The ACC didn’t exactly have a banner campaign in 2021, missing its first College Football Playoff while failing to finish with a team ranked in the top ten after Clemson posted its biggest loss since 2014.
All eyes will be on the Tigers once again to see if they will regroup to carry the conference flag. But far from Clemson, this conference should be much stronger from top to bottom than in years past. Ten of the 14 teams brought quarterbacks back – although Atlantic Division champion Wake Forest was hit hard when it was announced that Sam Hartman would be out indefinitely due to a non-football-related medical problem. In the coastal division, there’s plenty of optimism in Miami under first-year coach Mario Cristobal, who returned home in the Hurricanes to revitalize a program that never won an ACC Championship.
No matter what happens, this will be a year for the record books – the final season of the conference has sections.
Storylines to watch
1. Is Clemson back in form?
Despite missing the playoffs last season, Clemson won 10 games for the 11th consecutive year – only the third program in history to achieve the feat. While that’s an incredible feat, Clemson raised the bar after six straight games in the playoff. But more than that, the level of offensive performance was raised, and what happened in 2021 simply failed to meet expectations. Midfielder DJ Uiagalelei wasn’t consistent enough, neither were the receivers or the offensive line. Uiagalelei returns as the initiating QB – and the biggest focus both on the Tigers and in the conference should be on him and whether he can fulfill his potential. If he doesn’t, what must be one of the best defenses in the country may not be enough to get Clemson back into the playoff.
2. What is Miami doing in the first year under Cristobal?
There is one story unbeaten year after year in the ACC: Is this the year Miami will compete for the championship? Media voters seem to think so, choosing the Hurricanes as their pre-season option to win the coastal division and advance to the ACC Championship game. Of course this is the sixth time Miami has been the pre-season pick. Hurricanes have one title in their history. Expectations are high this year thanks to Cristobal and the return of midfielder Tyler Van Dyck, who emerged last season after running camp vying for a spare job. Cristobal appointed himself an elite staff, which added to the level of expectations outside the program. But Cristobal doesn’t want to do anything with people’s place Think It should be his program now. He just wants his players to focus on getting better.
3. Who stands out as the captain of the league in the league?
You have to go back to 2016 to find a quarterback as deep, talented and experienced as the ones at ACC. Quite simply, this is the best collective pool of talent in the country, although losing Hartmann from this mix from the start is difficult. He finished second in the ACC’s Player of the Year vote for NC State quarterback Devin Leary, the top choice after throwing 3,433 yards, 35 touchdowns, and five interceptions in 2021. Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong ranked second in the nation in total Offense (4,700 total yards), Hartmann ranked No. 9 (4591) and Malik Cunningham in Louisville ranked No. 14 (3971). Then there’s Uiagalelei, Van Dyke and Phil Jurkovec at Boston College, and Jordan Travis in Florida to watch, too. Regardless of who ends up being the best quarterback, this group will make for a fun watch.
The 2021 season represented a seismic shift in strength at the ACC, with Pitt and Wake Forest playing for the league title – only the third ACC Championship game in league history that didn’t include Clemson, Florida State or Virginia Tech and the first since 2006. Does that mean an official change in the league title? Guarding power ratings for 2022? Ah, not so fast. Clemson is still the most talented team in the conference, but what is clear from last season is that the Tigers have some real question marks, and the rest of the league have some real threats too.
2. North Carolina
6. North Carolina
7. Wake Forest
11. Boston College
12. Virginia Tech
13. Georgia Tech
Five must-watch games
West Virginia in Pete, September 1
It’s been more than a decade since Backyard Brawl was last run – when Pitt and West Virginia were members of the Big East. The rivalry is renewed Thursday night to kick off the 2022 season, and all the barbs that have accumulated since 2011 can finally be unleashed on the field. Pitt leads the all-time series in the 61-40-3 series, but West Virginia has won the past three, including the 21-20 thriller in 2011.
Florida State vs Florida State University, Sept. 4 (New Orleans)
Florida State has spent the past five seasons in misery, but winning a high-profile game like this could be the official upcoming party for the Seminoles, declaring to the world of college football that it must be taken seriously again. The same may be true for LSU, which will play in their backyard in New Orleans and give new coach Brian Kelly his first test. Kelly’s Notre Dame narrowly escaped FSU in overtime a year ago.
Miami at Texas A&M, September 17
Is Miami back? Unofficial changes – including new sporting director at Dan Radjakovic, new head coach at Mario Cristobal and a new dedication to investing in football – have made Hurricanes fans dream big. Cristobal had some serious renovation work on his arrival, but he has a QB star in Tyler Van Dyke, and Canes finished last season by winning five of their last six games. Beating the top 10 probably Texas A&M would be a huge statement – for Miami and ACC.
NC State in Clemson, October 1
North Carolina has spent its share of time on the fringes of contention in the Atlantic ACC, but this off-season event has been more hype than anything else in recent memory. Can coach Dave Doeren and QB Devin Leary & Co finally deliver amid high expectations? There will be plenty of testing along the way but no bigger than the October showdown with Clemson, which could mark an official change of guard at the top of the conference.
Clemson in Notre Dame, November 5
Clemson and Notre Dame have played some epic games in recent years, from fending off the Tigers in a late two-point bid amid hurricane-like conditions in 2015 to Notre Dame’s win that came from behind against Uiagalelei & Co in 2020. This year’s match has yet another classic, as Both teams enter the season with legitimate qualifying hopes.
Before the first season of ACC team arrives
For our conference team, we’ve decided to add an extra defensive back, a nod to all units that play with nickels often. If we could just add a quarterback or two, this exercise would have been so much easier. Picking just one QB piece from the league’s fortunes – including Tyler Van Dyck, Devin Leary, Brennan Armstrong and Sam Hartman – was an impossible task. Fortunately, we’ve got a whole season to enjoy a whole bunch of them in 2022.
QB owner Cunningham, Louisville
RB Will Shipley, Clemson
RB Sean Tucker, Syracuse
WR Josh Downes, UNC
WR AT BERRY, Wake Forest
WR Dontayvion Wicks, Virginia
TO Marshawn Ford, Louisville
OTZion Nelson, Miami
and Caleb Chandler, Louisville
Sea Grant Gibson, North Carolina
and Dylan Gibbons, Florida State University
OT Jordan McFadden, Clemson
DL Brian Bracey, Clemson
DL Caleja Kansi, Pet
DL Miles Murphy, Clemson
LB Yasir Abdullah, Louisville
LB Payton Wilson, North Carolina
LP Trenton Simpson, Clemson
LP Michael Jones, Syracuse
Andrew Mokoba, Clemson
S Jammie Robinson, FSU
CB Josh Deberry, British Columbia
CB Terrick Stephenson, Miami
CB Shehim Patel, North Carolina
P Lou Hedley, Miami
KPT Potter, Clemson
R Jaylene Stinson, Duke
Championship Prediction Game
Clemson over Miami.