Will Clemson Strike in 2022?
The Tigers had a run of six straight ACC championships snapped last season in a year dominated by 40-point offenses.
Pitt averaged 43.0 and won the conference championship behind the efforts of quarterback Kenny Pickett, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting. Wake Forest averaged 41.2 points per game and won the ACC Atlantic Division. The conference features an overload of quarterback talent coming into 2022. Six ACC quarterbacks are ranked in SN’s top 25 QBs for 2022.
There were four coaching changes and all of them were in the Coastal ACC. Duke’s Mike Elko, Miami’s Mario Cristobal, Virginia’s Tony Elliott and Virginia Tech’s Brent Pry are the new coaches on the block. Several other ACC coaches could be in the hot seat, including Florida State’s Mike Norvell, Georgia Tech’s Geoff Collins and Syracuse’s Dino Babers.
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Last season offered a sense of parity within the conference, but Clemson still won 10 games in 2021. The Tigers are ready to bounce back, but they need the offense to keep up with their ACC counterparts.
Who has the edge in the ACC this season? Here’s a closer look at the ACC, with predictions, big games, Heisman contenders and more:
2022 ACC predicted order of finish
- NC State
- Wake Forest
- State of Florida
- Boston College
Clemson has the nation’s longest home win streak at 34 games, and NC State (Oct. 1) and Miami (Nov. 19) both come to Memorial Stadium. The road to the ACC Championship still runs through Death Valley. The Wolfpack remain the top contender and they return most of their production from 2021, including quarterback Devin Leary. This is Dave Doeren’s best shot at an ACC Championship. The Wake Forest field is weak with Sam Hartman out indefinitely with a non-football medical condition. Louisville, Florida State and Boston College are interchangeable at 4-6 spots. Of those three, the Eagles are the only ones with a .500 record over the past three seasons at 18-18. Syracuse has won two ACC games or fewer in five of Dino Babers’ six seasons.
- North Carolina
- Virginia Tech
- Georgia Tech
Too soon for Mario Cristobal? Miami has plenty of talent around quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, and North Carolina and Pitt visit Hard Rock Stadium. The non-conference game at Texas A&M on Sept. 17 should be an interesting barometer for the Hurricanes. North Carolina was the sleeper chic of the offseason last season, and now they’re off the radar. The Tar Heels are an interesting candidate for a comeback with Jacolby Criswell or Drake Maye at quarterback. Pitt has a tough intra-division schedule with road trips to North Carolina (Oct. 29), Virginia (Nov. 12) and Miami (Nov. 26). The Panthers haven’t won in Miami or North Carolina under Pat Narduzzi. Virginia and Virginia Tech are a toss-up with their new coaches, but the Cavaliers have the better record over the last three years and Brennan Armstrong is a true answer at quarterback. Georgia Tech’s Geoff Collins is 7-18 in ACC play and Duke opens a new chapter with Elko. Will he keep them as competitive as David Cutcliffe?
MORE: Takes away the key to North Carolina’s offense
Main story: What about “The U?”
The Hurricanes are 136-90 since joining the ACC in 2004 — and they have yet to win a conference championship. Cristobal’s arrival has sparked hope that the U can make a comeback, but it really starts with building a team capable of winning its first conference title.
Miami is 16-26 against ranked opponents since 2004, which is the third-best record among all-time ACC schools. Clemson (34-22) and Florida State (20-28) are better. That’s the way back, and Van Dyke offered hope by beating back-to-back ranked opponents in Pitt and NC State last season. He had 751 yards, seven TDs and one interception in those two games.
The ACC needs Miami to be a challenger to Clemson, and a worthy one at that. Once that happens, then talk of bringing back the “U” can begin in earnest.
The impact of freshmen
Cade Klubnik, QB, Clemson
Klubnik (Westalke, Austin, Tex.) is a five-star quarterback from a football factory in Texas, and he has become a household name among Clemson fans. He’s not a starter, but he has enough talent that he could push for that job if DJ Uiagalelei falters. It will be interesting to see how new offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter mixes Klubnik early in the season, if at all.
Zach Rice, T, North Carolina
Rice (Liberty Chiristan Academy, Lynchburg, Va.) is a 6-5, 320-pound five-star tackle that Mack Brown took in the 2022 recruiting class. Rice has missed time in fall camp with injuries, but when he is healthy must be able to work in rotation. He could be a full-time starter until the second half of the season.
