ACC college football preview – Breaking down the conference’s best players, games and more

The ACC didn’t exactly have a banner campaign in 2021, missing the college football playoffs for the first time and not ending with a team in the top 10 after Clemson recorded its most losses since 2014.

All eyes will be on the Tigers again to see if they regroup to carry the flag for the conference. But Clemson aside, this should be a much stronger top-down conference than in years past. Ten of 14 teams are bringing back their starting quarterbacks — though Wake Forest, the Atlantic Division titlist, took a hard blow when it was announced Sam Hartman would be out indefinitely with a non-football-related medical issue. In the Coastal Division, optimism runs high in Miami under first-year coach Mario Cristobal, who returned home to the Hurricanes to revitalize a program that has never won an ACC championship.

No matter what, this will be a year for the record books – as the conference’s final season with divisions.

Storylines to watch

1. Is Clemson returning to form?

Despite missing the playoffs last season, Clemson won 10 games for the 11th straight year — only the third program in history to accomplish such a feat. While it’s an incredible feat, Clemson has raised the bar after six straight playoff appearances. Additionally, the bar has been raised for offensive performance, and what happened in 2021 just didn’t live up to expectations. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei wasn’t consistent enough, nor were the receivers or the offensive line. Uiagalelei returns as starting QB – and the biggest focus for both the Tigers and the conference should be him and whether he can fulfill his potential. If he doesn’t, one of the best defenses in the nation might not be enough to put Clemson back in the playoffs.

2. What is Miami doing in their freshman year under Cristobal?

There’s a story of going unbeaten in the ACC year after year: will this be the year Miami will be battling for a championship? Media voters seem to think so, having picked the Hurricanes as their preseason pick to win the Coastal Division and advance to the ACC Championship Game. Of course, this is the sixth time Miami has been the preseason pick; The Hurricanes have one division title in their history. Expectations are high this year thanks to Cristobal and the return of quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, who emerged last season after coming through camp and battling for the backup job. Cristobal has hired elite staff himself, which increases the level of expectation outside of the program. But Cristobal wants nothing to do with where people are think his program should be the same now. He just wants his players to focus on getting better.

3. Who will be the best quarterback in the league?

You have to go back to 2016 to find a quarterback group as deep, talented, and experienced as the one in the ACC. This is undoubtedly the best collective group of talent in the country, although losing Hartman from the mix from the start is difficult. He finished second in the ACC preseason for Player of the Year and selected NC State quarterback Devin Leary, the first pick in 2021 for 3,433 yards, 35 touchdowns and five interceptions. Brennan Armstrong in Virginia ranked second on total offense in the Nation (4,700 yards), Hartman at No. 9 (4,591) and Malik Cunningham of Louisville at No. 14 (3,971). Then there’s Uiagalelei, Van Dyke, Boston College’s Phil Jurkovec and Florida State’s Jordan Travis, who are also worth watching. No matter who ends up being the best quarterback, this group will be fun to watch.

power rankings

The 2021 season marked a seismic power shift in the ACC, with Pitt and Wake Forest playing for the league title in only the third ACC championship game in league history not involving Clemson, Florida State or Virginia Tech, and that first since 2006. So does this mean an official changing of the guard for our 2022 power rankings? Ah, not so fast. Clemson remains the most talented team in the conference, but what’s clear from last season is that the Tigers have some real question marks, and the rest of the league has some real threats as well.

1. Klemson
2. NC state
3. Pitt
6. North Carolina
7. Wachwald
8. State of Florida
9. Va
10. Syracuse
11. Boston College
12.Virginia Tech
13.Georgia Tech
14th Duke

Five must-see games

West Virginia at Pitt, September 1st

It’s been more than a decade since the Backyard Brawl was last played, back when Pitt and West Virginia were members of the Big East. The rivalry is renewed on a Thursday night to kick off the 2022 season and all the poison that has been building since 2011 can finally be unleashed on the pitch. Pitt holds the all-time lead in the series 61-40-3, but West Virginia has won the last three, including a 21-20 thriller in 2011.

Florida State vs. LSU, Sept. 4 (New Orleans)

Florida State has spent the last five seasons in misery, but a win in a high-profile game like this could serve as an official coming-out party for the Seminoles and announce to the college football world that they should be taken seriously again. The same could be true for LSU, who get to play in their New Orleans backyard and give new coach Brian Kelly his first Test. Kelly’s Notre Dame team narrowly escaped FSU in overtime a year ago.

Miami at Texas A&M, Sept. 17

Is Miami back? An off-season makeover – including a new athletic director in Dan Radakovich, a new head coach in Mario Cristobal and a new commitment to investing in football – has Hurricanes fans dreaming big. Cristobal had some serious renovations to do upon his arrival, but he has a star QB in Tyler Van Dyke and the Canes finished last season with five wins in their last six games. A win over a likely top-10 Texas A&M team would be a big statement — for Miami and the ACC.

NC State at Clemson, Oct. 1

NC State has spent its share of time on the periphery of ACC Atlantic, but this offseason has been filled with more hype than any in recent memory. Given the high expectations, can coaches Dave Doeren, QB Devin Leary & Co finally deliver? There will be plenty of tests along the way, but none bigger than this October showdown with Clemson, which could mean an official changing of the guard at the helm of the conference.

Clemson at Notre Dame, November 5th

Clemson and Notre Dame have played some epic games in recent years, from repelling a late 2-point attempt by the Tigers in hurricane-like conditions in 2015 to Notre Dame beating Uiagalelei & Co. in 2020. This year’s game has the makings of another classic with both teams going into the season with legitimate playoff hopes.

Preseason All-ACC Team

For our all-conference team, we decided to add an additional defender, a nod to all units that mostly play with a nickel. If we could just add an extra quarterback or two, this exercise would have been a lot easier. Picking just one QB from the league’s wealth — among them Tyler Van Dyke, Devin Leary, Brennan Armstrong and Sam Hartman — was an impossible task. Fortunately, in 2022 we have a full season to enjoy them all.

QB Malik Cunningham, Louisville

RB Will Shipley, Clemson
RB Sean Tucker, Syracuse
WR Josh Downs, UNC
WR AT Perry, Wake Forest
WR Dontayvion Wicks, Virginia
TE Marshon Ford, Louisville
OT Zion Nelson, Miami
OG Caleb Chandler, Louisville
C Grant Gibson, State of NC
OG Dillan Gibbons, FSU
OT Jordan McFadden, Clemson

DL Bryan Bresee, Clemson

DL Calijah Kancey, Pitt
DL Myles Murphy, Clemson
LB Yasir Abdullah, Louisville
LB Payton Wilson, State of NC
LB Trenton Simpson, Clemson
LB Mikel Jones, Syracuse
S. Andrew Mukuba, Clemson
S. Jammie Robinson, FSU
CB Josh DeBerry, BC
CB Tyrique Stevenson, Miami
CB Shyheim Battle, State NC

Special teams
P Lou Hedley, Miami
K BT Potter, Clemson
R. Jaylen Stinson, Duke

Championship Match Prediction

Clemson on Miami. ACC college football preview – Breaking down the conference’s best players, games and more

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