CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The ACC is coming off the best season in conference history, with national champion Clemson, Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and preseason College Football Playoff favorite Florida State leading the way.
So what are the most pressing questions as ACC Kickoff begins Thursday in Charlotte? Atlantic teams will answer them starting Thursday, with Coastal teams set to take the podium Friday.
What does the league do for an encore? The ACC supplanted the SEC as the top conference in college football last season. But a conference’s reputation is only as good as its most recent performance, and that is why this season is so crucial for the league. After spending years climbing up the mountain, the ACC must figure out how to stay on top. The league’s strength looks roughly the same this year: Florida State and Clemson lead the way, and Louisville, Miami and Virginia Tech appear to be strong Top 25 teams. NC State, Pitt and Georgia Tech could make a push, too. All those teams face early-season tests against Power 5 opponents, most especially Florida State (Alabama), Clemson (Auburn), NC State (South Carolina), Virginia Tech (West Virginia), Pitt (Penn State/Oklahoma State) and Georgia Tech (Tennessee). The ACC won the vast majority of these types of big games a year ago, so it must keep that up if it wants to show how much things have changed in the conference.
And the Clemson quarterback is? Expect Clemson coach Dabo Swinney to field more than one inquiry about whether Kelly Bryant will, in fact, be the opening day starter when the Tigers begin their season against Kent State on Sept. 2. At the end of spring, Swinney said Bryant gave his team the best opportunity to win but also said Hunter Johnson and Zerrick Cooper would continue to compete for the starting job. With Deshaun Watson gone, the most obvious question surrounding Clemson and its national title hopes rests on what happens at quarterback.