Transfers of influence
Kedon Slovis, QB, Pitt
Slovis transferred from USC, and he will try to get his career back on track. Pitt has a new offensive coordinator in Frank Cignetti Jr. Slovis has had a strange career arc. He had 30 TDs and seven INTs as a freshman, but has 28 TDs and 15 INTs the past two seasons. He is the X-factor in Pitt’s hopes for a second straight ACC championship.
Grant Wells, QB, Virginia Tech
Wells must beat out South Carolina transfer Jason Brown for the starting job, but has reason to shop Marshall’s transfer. He was 14-9 as a starter, and that experience could help ease the transition to Pry. Wells struggled with turnovers last season and that needs to change.
Frank Ladson, WR, Miami
Ladson didn’t play much for Clemson in 2021. He had 428 yards and six TDs over the last three seasons, and now he’s getting a second chance with the Hurricanes. He’s back at home now and can find a rhythm with Van Dyke in a high-volume offense.
Kobie Turner, DE, Wake Forest
Turner, a 6-3, 290-pound running back, transferred from Richmond, where he was a disruptive player. Turner compiled 31.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks over the past three seasons. He could develop more with the Demon Deacons.
DJ Uiagalelei, QB, Clemson
Crazy how this can work. Uiagalelei needs to improve after passing for nine TDs and 10 interceptions last season. If he struggles, Uiagalelei could end up behind Klubnik on the depth chart. Or Uiagalelei could thrive on a conference championship team and put up big numbers and get in the Heisman mix. Which door will it be?
Tyler Van Dyke, QB, Miami
Van Dyke had three or more TD passes in each of Miami’s last six games. Wins against NC State and Pitt were milestones, and he should thrive under Cristobal. Miami hasn’t had a quarterback in the Heisman mix since Ken Dorsey was the runner-up in 2001.
Devin Leary, QB, NC State
Leary is the real deal. He passed for 35 TDs and five interceptions last season, a +30 TD:INT ratio that was third behind Alabama’s Bryce Young (+40) and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud (+38). That error-free game is why the Wolfpack is thinking about an ACC Championship. Rivers finished seventh in the 2003 Heisman voting.
The ACC’s biggest games of 2022
1. NC State at Clemson (Nov. 1)
The Wolfpack beat Clemson last season in a 27-21 thriller, a game in which Leary passed for 238 yards and four TDs. The next step is a win at Memorial Stadium. NC State hasn’t won there since Philip Rivers led a 38-6 rout on Oct. 24, 2002.
2. Miami at Clemson (Nov. 19)
The Tigers have won the last three meetings by a combined score of 136-20. That included a 42-17 drubbing of Death Valley in 2020. This could be the Tigers’ 40th straight home win. Remember, the Canes hold the record 58-game home winning streak, which was set from 1985-94.
3. North Carolina at Miami (October 8)
This is an early pace game on the ACC Coastal schedule, and the Tar Heels can make a statement here. Brown is 3-0 against the Hurricanes since returning to Chapel Hill, and the last trip to Miami was a 62-26 drubbing in 2020.
4. Pitt at Miami (November 26)
The Panthers have won the ACC Coastal twice in the last four years, but they’ve lost four straight to the Hurricanes in that stretch. Narduzzi is 1-6 against Miami. This game could decide the division, and the Rivalry Week spotlight makes it all the more interesting.
5. NC State at North Carolina (Nov. 25)
The rivalry is on Black Friday and it’s a crossover game that should be exciting given last year’s 34-30 nailbiter the Wolfpack won in Raleigh, NC Will this result affect who makes the ACC Championship Game ? It is possible, and one of these teams could also be a spoiler.
ACC Stats That Matter
For all its offensive struggles, Clemson allowed just 15.0 points per game last season. The Tigers allowed 20-plus points to four division opponents in Louisville, Florida State, Wake Forest and NC State. Defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin is the replacement for Brent Venables and the Tigers return three SN Preseason All-Americans in Bryan Bresee, Myles Murphy and Trenton Simpson. Clemson should be very good on that side of the ball, but the offense needs to follow.
ACC Champion: Clemson
The schedule is not easy. The Tigers play ACC Atlantic games in back-to-back weeks against Wake Forest and NC State, and November features a road trip to Notre Dame on Nov. 5 before home doubleheaders to close out the season against Miami and rival South Carolina. This is not one of those years to check the Tigers’ soft schedule. The defense needs to be dominant, and Swinney has proven in the past that he’ll make a tough quarterback decision when it comes down to it. The Tigers return to the CFP, where they will have a chance to renew their heavyweight credentials.