from behind so often in 2015.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY SportsRob Kinnan
Virginia Tech Hokies: 8.5 wins (2014 record: 7-6)
The Hokies are primed to bounce back from a little bit of a letdown, so long as the offensive line stays healthier than it did last season. Frank Beamer has been the coach at Virginia Tech for nearly three decades. An era like that can’t just fizzle out; Beamerball has to go out with a bang!
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY SportsBob Donnan
Louisville Cardinals: 8.5 wins (2014 record: 9-4)
The Cardinals will be serious competitors in the Atlantic division, but matching last year’s nine wins will be tough. Louisville’s season-opening contest versus Auburn — to be played at the “neutral” Georgia Dome — will set the tone for 2015. If the Cards win, they’ll be every bit as successful as last season.
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY SportsJamie Rhodes
N.C. State Wolfpack: 9.5 wins (2014 record: 8-5)
The Wolfpack could be the conference’s biggest surprise of 2015. Head coach Dave Doeren has N.C. State on the rise, and his ‘Pack is poised to reach new heights this season. It’ll sure help to have a comfy cushion as a result of the softest non-conference slate imaginable.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY SportsMark Zerof
Duke Blue Devils: 10.5 wins (2014 record: 9-4)
The Blue Devils can’t seem to capture that elusive bowl victory, but head coach David Cutcliffe at least has his team headed in the right direction. With Anthony Boone graduated, Duke’s biggest challenge in 2015 will be to find a new, reliable starting quarterback to command the offense.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY SportsMark Dolejs
Florida State Seminoles: 11.5 wins (2014 record: 13-1)
The Seminoles will have a tough time recovering from last year’s shellacking in the Rose Bowl. They won’t be quite the same without Jameis Winston at quarterback, even though the ‘Noles have competent options to replace him. Florida State will still be a top team but probably not a playoff contender.
The Yellow Jackets came close to unseating Florida State for ACC superiority last season, but settled instead for an Orange Bowl victory. Head coach Paul Johnson has a triple-option attack that’s often too tough to handle. He also has the perfect quarterback to run said offense in Justin Thomas.
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Clemson Tigers: 12.5 wins (2014 record: 10-3)
The Tigers have stolen center stage in the ACC, thanks to a blowout victory in the Russell Athletic Bowl and head coach Dabo Swinney’s breakout recruiting success. Clemson could work their way into the playoff picture, so long as young quarterback Deshaun Watson can stay healthy.