Power 5 preview: 7 ACC questions
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While schedules for the Big 12 and SEC don't begin until the end of the month, the ACC is the first Power 5 conference to start play, with 12 teams in action this week.

For the first installment of a three-part preview series looking at the Power 5 conferences still playing this fall, theScore examines seven questions heading into ACC action.

Can anybody touch Clemson?

Probably not. The ACC may as well stand for the "All Clemson Conference," as over the past few years the Tigers have put significant distance between themselves and the other programs. Don't expect that to change in 2020, when Dabo Swinney's outfit will be the heavy favorite to claim its sixth straight conference crown.

Clemson's explosive duo of quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne is set to lead the offense, and they're also among the Heisman favorites. The defense lost a number of players to the NFL, including Isaiah Simmons and AJ Terrell, but coordinator Brent Venables' track record of fielding a top-ranked unit speaks for itself.

A fairly light start to the schedule turns into a tough closing stretch featuring road trips to Notre Dame and Florida State, a home date versus Pitt, and a visit to Virginia Tech. But it'd be shocking if any other team takes the ACC in 2020.

Is Notre Dame a lock for second?

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Recent history says yes. With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on the schedule, the Fighting Irish will be a full member of the conference for the 2020 slate. Since the start of the 2017 season, independent Notre Dame has gone an impressive 14-2 in games vs. the ACC - a number sure to spark confidence among the team's fan base.

The nation's 14th-ranked defense will be Notre Dame's strongest unit yet again, but the Fighting Irish's offense will likely dictate if they can battle Clemson for No. 1 in the conference. Quarterback Ian Book returns behind a very strong offensive line, but with the squad's top three receivers last year no longer on the roster, the passing attack will need some young talent to emerge.

Is Mike Norvell the man for Florida State?

He can't do worse than Willie Taggart, right? The man who replaced Jimbo Fisher didn't last long, with Florida State canning Taggart after he posted a 9-12 record. Norvell was tabbed as the man for the job, bringing his high-powered offense over from Memphis in hopes of recharging the once-dominant Seminoles program.

Norvell's first order of business will be to protect quarterback James Blackman, who showed flashes of potential in 2019 when he wasn't running away from defenders. The Seminoles' offensive line allowed almost four sacks per game, which ranked among the worst in the country. Given the passing success of Norvell's offenses at Memphis, don't be shocked if Blackman posts a strong season.

Will D'Eriq King be the missing piece for Miami?

The safe bet? Yes. Miami ended the season with three straight losses, dropping games to Florida International, Duke, and Louisiana Tech while averaging just 13 points per contest in that span. A poor offense has let down a strong Hurricanes defense too many times over the past couple of seasons, and Manny Diaz took a huge step toward fixing that by adding D'Eriq King from Houston.

During the 2018 campaign, King accounted for 3,656 yards and 28 total touchdowns while regularly appearing on highlight reels. After the puzzling decision to redshirt following a 1-3 start last year with the Cougars, King made his way to Miami. The Hurricanes are hoping his move will push them over the top.

What will Sam Howell do for an encore?

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It's tough to produce a more successful first season of college football than Sam Howell did for North Carolina.

Starting as a true freshman, the star quarterback threw for 3,641 yards and a whopping 38 touchdowns. Lofty expectations come with that production, and Howell is equipped for another strong showing in 2020. Almost all of his top weapons are returning to Chapel Hill, and Clemson isn't on the Tar Heels' regular-season schedule. Don't be surprised if the Nov. 27 matchup against Notre Dame goes a long way toward deciding who will face the Tigers in the ACC championship contest.

Can Virginia succeed without Bryce Perkins?

To say Bryce Perkins was Virginia's offense in 2019 would be an understatement, as the passer accounted for 4,307 of the Cavaliers' 5,445 yards. His brilliance was a major reason for Virginia's stunning run to the ACC Coastal crown.

The man under center now is Brennan Armstrong, Perkins' backup for the past two seasons. While nobody is expecting the same production, Bronco Mendenhall's offense is built for the quarterback to thrive, and Armstrong will need to shoulder much of the load to keep the Cavaliers trending upward.

Can Dino Babers get the Syracuse offense rolling again?

There's no doubting Dino Babers' chops as an offensive guru, but he'll need to work his magic following a disappointing 2019 campaign. A year after the team averaged 40 points per game - good for second in the ACC - the Orange barely averaged 28 points, ranking eighth in the conference. Syracuse's record dropped from 10-3 to 5-7 as a result.

Tommy DeVito has offered glimpses of his talent at quarterback, but the offensive line remains an issue that will hurt his development. Syracuse's defense will surely be weak again in 2020, so the Orange's offense will need to keep the team competitive.

Power 5 preview: 7 ACC questions
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