ACC Football: Preview and Predictions for 2022 Season
The ACC is headlined by exceptional quarterbacks and stars on the defensive line, making the conference one of the most unpredictable in college football.
There's been a recent cloud over the ACC with rumors surrounding conference realignment, so 2022 should give the college football world a sense of where they stand.
The Clemson Tigers may be the favorite to win the ACC, but teams like the North Carolina State Wolfpack and Miami Hurricanes aren't too far behind. The conference will come down to consistent quarterback play and dominance in the trenches.
The Coastal Division spotlights the possible revival of Miami and the questions surrounding Mack Brown and the North Carolina Tar Heels. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Division seems to be a crowded party, with the Tigers and Wolfpack leading the way.
Devin Leary should be considered the best quarterback in the conference. The redshirt junior had a monster season for NC State in 2021, quickly becoming one of the nation's top quarterbacks in 2021.
In his third year with the program, Leary completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 35 touchdowns and 3,433 yards. He rarely makes mistakes, throwing just five picks last season and holding a career 51-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
With a team of seasoned veterans and the addition of wide receiver Darryl Jones, NC State's offense should be exceptional yet again. Leary has only gotten smarter, stronger and more efficient in his time with the Wolfpack, so 2022 seems to be another monumental step in his growing career.
One of the ACC's most intriguing names is Clemson Tigers defensive end Myles Murphy. The projected first-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft has been bombarded with preseason watch lists and hype throughout the offseason from nearly every analyst and major news site.
Murphy finished the 2021 season with two forced fumbles, two passes defended, eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. With the help of a dominant interior line, Murphy can quickly help his draft stock rise and push his team toward competing for an ACC championship.
There's been uncertainty surrounding Clemson's offense throughout the offseason, so a top-tier defense will be vital for the Tigers to climb back on top of the conference.
UNC wide receiver Josh Downs is a player you cancel plans and start heating up the popcorn for. The former 4-star prospect has cemented his name as one of the best receivers in the ACC after recording eight touchdowns and 1,335 yards on 101 receptions last season.
Although Wake Forest receiver A.T. Perry could have gotten the nod here with a healthy Sam Hartman, Downs is an explosive playmaker ready for the bright lights.
The 5'10" athlete will be playing with a different quarterback in 2022, but the Tar Heels offense seems to hinge on the success of Downs and wide receiver Antoine Green. Downs should be in the Biletnikoff Award discussion by season's end.
Honorable Mentions: Bryan Bresee, Sean Tucker
Is Miami for Real?
The Miami Hurricanes have been on a rollercoaster of inconsistency for the past several years, but they may have found their key to FBS relevance.
Star quarterback Tyler Van Dyke has been the most popular figure on the field, but new head coach Mario Cristobal seems to be steering the Canes to the top of the ACC. The former Oregon head coach led the Ducks to a Rose Bowl win and two double-digit win seasons.
He's constantly attracting blue-chip prospects to Coral Gables, competing with the likes of powerhouse programs like Alabama and Georgia. There are debates surrounding his game-day abilities and whether or not he'll be able to put these star weapons into the right situations to flourish, but he's built an incredible coaching staff. Everything seems to be pointing toward a Canes comeback.
How Will Wake Forest Fare Without Sam Hartman?
Head coach Dave Clawson recently announced that starting quarterback Sam Hartman will be unavailable for an undisclosed period due to a "medical procedure." The Demon Deacons were well equipped to make another run at the ACC title with one of the top scoring units in the country.
However, Clawson's current situation leaves him with a handful of inexperienced signal-callers like Michael Kern and Mitch Griffis.
Hartman may be the most proven and talented quarterback in the conference, so losing a player with his skill set can really hurt the mental aspect of the Demon Deacons team and coaching staff.
The upperclassman threw 39 touchdowns and 4,228 yards with a 58.9 completion percentage. The biggest question that Wake Forest needs to answer is if they can keep the fort standing until Hartman is ready to play.
Who's the best quarterback in the ACC?
Before the news of Hartman missing time in 2022, it was hard to argue against the idea of the ACC having the best group of quarterbacks in the country.
With Leary and Van Dyke, the race toward the ACC title will rely on the most consistent quarterback throughout the season. While those two talents headline the ACC, there are a couple of dark horse contenders that may be in the mix to jolt their team to the top of the conference.
Clemson's DJ Uiagalelei is the obvious choice to compete with his phenomenal supporting cast by his side. Players like Malik Cunningham from Louisville, Jordan Travis from Florida State and Kedon Slovis from Pittsburgh are a few other interesting names to watch for if they can create a solid connection within their offense.
