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ACC football preview: Clemson's new role: ACC favorite

Someday, Tommy Bowden says, the fortunes of the Atlantic Coast Conference are going to change.

The Clemson coach is acutely aware of the perceptions about the ACC, a league whose members have lost their last eight appearances in Bowl Championship Series games, haven't boasted a national champion since Florida State in 1999 and tend to struggle against squads from power conferences.

And he doesn't let it bother him one bit.

'Things go in cycles. And this'll go in cycles. It's just a matter of time,' Bowden said. 'College football's too competitive and there's too many good coaches, I think, for one league or one team to be dominant.'

His Tigers might be the ones to change that cycle.

For the first time since 1991, Clemson is the favorite to win the ACC title, even though there's no shortage of contenders.

Florida State and Miami, the perennial league benchmarks, are coming off struggles and might not be ready to reclaim past glory quite yet. Defending champion Virginia Tech is talented, yet has numerous holes to fill. Wake Forest has experience and skill, yet was no match for Clemson a year ago. Georgia Tech is installing new coach Paul Johnson's triple option attack and North Carolina hasn't occupied one of the ACC's top two spots since 1997.

So everything points to Clemson - and the Tigers insist they're finally poised to break through.

'I think if we don't make it to the ACC championship, we let some people down,' Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper said.

Thing is, with Clemson's penchant for failing to live up to advanced billing, expectations are high almost everywhere in the ACC. Miami believes this will be a bounce-back year, as does Florida State. North Carolina, with as much talent as perhaps any team in the league, could be on the cusp of a breakthrough.

And then there's defending champion Virginia Tech, which always finds a way to get into the title mix.

'I was surprised that we would be picked to be at the top of our division, to be quite honest with you,' said Hokies coach Frank Beamer, who had eight players drafted off last year's team, which fell in the Orange Bowl to Kansas. 'I think everybody on our side has a chance.'