FSU favored in ACC; Tigers 3rd

Clemson's Sammy Watkins, left, slips a tackle from Auburn's T'Sharvan Bell during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in Clemson, S.C., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Patrick Collard) ¬ ¬ Published Caption 9/18/11: Clemson freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who had 10 catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns, slips a tackle from Auburn's T'Sharvan Bell during the third quarter Saturday afternoon in Clemson. ¬ ¬ Published Caption 9/23/11: Sammy Watkins and No. 21 Clemson are now 2 1/2-point favorites over No. 11 Florida State on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Florida State is for real this time. Clemson still has its doubters.

That was the consensus of the Atlantic Coast Conference media corps, which overwhelmingly selected Florida State as the favorite in the Atlantic Division for the fourth straight preseason and as the favorite to win the ACC for the second straight football season. Clemson was picked to finish second in the Atlantic and was third in ACC championship votes.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has led Clemson to two division titles in four years and last season guided the Tigers to their first ACC title in 20 years. Clemson returns stars like receiver Sammy Watkins — who was picked as the preseason ACC player of the year — and quarterback Tajh Boyd. Florida State has not won a conference title since 2005.

Still, FSU received 60 of 95 ACC championship votes and 72 of 94 first-place votes in the Atlantic Division.

Swinney said he places little meaning in preseason polls.

“I don’t think anything of it,” Swinney said. “Congratulations to them. Preseason awards are great, but it’s more about the postseason awards. It’s the same old, same old for us. (The media) never picks us to win it. This is my fourth year here and in four years we haven’t been picked to win the division.”

Part of the reason Clemson seems to struggle to make believers is its lack of consistency. There was the Orange Bowl disaster against West Virginia, a 70-33 loss that tarnished a 10-win season in which the Tigers set a number of offensive records. There was the ugly loss at N.C. State.

“The next goal is to be a consistent team that is consistently nationally ranked,” Swinney said. “If you do that every year, eventually you are going to have that special year.”

There are legitimate questions about Clemson’s offensive and defensive lines, and the Tigers’ lack of depth.

Florida State, on the other hand, might have the best defensive line in the country. National analyst Phil Steele said the Seminoles’ second-team defensive linemen would rank as a top 10 unit nationally.

Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel showed vast improvement last season and didn’t throw an interception in the final five games. CBSSportsline.com draft analyst Rob Rang projected Manuel as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

The media does believe Clemson has the ACC’s best player in Watkins, who received 25 votes to beat Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas (21), Manuel (19) and Boyd (18).

Following FSU and Clemson in the Atlantic Division are N.C. State, Wake Forest, Boston College and Maryland.

Virginia Tech is favored to win the Coastal Division, followed by Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia, Miami and Duke.

Virginia Tech was second in ACC championship votes with 18 and Clemson was third with 13.