There's a strong case for Virginia's Brennan Armstrong and Boston College's Phil Jurkovec to be in the argument as some of the most exciting quarterbacks in the conference, but their teams aren't in an ideal place to call much attention.
The Seminoles welcomed back an experienced defensive line, along with one of the best safeties in the nation, Jammie Robinson.
There have been issues within the Noles offense for years—doubt within the receiving core, an unreliable offensive line and dual-threat quarterbacks that have trouble staying on the field. If its secondary can take another step toward continuity and their defensive trench work can remain dominant, FSU is in a good place to compete for a solid bowl game.
They may not challenge the likes of Clemson and NC State for the ACC title, but every game on their schedule seems to be somewhat winnable if the offense can add a vertical dimension to the game. The deciding factors for Florida State's success this year will be Jordan Travis and offensive coordinator Alex Atkins.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi and his coordinators witnessed a historic run from quarterback Kenny Pickett last season. But with the departure of Pickett and star wideout Jordan Addison, the Panthers were left searching for a quick fix in the transfer portal. They went cross-country to find Slovis, quickly picking him up in the transfer market after he chose to leave USC.
Pitt is returning an outstanding defensive line with Habakkuk Baldonado and Calijah Kancey, leaving the offense as the major question in 2022. Just like Florida State, if Pitt is able to find steady quarterback play and offensive threats within the wide receiver room, they'll be seen as a real challenger in the ACC.
The Cardinals have been stuck in mediocrity for years. It's time for dual-threat quarterback Malik Cunningham to charge and lead Louisville back into legitimate title contenders in the ACC. Cunningham ended his third year as the starter with 2,941 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air and 1,031 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground.
His most explosive weapon, Tyler Harrell, transferred to Alabama in the offseason, but reliable tight end Marshon Ford will keep the sticks moving for the Cards. They have a quality defensive line and a couple of athletes at the linebacker position, so the same story applies.
Their defense will be available to make game-changing plays, but their offense needs to be stable for Louisville to climb the ACC ladder. The Cardinals may not have the firepower to compete for a title in 2022, but a season above .500 and a bowl win would go a long way in their recruiting endeavors and overall team unity.
Coaches on the Hot Seat
Florida State head coach Mike Norvell heads into his third year with the Seminoles after two straight losing seasons. Norvell currently garners an 8-13 record, with his biggest wins last year coming against Miami in Tallahassee and UNC on the road.
Nole nation was on top of the college football world before the failed Willie Taggart experiment. Norvell, who coached at Memphis prior to his stint at FSU, seems to be picking up the pieces with the success of Alex Atkins and Odell Haggins, but the patience from the program's administration and fan base is slowly eroding.
While both parties agreed to a contract extension that would keep Norvell at Florida State till the 2026 season, he may be rushed out of town if the Noles don't compete in a bowl game or get solid wins against their in-state rivals.
The Orange's stock has been plummeting with the decline of Dino Babers and Syracuse's defense. Starting quarterback Garrett Shrader and star running back Sean Tucker are the few bright spots remaining in the JMA Wireless Dome.
Babers had the Orange on the right track, winning 10 games in 2018 after slowly improving from the time he arrived. Since then, he holds an 11-24 record with only one bowl game appearance under his name.
Syracuse has a relatively difficult schedule in 2022, so Babers and Co. need to take advantage of their non-conference games meetings. Shrader and Tucker have been able to keep Babers in the head coaching role after last season, but another underwhelming year can send Syracuse back into the coaching forage.
Best Games on Tap
Sept. 4: Florida State vs. LSU
The LSU Tigers are playing in their backyard against a team desperate for a big win on prime television. First-year head coach Brian Kelly is familiar with the Seminoles, barely escaping Tallahassee last season with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. For LSU, it's a chance to show they're still considered top dogs, and for Florida State, there's a clear opportunity to bust back into the FBS scene with a statement victory.
Sept. 17: Miami at Texas A&M
Cristobal and the Hurricanes get their first test in Week 3 against a popular Aggies squad that has plenty of hype. This could be a massive win for Miami since it'll likely be their toughest matchup of the season. If they can win on the road in College Station, they could pose a real threat as the team to beat in the ACC. Texas A&M can't afford an early season loss against an ACC opponent since they'll be tasked to play Alabama, Ole Miss, Arkansas and other juggernauts in the SEC.
