No. 1 Miami Hurricanes
This could be the year Miami announces they are officially back.
The Hurricanes return 9+ starters on both sides of the ball and are absolutely loaded offensively. Stephen Morris is back at quarterback, along with speedy wideout Phillip Dorsett and elite tailback Duke Johnson, the ACC Rookie of the Year.
However, the key is returning all five offensive line starters. Couple that with what should be an experienced defense and on paper Miami should win the Coastal.
Key Player: Stephen Morris. His final line in 2012: 245-of-421 for 3,345 yards, 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions, fewest by a Miami quarterback in seven years.
However, Morris was unstoppable over his final four games, tossing 11 touchdowns and no picks.
If he continues to progress, the offense should be dynamic because Duke Johnson might be the best tailback in the ACC.
Don't Sleep On: The Defensive Line. The Canes need more production from their defensive line. The team ranked 113th nationally in sacks a year ago, getting just 10 all season from linemen.
If their defensive front can produce, the defense will almost certainly improve because there are some playmakers in the secondary.
Junior Anthony Chickillo should lead the group from his defensive end position.
Schedule Note: Fairly manageable conference slate for the Canes. They avoid Clemson and NC State but do get FSU and Pittsburgh on the road.
They play top Coastal Division foes Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech at home and have a bye before playing North Carolina on Thursday night.
No. 2 Virginia Tech Hokies
Bud Foster is still at Virginia Tech so we can count on the Hokies fielding a strong defense (they return studs on all three levels in defensive end James Gayle, linebacker Jack Tyler, and defensive back Antone Exum).
The question marks will be offensively for the Hokies, but this might be the year Logan Thomas delivers. If he does, Virginia Tech could win the Coastal because their schedule sets up very, very nicely.
They just lack the skill position talent that Miami possesses.
Key Player: Logan Thomas. The quarterback is likely the key for almost every team, but it's really the case for Virginia Tech because they lack the game-breaking tailback they've had in recent years.
He led the team with 524 rushing yards and nine touchdowns last seasons, but his 16 interceptions were way too much.
Thomas must be more efficient for the Hokies. He is their star. It's his time to shine.
Don't Sleep On: J.C. Coleman. He has a chance to have a big year.
Coleman started six games, finishing with 492 yards and two touchdowns on 109 carries. He also finished fourth on the team with 21 catches for 132 yards and a score.
The job appears to be his, and workhorse backs at Virginia Tech have fared well in recent years.
Schedule Note: Great news for the Hokies... they do NOT face Florida State or Clemson this year and take on UNC at home.
In fact, it's a big reason why they will contend for the Coastal crown... their league schedule.
No. 3 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
It hasn't been pretty in Atlanta recently.
After winning 20 games in 2008 and 2009 under Paul Johnson, the Yellow Jackets have struggled the past three seasons, going just 21-19, with three straight losses to Georgia.
However, there is optimism this season. Plenty of playmakers return on both sides of the ball. Vad Lee has the potential to be a star in Tech's triple-option offense, and the back seven is loaded with potential All-ACC candidates.
Key Player: The start of the Lee era behind center is being met with plenty of lofty expectations.
He shined at times last season in Tech's triple-option, and he has the ability to make plays in the passing game, something previous starters Tevin Washington and Josh Nesbitt struggled with.
If Lee can stay healthy and manage the ball-handling mistakes, he has the talent to be a stud in Tech's system.
Don't Sleep On: Jeremiah Attaochu. Tech is moving to a 4-3 front so Attaochu, one of the ACC's best pass-rushers is now being asked to transition from rushing as a stand-up linebacker to attacking with his hand on the ground a defensive end.
It should be a smooth transition for Attaochu, who was a beast least year as he totaled 69 tackles, a dozen tackles for minus yards and 10 sacks.
Look for him to make a run at Tech's sack record.
Schedule Note: We should know Tech's chances in the Coastal very early. Four of their first five games are against division opponents, including matchups with North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Miami (two of the three are at home).
The Yellow Jackets also avoid Florida State and have a bye prior to a Thursday night game at Clemson.
No. 4 North Carolina Tar Heels
UNC finished tied for the Coastal Division crown last season but must replace multiple standouts n both sides of the ball.
Two first-round picks in the trenches (Johnathan Cooper and Sylvester Williams) and the ACC's best tailback (Gio Bernard) are now in the NFL, along with solid seniors Erik Highsmith and Kevin Reddick.
But, solid quarterback Bryn Renner returns and he has two of the best pass-catchers in the league in Eric Ebron and Quinshad Davis at his disposal.
Kareem Martin returns up front, but he's more of a run-stuffing rush end than a pass rusher. There are major questions at linebacker and in the front seven overall.
Tim Scott and Tre Boston had productive seasons statistically in the secondary, but the pass defense ranked just No. 81 nationally last year.
