Will ACC champ miss the playoff?

We're getting into the heart of prediction season, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution posits a few for the upcoming season. Among the takeaways from the ACC:

  • Georgia Tech will win the Coastal for the third time in four years -- but might still take a step backward.

  • Clemson will win the ACC but be left out of the College Football Playoff.

On the first point, the AJC projects a 9-3 regular season (and an ACC title game loss) for the Yellow Jackets. That's not entirely unreasonable, even if Tech doesn't take a step back in terms of talent. This year's slate includes Clemson and Florida State from the Atlantic, and Tech also gets Notre Dame on its nonconference schedule. Add that all up and finding one more loss than a year ago -- even if the Yellow Jackets are actually a bit better than they were in 2014 -- isn't unreasonable.

It's that second prediction, however, that we'll likely be hearing a lot more about as the season progresses. Obviously it's silly to get too worked up over the playoff in June, but it doesn't take much reading of the tea leaves to see how the ACC ends up as the odd man out at year's end.

Just last year, Florida State struggled to earn credibility in the eyes of the committee (and the general public) in spite a second straight undefeated season. Close games were chalked up as another indication of FSU's weakness, and the ACC as a whole was largely overlooked. If the Noles had a loss on their resume, they'd have been out. So what are the chances that an ACC team finishes without a blemish this season?

Certainly it's possible someone runs the table, but this season feels more balanced than it has in the league the last few years. Clemson and FSU lost major stars, while Georgia Tech is at a high point, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech and North Carolina all have buzz, and Duke, Miami, Louisville and others are all more than capable of marching to a division title, too. For the first time in a long time, the ACC seems like it has the depth that has earned raves for the SEC for a decade -- only it's quite possible that depth is what keeps the ACC out of the playoff.

Meanwhile, the Big 12 favorites (Baylor and TCU) already have plenty of buzz after being left out a year ago. The SEC and Pac-12 are widely regarded as the toughest conferences, and should Ohio State be in position to make the playoff again there's little chance the defending champs would be on the outside looking in. In other words, as the narratives start to take shape, the ACC's needs work.

But let's keep things in perspective here, too. If Clemson wins the ACC this year, it will have done so by playing Louisville, Notre Dame, Miami, FSU and South Carolina -- plus potentially two games against Georgia Tech. If the Yellow Jackets win it, it will have traversed a schedule that includes Notre Dame, Clemson, FSU, Virginia Tech, Miami and Georgia. Neither would be a cake walk, but would either be enough to put the ACC over the hump?

Looking at those schedules a little more closely, the two teams that stand out are Notre Dame and Miami. Clemson and Georgia Tech will face them (and FSU would get Miami, too, should the Noles win the Atlantic), which puts the Irish and the Canes in prime position to dictate who takes the ACC and how that champion is viewed at year's end. Solid seasons from Notre Dame and Miami can make the ACC champ look a lot better. Mediocre years (like in 2014) won't do much to help the league's profile.