Oct. 1: North Carolina State at Clemson
Clemson currently holds the longest active FBS home win streak with 34 straight victories in Death Valley. They were tested multiple times last season, and their luck may be coming to an end when the Wolfpack visit in October. NC State should cruise past their early season schedule, potentially pitting two extremely confident parties against each other in the Week 5 matchup.
Nov. 5: Clemson at Notre Dame
This is currently a No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup, with many odds in favor of the Fighting Irish. Two classic football schools face off late in the season in a game that could decide a premier bowl appearance. The Tigers should have the slight advantage with seasoned vets on their side, facing first-year head coach Marcus Freeman. But, it's never an easy task to fly out of South Bend with an upgrade in the win column.
Best Offense: Clemson
With a healthy Sam Hartman, the Demon Deacons have one of the best offenses in the country. They were a veteran team returning almost every big-time playmaker. Without Hartman, though, it takes them out of contention for the best offense in the ACC.
This might be one of the most debatable topics in the ACC since the conference is filled with stellar quarterbacks. The Wolfpack enter the 2022 season with an elite signal caller and a mature offensive line ready to compete with anyone. However, they lost some important pieces in the backfield, and their receiving corps may not be as good as advertised.
Aside from NC State and Wake Forest, Clemson may be in the best position as far as options within their offense.
The Tigers spent the offseason deciding between a former highly touted, 6'4" quarterback in Uiagalelei and an incoming 5-star prospect in Cade Klubnik, eventually settling on the former. Most teams across the country would trade their offseason disputes for that problem right there.
But whether it's Uiagalelei or Klubnik under center, the Tigers have a plethora of weapons, including running back Will Shipley and pass catchers Joseph Ngata and Davis Allen.
Clemson has a well-rounded offense with incredible potential. If they can find their reliable quarterback, they'll be in the mix for another shot at the ACC title and possibly a national title.
Best Defense: Clemson
The Tigers may be fielding the best defenses in the nation, with Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee in the trenches.
The two were considered to be future first-round picks coming out of high school. They were part of the 2020 recruiting class, so their introduction to college football had a rocky start. Pair that with the loss of longtime defensive coordinator Brent Venables, and you can see why their breakout seasons have yet to arrive.
First-year defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin was presented with any assistant's dream when he got the call for promotion. He's already familiar with the Tigers scheme, previously serving as a defensive analyst and senior defensive assistant for the program.
Despite losing key pieces like Venables and cornerback Andrew Booth Jr., they have veteran forces ready to produce and fresh faces hungry to take down opposing offenses.
Goodwin and the Tigers should have a structured defense that's able to hit every opponent from any direction and make splash plays every single week.
North Carolina State (10-2; 6-2 ACC)
Clemson (9-3; 6-2 ACC)
Wake Forest (8-4; 5-3 ACC)
Florida State (7-5; 4-4 ACC)
Boston College (7-5; 4-4 ACC)
Louisville (7-5; 3-5 ACC)
Syracuse (5-7; 3-5 ACC)
Miami (9-3; 6-2 ACC)
Pittsburgh (8-4; 5-3 ACC)
Virginia (7-5; 5-3 ACC)
North Carolina (7-5; 3-5 ACC)
Virginia Tech (6-6; 3-5 ACC)
Georgia Tech (4-8; 2-6 ACC)
Duke (3-9; 1-7 ACC)
Projected ACC Championship: Clemson vs. Miami
Head coach Dabo Swinney seems to have the tools to bring the ACC Championship back to South Carolina. His highly anticipated defensive line, paired with a structured offense, is a recipe for the Tigers to hoist up the trophy once again.
Considering they had one of their worst years under Swinney and only lost three games is a scary sight for anyone in the ACC. It's rare that a team gets 10 wins in a season and a bowl game victory and is viewed as a down year.
Whether the Tigers have Uiagalelei or Klubnik in the pocket, they're too talented in every other position to bypass a trip to North Carolina in December for a shot at the title. The entire defensive line is capable of making the All-ACC team in 2022. From Bresee to Murphy to Xavier Thomas and Tyler Davis, this is one of the most exciting position rooms in the nation.
Miami can catch fire during the season and go on a winning streak that would propel them into late-season battles against Clemson, Florida State and Pitt. Their offense should be cohesive by the time November rolls around, which all lies on the development of Van Dyke.
If every possible scenario goes Miami's way, they could squeeze out an ACC title. However, Clemson just seems to be a step ahead of the conference at this point.
Projected ACC Champion: Clemson