With what seems to be few pass rushers up front, North Carolina's defense will be the key to their season.
Don't Sleep On: Romar Morris. Sure, Gio Bernard is gone, but Morris has the game-breaking ability to replace some of the big plays Bernard produced last year.
Electrifying with the ball in his hands, Morris averaged 5.6 yards per carry last season.
Schedule Note: Like Virginia Tech, North Carolina avoids Clemson and Florida State from the Atlantic Division but must play on the road at Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and rival NC State.
No. 5 Pittsburgh Panthers
The Panthers enter the ACC and are certainly looking for stability. Paul Chryst is in his second-year as head coach after leading Pitt to a 6-7 record in 2012.
The majority of Pittsburgh's talent heading into 2013 lives on the defensive side of the ball. Nine starters return, led by frenetic defensive tackle Aaron Donald and an underrated defensive backfield. The Pitt "D" is why they should finish ahead of Duke and Virginia.
The offense will be a work-in-progress, but Chryst, the architect of several prolific offenses at Wisconsin, has proven he can produce with less talent on paper. Last year's team featured a 3,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time in program history.
Savage is expected to be pushed by Chad Voytik, but the job appears to be his. He has the ability to excel in Pitt's pro-style offense but he hasn't faced live action in three years.
Don't Sleep On: Devin Street. ACC fans may not know about Street, but they will shortly.
The Second Team All-Big East selection totaled 73 balls for 975 yards and five touchdowns in 2012 and a 6-4 and 190 pounds he has the size to manhandle defensive backs.
He doesn't have great top-end speed, but he has terrific hands and runs outstanding routes. Expect Savage to try and get the ball to Street early and often.
Schedule Note: It's not easy.
The Panthers open the season with Florida State and end it with Miami. Sure, both games are at home, but when you add in road games at Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, it's difficult.
How is this final five games: at Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, North Carolina, at Syracuse, and Miami?
No. 6 Virginia Cavaliers
Mike London did in the offseason what any coach with a 16-21 career mark would do—he shook up his staff in an effort to locate a new direction and some fresh energy. But, when a coach does that, it also means there is pressure to win now.
The question is, does Virginia have the talent, and maybe more so the experience, to do so?
No one knows who will start at quarterback, which is always a concern, but defensively the addition of Jon Tenuta as defensive coordinator could pay dividends. The Cavaliers need to create pressure... and turnovers defensively to potentially help the offense.
Unspectacular but extremely reliable, he has a nose for the endzone and is a tough, physical runner. He rushed for 734 yards and five touchdowns last season, while splitting carries with Perry Jones, but should be the feature back in 2013.
Don't Sleep On: Taquan Mizzell. Just a true freshman, Mizzell, a dynamic playmaker, was recruited to produce right away for the Cavaliers.
He will start out at tailback and could push Parks, but look for the Virginia coaching staff to try and get Mizzell touches in space through the passing game and also work him in on special teams.
For a team that lacks explosive options, he will have every chance to impact from day one.
Schedule Note: The good news... the Cavaliers have eight home games. The bad news... they include matchups with non-conference standouts BYU and Oregon plus ACC rivals Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech.
Factor in road games at North Carolina and Miami, and it's a brutal schedule for a team with so many question marks.
No. 7 Duke Blue Devils
By Duke standards, 2012 was a success.
Now expectations must start to rise for David Cutcliffe, who is 21-40 since taking over in Durham. While the Devils reached a bowl for the first time since 1994, they struggled to make it there, losing five straight to end the regular season.
The Blue Devils must replace Sean Renfree, but there are plenty of weapons offensively and Anthony Boone has proven he should be able to handle the starting job... distributing to those weapons.
Defensively is where the concerns are. The Blue Devils return five starters from a unit that was predictably feeble in 2012; they ranked 105th nationally in total defense, giving up at least 40 points to six of their final seven opponents.
The 5-9, 175-pounder totaled 76 receptions for 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns to earn honorable mention All-ACC honors, and with the system firmly in place, he could be even better this year.
Look for Cutcliffe, who is outstanding at calling plays for his stars, to find different ways to get Crowder the ball. He has a chance to be special.
Don't Sleep On: Ross Cockrell. Because he plays for Duke, most may not know that the top returning cornerback in the ACC is Cockrell.
He emerged last season, leading the ACC in interceptions while finishing second in pass breakups.
A three-year starter, Cockrell had 71 tackles last season and is a rock for the Blue Devils in the secondary.
Schedule Note: This is where there is some hope.
No Florida State. No Clemson. The Blue Devils play at Virginia Tech and at North Carolina, but have Georgia Tech, NC State, and Miami at home.
It all starts with the first five games. Duke has to build momentum, as they open with NC Central, Memphis, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, and Troy before their first bye week.