Conference outlook, with teams listed in predicted order of finish, by The Post and Courier's Travis Sawchik:

1. Clemson

2009: 9-5, 6-2 ACC

Coach: Dabo Swinney (13-8 in third season at Clemson)

Returning Starters: 12 (6 offense, 6 defense)

Key Players Returning: S DeAndre McDaniel, DE Da'Quan Bowers, QB Kyle Parker.

Big Shoes to Fill: There is no way to replace ACC POY C.J. Spiller, one of the most dynamic players in ACC history.

2009 Highlights: The Tigers won their first Atlantic Division title in Swinney's first full season. Signature wins included an overtime victory at Miami and a home rout of Florida State.

Outlook: Getting QB Kyle Parker back was worth 2 or 3 wins. The Tigers' defense is talented, and the running game should be OK in the hands of Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper. But will the team remain healthy at key positions? Will a receiver or two emerge? If Clemson answers some of those questions, the Tigers can repeat in the Atlantic.

2. Florida State

2009: 7-6, 4-4

Coach: Jimbo Fisher (First season as a head coach)

Returning Starters: 15 (9 offense, 6 defense)

Key Players Returning: QB Christian Ponder, G Rodney Hudson, LB Kendall Smith.

Big Shoes To Fill: A woeful defense of a year ago will try to improve without arguably its best two performers from a year ago: CB Patrick Robinson and LB Dekota Watson.

2009 Highlights: Bobby Bowden's last season was generally a disappointment as the Seminoles entered the season as Atlantic favorites. The Seminoles did send Bowden out on a high note: a 33-21 victory over West Virginia in the Gator Bowl.

Outlook: Ponder is coming off a shoulder injury but looked great this spring. Ponder is a darkhorse Heisman candidate and made FSU the media's preseason favorite in the Atlantic. The defense, which allowed 30 ppg and 435 ypg last year, should be improved under new coordinator Mark Stoops.

3. Boston College

2009: 8-5, 5-3

Coach: Frank Spaziani (9-5 in 2nd year at Boston College)

Returning Starters: 14 (8 offense, 6 defense)

Key Players Returning: LT Anthony Castonzo, RB Montel Harris, LB Mark Herzlich.

Big Shoes to Fill: The Eagles will miss WR Rich Gunnell. The passing game is already a question mark and now will be without its leading target.

2009 Highlights: The scrappy Eagles overachieved despite lacking a quality passing attack. The Eagles won two ACC road games (N.C. State and Maryland) and beat Florida State for the third time in five years.

Outlook: The Eagles return the conference's best tackle in Castonzo and three other starting linemen. BC also returns a quality back in Harris and will have one of the better linebacking corps in the country, bolstered by the return of Mark Herzlich. If the Eagles can win at FSU (Oct. 16), they are a darkhorse in the division.

4. Maryland

2009: 2-10, 1-7

Coach: Ralph Friedgen (66-46 in 10th season at Maryland)

Returning Starters: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense)

Key Players Returning: LB Alex Wujciak, WR/KR Torrey Smith, RB Da' Rel Scott.

Big Shoes to Fill: The Terrapins have to replace a physically imposing lineman in Bruce Campbell and quarterback Chris Turner.

2009 Highlights: In a forgettable season, the Terrapins' lone ACC win came against division champion Clemson.

Outlook: The Terrapins have some star power in Wujciak and Smith and draw Duke and Virginia from the Coastal, allowing them a shot to improve in what could be Friedgen's last season.

5. N.C. State

2009: 5-7, 2-6

Coach: Tom O'Brien (16-21 in 4th season at N.C. State)

Returning Starters: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense)

Key Players Returning: QB Russell Wilson, TE George Bryan, LB Audie Cole.

Big Shoes to Fill: N.C. State must replace five of its six leading tacklers and its top two rushers.

2009 Highlights: The Wolfpack defeated two quality teams last year in Pittsburgh and North Carolina.

Outlook: Russell Wilson will battle FSU's Ponder for the label of top quarterback in the ACC and should give the Pack a puncher's chance in every game. Wilson will need to be at his best as N.C. State returns just five defenders.

6. Wake Forest

2009: 5-7, 3-5

Coach: Jim Grobe (59-51 in 10th season at Wake)

Returning Starters: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense)

Key Players Returning: RB Josh Adams, CB Kenny Okoro, G Joe Looney.

Big Shoes to Fill: Wake Forest loses a productive, four-year starting quarterback in Riley Skinner, replaced by Sylar Jones. Wake also must replace a quality corner in Brandon Ghee and its best defensive tackle, Boo Robinson.

2009 Highlights: Wake Forest took Georgia Tech and Boston College to overtime on the road.

Outlook: It looks like a rebuilding year in Winston-Salem with Riley, Ghee and Robinson departed.

