- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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It’s way too early for this. But that’s the fun of it. Heck, the ACC is impossible to predict from week to week, let alone in January. Consider this a starting point. A base for your offseason arguments. Don’t like it? I’ve got a mailbag. Learn how to use it. Let the debate begin …
1. Florida State: I know, I know, you’ve heard this one before. But it’s impossible to ignore the fact that nine starters return to one of the nation’s best defenses. Quarterback EJ Manuel will be back, and the Noles again have some of the nation’s best recruits.
2. Clemson: Quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins were record-setters in their first seasons as starters. There’s plenty of incoming talent, and the Tigers should contend for the Atlantic Division again if the defense improves.
3. Virginia Tech: This staff knows how to develop players, and that quality will again be critical as the Hokies have to rebuild their offensive line and will lose their top playmaker in David Wilson. Quarterback Logan Thomas could be the best in the ACC, though, if the supporting cast emerges.
4. NC State: Consider the Pack the darkhorse candidate for the 2012 race. If NC State can stay healthy, it should have two of the league’s top players in quarterback Mike Glennon and cornerback David Amerson.
5. Georgia Tech: The majority of the Jackets’ roster returns, and it should be better after growing pains in 2011. With an experienced offensive line, and the bulk of playmakers returning, Georgia Tech should again be a contender in the Coastal Division.
6. Virginia: If the Cavaliers were playing for the division title in just the second season under coach Mike London, there’s no reason to doubt them in his third. There were some important lessons learned down the stretch, and it was a strong season for UVa to build on.
7. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons were a field goal away from winning the Atlantic Division title in 2011, and quarterback Tanner Price is good enough to put them in position to do it again.
8. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have another transition to go through with first-year coach Larry Fedora, and the defense will have to fill some big shoes. Offensively, though, there is enough in place that UNC can surprise some people in the Coastal Division race.
9. Boston College: The Eagles’ strong finish to 2011 left a lot of optimism within the program, and despite the loss of linebacker Luke Kuechly, the defense should still be strong. The return of running back Montel Harris will certainly help, but again the team must adjust to another offensive coordinator.
10. Miami: The biggest thing Miami has in its favor right now is a strong recruiting class. With eight starters leaving early for the NFL draft and the departures of the Class of 2008 -- plus possible NCAA sanctions looming -- there’s a lot of uncertainty in the program now.
11. Maryland: Look at it this way: It can’t get much worse. The hire of Mike Locksley as offensive coordinator will help, especially in recruiting, but how much, how fast? And has the dust finally settled, or will there be more changes?
12. Duke: Somebody has to be last, and until Duke proves otherwise, it’s status quo in Durham. Duke suffered from many of the same problems last year that it did in 2010.
It’s way too early for this. But that’s the fun of it. Heck, the ACC is impossible to predict from week to week, let alone in January. Consider this a starting point.