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2014 ACC preview: Florida State looks to defend conference crown

2014 ACC college football preview: Can Florida State go undefeated once again?

Conference championship: Florida State defeats Virginia Tech

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. Offensive MVP

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

STAPLES: Florida State ranks No. 1 in SI's preseason Top 25 rankings

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. Defensive MVP

Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

SI STAFF: Kendall Fuller on SI's Preseseason All-America Team

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. Impact Freshman

John Wolford, QB, Wake Forest

It’s rare a team names a true freshman the starting quarterback in early August. It’s even more unusual if that freshman wasn’t an early enrollee. That’s how bad things are at quarterback -- and elsewhere -- for first-year Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson. With a thin receiving corps and a questionable line, Wolford could struggle, but the kid can play. The Bishop Kenny (Fla.) High product broke Tim Tebow’s Florida Class 5A record with 126 career touchdowns.

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. Coach On the Hot Seat

Mike London, Virginia

Virginia would have been well within its rights to let London go after last year’s disastrous campaign, but the Cavaliers coach got another shot, largely for his ability to draw top talent to Charlottesville. Safety Quin Blanding was the fifth-ranked prospect in the 2014 recruiting class, and Andrew Brown was the top-rated defensive tackle in the country, according to It’s a lot of pressure to add “save your coach” to incoming freshmen’s load, but if the Cavs struggle again this season, London’s ouster would seem imminent.

Three key nonconference games

Clemson at Georgia, Aug. 30 (ESPN)

Coming off a thrilling Orange Bowl win over Ohio State, the Tigers could have momentum heading into this test against the Bulldogs. Clemson needs its defense to play the way it did the last few weeks of 2013. Meanwhile, the offense -- without Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd -- must click early.

RICKMAN: Clemson is No. 16 in SI's Preseason Top 25 rankings

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Virginia Tech at Ohio State, Sept. 6 (ESPN)

A revamped Buckeyes’ defense is likely licking its chops to face an untested and unproven Hokies’ offense. While Virginia Tech’s defense was one of the best in the country a year ago, it should have its hands full against dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller and Urban Meyer’s speedy skill-position players.

Cincinnati at Miami, Oct. 11 (TBD)

There’s no doubt Tommy Tuberville’s teams know how to score. If quarterback Gunner Kiel (finally on the field again) plays up to his pedigree, the Bearcats could be a force in the American Athletic Conference. The Hurricanes can’t afford to sleepwalk in this one.

RICKMAN: After long journey, Gunner Kiel finally where he wants to be

Three key conference games

Miami at Louisville, Sept. 1 (ESPN)

A rematch of last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl, this game also serves as an ACC welcoming party. The Cardinals would probably rather play an opponent not motivated by revenge, but this is a telling first test under Bobby Petrino.

Clemson at Florida State, Sept. 20 (TBD)

This matchup settled the ACC Atlantic last season, and it’ll likely do the same this year. Clemson’s Beasley told during ACC media days that he would rather beat Florida State than break the program's losing streak against South Carolina. That's easier said than done -- especially against a team as talented as the ‘Noles.

North Carolina at Duke, Nov. 20 (ESPN)

In-state rivalries are always intriguing, but this one could mean even more this late in the fall. Both Duke and North Carolina may be in position to capture the ACC Coastal Division, and the Tar Heels will want to avenge last year’s 27-25 loss.

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Five key questions

Can Florida State march through another season unscathed? Ask this question to any Seminoles fan and the answer is absolutely, positively yes. Still, going undefeated for two straight seasons is no easy task, no matter how dominant a team appears on paper. Florida State has loads of talent at every position, and it will be favored in games against Oklahoma State, Clemson, Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida. But all it takes is one slip-up to put a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff at risk.

How will Louisville and new (old) coach Bobby Petrino adjust to the ACC? The Cardinals deserved admission into the ACC given the amount of money they've poured into athletics and the success they’ve had across multiple sports. Now, it’s time to see if the Cards can avoid the initial struggles that have followed other recently realigned programs, such as West Virginia and Utah. Having a familiar face and offensive-minded coach in Petrino -- and a talented defense -- should help ease the transition.

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