Florida State and Clemson have combined to win 12 of the past 13 ACC championships and are the only 2 full-time teams from the conference to participate in the College Football Playoff. (Yes, we know Notre Dame has made the Playoff multiple times, including during the abnormal 2020 season in which the Irish actually played as an ACC team.)

So it’s no surprise that the Seminoles and Tigers once again have been given the best odds of full-time ACC members to keep the streak going this season.

But it’s not quite the safe bet it once was.

Playoff expansion with automatic bids, the ACC’s elimination of divisions and the addition of 3 new teams have opened the door for others beyond the usual suspects.

You don’t even have to win the regular season anymore or win 10+ games. All it takes is a 2nd-place finish and a little luck in the conference championship game and you’re in.

The likelihood of that happening this year is increased by FSU having to replace virtually every starter of consequence on both sides of the ball and Clemson coming off a very un-Clemson-like season in 2023.

The biggest question is which team will emerge from the pack to take advantage of the situation.

FanDuel sportsbook likes Miami’s chance at being the best of the rest in the ACC. The Hurricanes are listed at +210, only slightly behind Clemson at +200 and well ahead of NC State at +470 and Louisville at +500.

But as Jeff Brohm’s Cardinals proved a year ago, you never know who might catch lightning in a bottle, take advantage of a favorable schedule and get a few breaks here and there to come out of nowhere to contend.

Miami

The Hurricanes are loaded with talent, bolstered by a transfer portal haul that includes a Heisman-caliber quarterback in Cam Ward. And they have a manageable schedule whose toughest game, against rival FSU, is at home. All the elements are in place for this to finally be the year Miami gets its swagger back and returns to its championship pedigree.

But haven’t we heard this before?

Yep.

Like, every year since the Hurricanes joined the ACC.

With the addition of prolific passer Cam Ward to a loaded stable of playmakers on offense and the return of first-round NFL Draft pick in waiting Reuben Bain Jr. anchoring the defense from his edge position, there’s a realistic possibility that things actually can be different in 2024.

Still, as Miami has reminded us so many times in the past, winning the offseason is a lot easier than winning on the field. That’s why until coach Mario Cristobal learns when to take a knee and how to turn all that talent into results, you have to remain skeptical of the Hurricanes’ chances.

NC State

The Wolfpack have been stuck in a similar rut to Miami. Just without the annual over-the-top hype and expectations.

They’ve been good enough to get to bowl games and keep coach Dave Doeren secure in his job for more than a decade. But never good enough to get over the hump into double digits in the win column and serious contention for their first ACC title since 1979.

The difference between State and the Hurricanes is that, unlike Miami, the Wolfpack have been knocking on the door. Four times in the past 7 years they’ve finished with 9 wins. And this year, loaded up with some high-octane offensive additions to go along with Tony Gibson’s elite defense, this has the potential to be Doeren’s best team yet.

It might have to be.

Given the momentum created by the Final Four runs of State’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, and the baseball team’s trip to the College World Series, the pressure is squarely on the football program to keep things going. Being just good enough isn’t going to be good enough anymore.

Louisville

Brohm made an immediate splash in his debut season back at his alma mater. His Cardinals became the first ACC team in 7 years to beat Notre Dame in the regular season, won at least 10 games for the first time in 10 years and earned their first spot in the ACC Championship Game.

In order to build on that foundation, Brohm cast a wide net by bringing in 26 free agents off the portal. It’s a group heavy on SEC castoffs, including transfers from Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida.

The most important new addition, however, comes from Texas Tech by way of Oregon. Quarterback Tyler Shough is a 24-year-old graduate who has been effective when healthy during his 7-year college career. The problem is, he’s had trouble staying healthy.

Louisville won’t be sneaking up on the competition the way it did last year. But with a stout defense and a schedule softened up by projected bottom-feeders Virginia, Stanford and Boston College, the Cardinals can contend again if Brohm and his staff can keep Shough on the field more than in the training room.

Virginia Tech

The Hokies are in a position to become this year’s version of Louisville, a team that exceeds modest expectations to make a serious run at the ACC championship. Their preseason profile, however, is much closer to that of another conference rival: Florida State.

Yes, the team that went undefeated, won the league championship and got snubbed by the Playoff Committee.

Tech is coming off a 2023 season in which it won 5 of its final 7 games, with the only losses coming to NC State and Louisville, the ACC’s top 2 teams. It ranks No. 1 nationally with 95% of its production back on offense and 86% back on defense – including dynamic dual-threat quarterback Kyron Drones and star edge rusher Antwaun Powell-Ryland, along with a number of key transfer additions.

Coach Brent Pry’s team also has the advantage of a soft nonconference schedule and its toughest ACC game – against Clemson on Nov. 9 – in Blacksburg. That’s not to say that like last year’s Seminoles, the Hokies are set up for an unbeaten championship season. They’re +950 to make the Playoff. And all they have to do is finish 2nd to have a chance.

SMU

The Mustangs could potentially be the wild card in the race for the ACC’s Playoff automatic bid. They’re coming off a season in which they won 11 games and an American Athletic Conference championship in their final season in that league.

Then again, they also lost to future league rival Boston College in the Fenway Bowl, raising questions as to how quickly and smoothly they’ll adjust to the upgraded competition in a power conference. UCF, Cincinnati and Houston made a similar jump by joining the Big 12 a year ago and all 3 finished with losing records.

SMU has a realistic shot at avoiding that fate thanks to the return of most of its key performers, including star quarterback Preston Stone, and coach Rhett Lashlee’s familiarity with the ACC as the former offensive coordinator at Miami. With a schedule that includes 2 of the ACC’s weaker teams, Virginia and Stanford, and its toughest test against Florida State at home, don’t be surprised if the Mustangs (+1100) crash the party in Charlotte on the first Saturday in December.