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ACC Preview 2022 - Can Clemson hold off Miami and North Carolina State?



Clemson's hiccup last season saw them fall from contention in the ACC and unlikely finalists Pitt and Wake Forest contest the ACC crown. Expect a return to form this season with a number of contenders jostling for position behind them. Miami will be inspired by the return of former player Mario Cristobal as head coach and North Carolina State has a deep roster capable of going to the title game. Defending champions Pitt and Wake Forest are in the mix too.


This might be the most talent-rich conference at quarterback, rivalling the SEC. NC State's Devin Leary, Miami's Tyler Van Dyke, Boston College's Phil Jurkovec and Louisville's Malik Cunningham will be on NFL team radars. Kedon Slovis looks to relaunch his career in Pittsburgh and Clemson boast two extremely talented field generals in DJ Uiagalelei and Cade Klubnik.



The Teams

(Image credit: Twitter)

Atlantic Division


No.4 Clemson

Will Cade Klubnik unseat DJ Uiagalelei at quarterback? (Image credit: si.com)

It says something about Clemson's dominance in the ACC in recent years that a 10-3 season can be regarded as a disappointment. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei struggled to reach the potential he showed deputising for Trevor Lawrence previously. He goes into the new season as the starter, but waiting in the wings is five-star recruit Cade Klubnik. Coach Dabo Swinney won't hesitate to pull the trigger and put the freshman quarterback in. Remember Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence?


Despite the departure of coordinator Brent Venables to Oklahoma, an exceptional defense gives the Tigers every chance of returning to the Playoff if their offense can click. Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee anchor a strong defensive line. Look out for outstanding freshman cornerback Toriano Pride to make a name for himself in Clemson's secondary.


No.13 North Carolina State

Can QB Devin Leary lead the Wolfpack to the ACC title? (Image credit: 247 Sports)

The Wolfpack potentially have their strongest team since a certain Philip Rivers led them to ten wins in 2002. Devin Leary returns under center having passed for 3,433 yards, 35 touchdowns and just five interceptions last year. In a conference filled with quarterback talent, he is among the most impressive and be on the radar for Heisman voters. Leary is one of seventeen returning starters.


North Carolina State's defense is one of the most experienced in the ACC and Florida State defensive tackle transfer Cory Durden will make them tough to overcome in the trenches. They will be in the mix for the ACC and their October 1st visit to Clemson will be critical in determining that outcome.


No.22 Wake Forest


Quarterback Sam Hartman's sudden withdrawal from the Wake Forest team due to a "medical procedure" is a tough break for the Demon Deacons and for Hartman, who I hope makes a full recovery and a welcome return to the team when ready. If Michael Kern or Mitch Griffis can steady the ship in his absence, Wake Forest still has a competitive team and may be more reliant on tailback duo Justice Ellison and Christian Turner.


Florida State


An experienced defensive line performed well to stop the run last year and the addition of Jared Verse from Albany will strengthen this further.


With the ball, Florida State showed flashes of promise from quarterback Jordan Travis, who led his team to wins against North Carolina and Miami. They play LSU in New Orleans early on and this will show where they are in their journey to return to contention. It seems like a long time since the glory days of Bobby Bowden.


Boston College

Zay Flowers (4) and Phil Jurokovec (5) lead a promising offense (Image credit: Boston College Athletics)

Zay Flowers is one of the best receivers in the conference. His combination with talented returning quarterback Phil Jurkovec. At 6'5" and 214lbs, BC's signal-caller has the tools to kick on in his college career and put his name in contention as an early-round Draft pick. Losing four starters from his offensive line will hurt.


In a pass-happy conference, the Eagles have a strong secondary that will cause problems for opposing receivers. Corner Josh DeBerry and safety Jaiden Woodbey will marshall BC's secondary.


Louisville

Malik Cunningham can follow in Lamar Jackson's footsteps in Louisville (Image credit: Card Chronicle)

The ACC has showcased some memorable dual threat quarterbacks in recent years. Virginia Tech's Michael Vick and Louisville's Lamar Jackson spring to mind. Following in their speedy footsteps is Cardinals quarterback Malik Cunningham. Cunningham threw for 2,941 yards and 19 touchdowns while running for 1,031 yards and a further 20 touchdowns.


If Cunningham can stay healthy, and incoming receivers Dee Wiggins (Miami) and Tyler Hudson (Central Arkansas) can replace Alabama-bound Tyler Harrell, Louisville has the making of an exciting offense. A porous defense will hope the addition of seven defense can keep games close.


Syracuse


Sean Tucker is the standout player on a Syracuse team that will likely prop up the Atlantic Division. The sophomore running back ran for 1,496 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging an impressive 6.1 yards per carry. New offensive coordinator Robert Anae arrived from Virginia to add a more balanced offense with less reliance on Tucker.


The Orange have a tough schedule, opening at home to Louisville in the Carrier Dome and face a daunting month where they play consecutive games against North Carolina State, Clemson, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.


