The ACC is taking over Pinehurst this week to promote the upcoming football season.
In between the golf and the tea-leaf readings, there will be time for some meaningful questions. The answers won’t come until the fall, but we have to fill the down time before the season kicks off with North Carolina and South Carolina on Sept. 3 in Charlotte.
Five ACC-centric questions to consider during the three-day kickoff event:
1. Can Florida State stay out of trouble?
Former quarterback Jameis Winston was a magnet for controversy, both legal and otherwise, but Florida State’s problems haven’t ended with his exit for the NFL.
Arguably, they’ve gotten worse with two high-profile incidents involving players committing violent acts against women.
Freshman quarterback De’Andre Johnson punched a woman in the face at a Tallahassee bar on June 24 and was subsequently dismissed from the team after a video of the incident surfaced on the Internet.
Sophomore running back Dalvin Cook, perhaps the best player in the ACC, was charged after a June 23 incident with punching a woman outside a Tallahassee bar. Cook has been suspended indefinitely while the case is being sorted by the legal system.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has promised “we will do better.” The Seminoles have been the best team in the ACC, winning the last three conference titles and the national title in 2013 and making the College Football Playoff in 2014.
FSU has won 24 straight ACC games and will likely be picked again by the media to win both the Atlantic Division and the ACC championship game in Charlotte on Dec. 5.
As much talent as Fisher has accumulated in Tallahassee, losing a player like Cook would alter the ACC race.
2. Does the ACC have a College Football Playoff contender?
Florida State was the only unbeaten team from a Power 5 conference last year but was seeded third in the inaugural four-team CFP.
The same selection committee will pick this year’s field. Obviously, they weren’t very impressed with the ACC last season, even though Clemson and Georgia Tech both finished in the top 15 while Louisville and Miami cleaned up in the NFL draft.
Clemson, if sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson is healthy, has CFP potential. Watson will have to make a quick recovery from major knee surgery for the Tigers to reach their potential.
Virginia Tech, with an opening date with likely preseason No. 1 Ohio State, will certainly have a chance to make an argument, too.
3. Who will win the Coastal Division?
The aforementioned Hokies have the right defense, and schedule, to win the division for the first time since 2011.
Virginia Tech won the Coastal five times in the first seven years of division play. Their recent stumbles have opened the door for Georgia Tech and Duke in the division.
Predicting the Coastal has been a tricky proposition the last three years. The problem is the media always picks either Virginia Tech or Miami. The Hurricanes have never won the division but have been picked to do so the past two years.
4. Which teams have dark horse potential?
N.C. State and Louisville might not get a better chance to wrest control of the Atlantic from FSU and Clemson.
It’s an annual rite of summer for Larry Fedora’s group to be labeled “sleeping giants,” but there’s a reason. Living up to their potential has been elusive to this point for the Tar Heels but the schedule sets up, with just a modicum of improvement on defense, to break through for 10 wins.
Pittsburgh, with workhorse running back James Conner, also could emerge from the Coastal pack.
5. Will all 14 coaches make it through the 2015 season?
Unlikely. There’s only one new coach in the league, Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi, and that was because Paul Chryst decided to return to Wisconsin.
No one was pushed out. That will probably change by December. Miami’s Al Golden, Virginia’s Mike London, Syracuse’s Scott Shafer and, to a lesser extent, Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer could all be making a last call.
The Triangle trio of Fedora, Duke’s David Cutcliffe and N.C. State’s Dave Doeren are about as stable, as a group, as they’ve ever been.
Predicting the Coastal Division has been an adventure for the media recently. Virginia Tech has been the preseason choice seven times but hasn’t appeared in the ACC title game since 2011.
Source: ACC. Note: *Three-way tie with UNC and Miami but neither were eligible for the postseason.