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College Football: Clemson favored in ACC

Associated Press
Someday, Tommy Bowden says, the fortunes of the Atlantic Coast Conference are going to change.
The Clemson coach is acutely aware of the perceptions about the ACC, a league whose members have lost their last eight appearances in Bowl Championship Series games, haven’t boasted a national champion since Florida State in 1999 and tend to struggle against squads from power conferences.
And he doesn’t let it bother him one bit.
“Things go in cycles. And this’ll go in cycles. It’s just a matter of time,” Bowden said. “College football’s too competitive and there’s too many good coaches, I think, for one league or one team to be dominant.”
His Tigers might be the ones to change that cycle.
For the first time since 1991, Clemson is the favorite to win the ACC title, even though there’s no shortage of contenders.
Florida State and Miami, the perennial league benchmarks, are coming off struggles and might not be ready to reclaim past glory quite yet. Defending champion Virginia Tech is talented, yet has numerous holes to fill. Wake Forest has experience and skill, yet was no match for Clemson a year ago. Georgia Tech is installing new coach Paul Johnson’s triple option attack and North Carolina hasn’t occupied one of the ACC’s top two spots since 1997.
So everything points to Clemson ó and the Tigers insist they’re finally poised to break through.
“I think if we don’t make it to the ACC championship, we let some people down,” Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper said.
Thing is, with Clemson’s penchant for failing to live up to advanced billing, expectations are high almost everywhere in the ACC. Miami believes this will be a bounce-back year, as does Florida State. North Carolina, with as much talent as perhaps any team in the league, could be on the cusp of a breakthrough.
And then there’s defending champion Virginia Tech, which always finds a way to get into the title mix.
“I was surprised that we would be picked to be at the top of our division, to be quite honest with you,” said Hokies coach Frank Beamer, who had eight players drafted off last year’s team, which fell in the Orange Bowl to Kansas. “I think everybody on our side has a chance.”
A capsule look at the North Carolina teams:
ATLANTIC DIVISION
WAKE FOREST: Skinner, Curry and the Demon Deacons won’t surprise anyone this year, the way they did two years ago on their stirring run to the ACC title. … Perhaps the most defensive depth in the ACC, and Sam Swank should be the best kicker in the conference.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE: Finished strongly in Tom O’Brien’s first season with Wolfpack and looking to carry that momentum over. … Most of the offensive skill players are back, but the defense ó which lost seven starters ó will need an overhaul. … Visits to South Carolina and Clemson in season’s first three weeks will set the tone.
COASTAL DIVISION
NORTH CAROLINA: Maybe the biggest enigma in the ACC, with almost all of last season’s key players back. As such, Heels are the ACC’s most popular sleeper pick. … Heels went 4-8 last season, losing six of those games by a TD or less. … Biggest hole to fill? Might be kicker, where Connor Barth excelled for four years.
DUKE: New coach David Cutcliffe has 51 returnees, including Lewis, who has folks in Durham believing the best QB on campus isn’t hoops point guard Greg Paulus ó a high school star in Syracuse. … Riley is a big-play threat, but Cutcliffe will need more than one offseason to turn Duke around.

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