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Florida State, Clemson Will Dominate ACC (Again), but Won't Make Playoff

Clemson Tigers

Clemson Tigers

The Athlon Sports editorial staff agonized, argued and then settled on a number.

It happens every year with certain predictions for the preseason magazines and the Top 25. In 2015, Baylor or TCU in the Big 12 was a huge debate. USC or Oregon in the Pac-12 was a heated discussion. Which team is the best in the ACC and will it be good enough to make the second annual College Football Playoff?

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After hours of debate, it appears that the more things change, the more they stay the same in the ACC.

There is plenty of grey area about whether or not the ACC champ will be good enough to get in the Playoff but there was no debate about who the class of the ACC is going to be in 2015.

It's Clemson and Florida State.

Either the Tigers or Seminoles have won the Atlantic Division in six consecutive seasons and the ACC championship four straight years. NC State appears to be improving rapidly under third-year coach Dave Doeren. Boston College always looks like a tough out under Steve Addazio. And Louisville is going to be a consistent player in the division race for decades to come.

But for the time being, it's still just Clemson and Florida State.

The ACC is clearly getting better and slowly earning back its national respect, particularly at the quarterback position. But can the league be all the way "back" if the best team in the league finishes No. 9 in the nation?

Florida State enters the preseason ranked ninth in the nation while Clemson ranks 14th. The only other team in the ACC to land inside of the top 35 is Georgia Tech at No. 18.

It doesn't take a calculus professor to realize that's well outside of the top four.

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There's a lot to like about the Yellow Jackets. And Miami, Virginia Tech, Pitt, Louisville, NC State, Duke and North Carolina. These are solid teams and they've bolstered the depth in the ACC. And both Florida State and Clemson have a lot great pieces under two coaches surging through the prime of their careers.

But it looks like the ACC will be the league left out in the cold in '15.

Related: Complete 2015 ACC Preview and Predictions

Florida State and Clemson are clearly the best collections of talent in the ACC, boasting the No. 2 and No. 11-ranked rosters in the nation entering the season.

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But Clemson returns just two starters on offense, loses offensive wizard Chad Morris and has a superstar quarterback who needs to prove he can stay healthy.

Florida State has just three starters back on offense after losing four offensive lineman, the program's all-time leading receiver, a John Mackey award-winning tight end and fourth-quarter savior Jameis Winston. 

Add to it tougher schedules because of the developing underbelly of the ACC (and Notre Dame) and it's hard to see either of these teams winning the league with fewer than two losses. Ironically, the Fighting Irish could be a main culprit in eliminating the league from the Playoff with games against both Clemson and Georgia Tech.

Not to mention, a one-loss Irish squad would certainly be ranked at season's end ahead of a two-loss ACC champ.

Related: ACC Football Teams as Rock and Roll Bands

Barring some unforeseen circumstances at places like Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech, the final standings in the ACC will look exactly like they've looked for the past six seasons with the Noles and Tigers on a tier by themselves. And just like the last 15 years — with the obviously exception in 2013 — the ACC's title winner is likely to be the lowest ranked of the Power 5 champions.

Then it would be John Swofford's turn to spend an offseason complaining about the Playoff Committee.