1. Miami

2009: 9-4, 5-3

Coach: Randy Shannon (21-17 in 4th season at Miami)

Returning Starters: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense)

Key Players Returning: QB Jacory Harris, DE Allen Bailey, CB Brandon Harris, LT Orlando Franklin, WR Leonard Hankerson.

Big Shoes to Fill: The Hurricane graduated a productive linebacker in leading tackler Darryl Sharpton, and a four-year starter at tackle in Jason Fox.

2009 Highlights: The young Hurricanes looked like a surprising power early last season with wins against Oklahoma, Florida State and Georgia Tech in the season's first month.

Outlook: The Hurricanes are balanced, fast and young. If Harris can put a full season together, Miami can win a difficult division.

2. Virginia Tech

2009: 10-3, 6-2

Coach: Frank Beamer (187-92-2 in 25th season at Va. Tech)

Returning Starters: 12 (8 offense, 4 defense)

Key Players Returning: RB Ryan Williams, QB Tyrod Taylor, RB Darren Evans.

Big Shoes to Fill: The Hokies lost talented safety Kam Chancellor and leading tackler Cody Grimm (105 tackles, four sacks).

2009 Highlights: The Hokies routed then No. 9 Miami and beat Tennessee in the Peach Bowl.

Outlook: The Hokies can score, and Virginia Tech is always going to play quality special teams. But the defensive unit must replace its top three sacks leaders and only returns four starters. In a rugged Coastal division, the Hokies have the firepower to compete for an ACC crown.

3. North Carolina

2009: 8-5, 4-4

Coach: Butch Davis (20-18 in 4th season at UNC)

Returning Starters: 19 (10 offense, 9 defense)

Key Players Returning: DE Robert Quinn, DT Marvin Austin, LB Bruce Carter, LB Quan Sturdivant, FS Deunta Williams, QB TJ Yates

Big Shoes to Fill: UNC has 19 starters back, so there aren't many. The Tar Heels will break in a new left tackle and must replace space-eating DT Cam Thomas. The status of Marvin Austin and Greg Little is unknown due to a possible involvement with agents.

2009 Highlights: The Heels won four of their last five games, including at Boston College and at home against Miami.

Outlook: The schedule isn't easy, with trips to Miami and Florida State, but UNC has a potential historic defense on its hands, and averaged 27 points per game in its last four games. The defense is talented enough to make UNC an ACC title contender and darkhorse national title contender.

4. Georgia Tech

2009: 11-3, 7-1

Coach: Paul Johnson (20-7 in 4th season at Ga. Tech)

Returning Starters: 14 (6 offense, 8 defense)

Key Players Returning: QB Josh Nesbitt, RB Anthony Allen, C Sean Bedford, LB Brad Jefferson.

Big Shoes to Fill: No team was hit as hard by exiting underclassmen as the Jackets. Paul Johnson must replace a first-round DE in Derrick Morgan, a first-round receiver in Demaryius Thomas, his leading tailback in Jonathan Dwyer and an excellent safety in Morgan Burnett.

2009 Highlights: Defeated Clemson in the ACC title game for its first conference outright title since 1990.

Outlook: It's never wise to bet against Paul Johnson, arguably the ACC's best coach. But Georgia Tech has lost the most talent of any ACC team and plays Clemson, Virginia Tech and North Carolina on the road. The Jackets will compete and move the ball, but might not have the talent to repeat in the Coastal.

5. Duke

2009: 5-7, 3-5

Coach: David Cutcliffe (9-15 in third season at Duke)

Returning Starters: 15 (9 offense, 6 defense)

Key Players Returning: WR Donovan Varner (1,047 yards)

Big Shoes to Fill: The Blue Devils lost a productive QB in Thaddeus Lewis, who threw for 20 touchdowns and 3,330 yards last season.

2009 Highlights: Last season, Duke fell a win shy of becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 1994.

Outlook: Cutcliffe has proved he is an excellent coach, leading Duke to more wins the last two years than Duke's previous eight seasons combined. But with four excellent teams in the division, and Lewis departed, it will be difficult to repeat last year's relative success.

6. Virginia

2009: 3-9, 2-6

Coach: Mike London (First season at Virginia)

Returning Starters: 12 (6 offense, 6 defense)

Key Players Returning: CB Ras-I Dowling, LB Steve Greer.

Big Shoes to Fill: Virginia lost its top four rushers and its quarterback, Jameel Sewell.

2009 Highlights: Virginia won on the road at North Carolina in Week 4.

Outlook: In a brutal division, and devoid of offensive talent, the Cavaliers are headed toward their third straight losing season.