Coastal Division


No.16 Miami

New coach Mario Cristobal, a former two-time national champion with the Hurricanes as a player. His long-term expectation will be to restore Miami to national prominence. Initially, it's to contend in the ACC. Cristobal has surrounded himself with excellent coaching staff including offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, incoming from Michigan. The ACC Rookie of the Year, Tyler Van Dyke, gives him a solid foundation to build on. Van Dyke threw for 2,931 yards and 25 touchdowns and will be on the watch list of many NFL teams this year.


Miami's James Williams is one of the best safeties in the country (Image credit: Canes Warning)

Miami's defense is solid. James Williams was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in the ACC and is a key component in a promising secondary. The Hurricanes have two tough final games against Clemson and Pitt. If they can overcome texas A&M in Week 3, they could head into those games with real momentum.


No.17 Pittsburgh

Kedion Slovis steps into Kenny Pickett's shoes (Image credit: Pittsburgh Sports Now)

Although Pitt lost Kenny Pickett to the NFL, Jordan Addison to USC's clutches and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple to Nebraska, there is cause for optimism. Kedon Slovis takes the reins at quarterback, the USC transfer was outstanding in his freshman season before injuries and a dip in form hampered his progress. He will have a point to prove in Panthers uniform.


In front of Slovis sits five returning offensive line starters and senior Israel Abanikanda behind him at tailback. He will get more carries this year as new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, Jr likes to build an offense around the run. An outstanding defensive line will keep games in reach.


Virginia


The return of prolific quarterback Brennan Armstrong gives the Cavaliers a massive boost this season. Armstrong has talented receivers in Dontayvion Wicks, who averaged 100 receiving yards per game, Keytaon Thompson and Lavel Davis, Jr. Cody Brown, a former four-star recruit and Miami transfer, adds some muscle at running back.


Having conceded a shocking 743 yards in a loss to BYU, Virginia promptly hired John Rudzinski in the off-season from Air Force to tighten things up. He has a reputation for fixing leaky defenses, so will have his work cut out in Charlottesville.


North Carolina

Josh Downs is one of the best wide receivers in college football (Image credit: Chapelboro)

The Tar Heels' offense will be headlined by the outstanding receiver, Josh Downs. Downs is a big-play threat and a likely Top-20 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, gaining 1.335 receiving yards and eight touchdowns last year. Unfortunately, he doesn't have new Washington Commander Sam Howell to throw to him. Drake Maye and Jacolby Crisswell will compete for the starting quarterback job.


North Carolina found itself on the wrong side of high scoring shootouts last year, conceding over 40 points in losses to Georgia Tech and Notre Dame and in wins against Miami and Wake Forest. This looks like a transitional season for the Tar Heels, who will hope coach Mack Brown continues to work his magic in recruiting future talent.

Virginia Tech


New coach Brent Pry brings defensive nous to Blacksburg, joining from Penn State where he marshalled the defense. TyJuan Garbutt and Dax Hollifield are among a number of returning stars Pry will be shaping into a competitive unit.


On offense, Grant Wells comes in from two seasons under center for Marshall and could finally give the Hokies some consistency at quarterback. Virginia Tech have big gaps to fill in the offensive line while replacing star receivers Tayvion Robinson, who transferred to Kentucky and Tre Turner, who signed with the Las Vegas Raiders before being waived in May.

Georgia Tech

Jeff Sims returns to lead the Yellow Jackets offense (Image credit: USA Today)

Coach Geoff Collins is on the hot seat, with a 9-25 record going into his fourth year in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets have lost a lot of talent. Star running back Jahmyr Gibbs left for Alabama. Quarterback Jeff Sims is a good dual-threat player who has a promising receiving corps to throw to.


A fresh start looms on defense. Morris Joseph, Jr. comes in from Memphis to boost the pass rush and will be joined by the welcome return of Keion White, the promising defensive end, from injury. Georgia Tech face Clemson, Ole Miss and Pitt in the first five weeks of a season that could determine their coach's future.


Duke


The Blue Devils started promisingly last season, winning three of their first four games. Unfortunately, they lost their remaining eight, conceding 45 points or more in six of these.


Mike Elko, former defensive coordinator at Texas A&M and Notre Dame, is tasked with taking Duke forward as their new head coach. Riley Leonard and Jordan Moore will compete for the starting quarterback job.

Must-See Games


Oct 1st - North Carolina State @ Clemson - The Wolfpack visit Death Valley in a mouthwatering Week 5 clash to determine the early frontrunners in the ACC Atlantic.


Oct 8th - North Carolina @ Miami - big test for Mario Cristobal as Miami hosts the Tar Heels in a big ACC Coastal showdown.


Nov 19th - Miami @ Clemson - potential preview of the ACC title game?


Nov 26th - Pittsburgh @ Miami - The Hurricanes host Pitt in a potential Coastal division decider.


My prediction?



Clemson look menacing this year. A ferocious defense can win you a championship (see Georgia last season) and Clemson's achilles heel was the indifferent form of their quarterback, DJ Uiagalelei. With five-star recruit Cade Klubnik waiting in the wings, the Tigers appear to have all bases covered. North Carolina State could have their best season in years and Miami appear to be making the right moves to return to their glory years in the Nineties, but are a year or two away. Expect Clemson to reclaim the ACC and a Playoff spot.


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