ACC football predictions 2022: Conference standings, impact transfers, best games

1 month ago 16

Will Clemson strike back in 2022? 

The Tigers had a run of six straight ACC championships snapped last season in a year where the 40-point offenses dominated. 

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 those took place in the ACC Coastal. 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.  A few other ACC coaches could be on the hot seat, including Florida State's Mike Norvell, Georgia Tech's Geoff Collins and Syracuse's Dino Babers. 

MORE: SEC predictions | Big 12 predictions | Big Ten predictions | Pac-12 predictions2022 All-America team

Last season offered a sense of parity within the conference, but Clemson still won 10 games in 2021. The Tigers are poised 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 is a closer look at the ACC, with predictions, huge games, Heisman contenders and more:

2022 ACC predicted order of finish 

ACC Atlantic 

  1. Clemson 
  2. NC State 
  3. Wake Forest 
  4. Louisville
  5. Florida State
  6. Boston College
  7. Syracuse 

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 best challenger, and they return most of their production from 2021, including quarterback Devin Leary. This is Dave Doeren's best shot for an ACC championship. Wake Forest's spot is tenuous with Sam Hartman out indefinitely with a non-football medical condition. Louisville, Florida State and Boston College are interchangeable in the 4-6 spots. Of those three, the Eagles are the only one with a .500 record over the last three seasons at 18-18. Syracuse has won two ACC games or less in five of Dino Babers' six seasons. 

ACC Coastal 

  1. Miami
  2. North Carolina 
  3. Pitt
  4. Virginia 
  5. Virginia Tech 
  6. Georgia Tech 
  7. Duke 

Too soon for Mario Cristobal? Miami has enough talent around quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, and North Carolina and Pitt visit Hard Rock Stadium. The nonconference game at Texas A&M on Sept. 17 should be an interesting barometer for the Hurricanes. North Carolina was the chic offseason sleeper last season, and now they are off the radar. The Tar Heels are an interesting bounce-back candidate with either Jacolby Criswell or Drake Maye at quarterback. Pitt has a tough schedule within the division with road trips to North Carolina (Oct. 29), Virginia (Nov. 12) and Miami (Nov. 26). The Panthers have not won at 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 the last three years and Brennan Amstrong 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 did? 

MORE: Downs the key to North Carolina offense

Top storyline: 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 return, but it truly starts with building a team capable of winning that first conference title. 

Miami is 16-26 against ranked opponents since 2004, which is the third-best record among full-time ACC schools. Clemson (34-22) and Florida State (20-28) are better. That is the path 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 about “The U” coming back can begin in earnest. 

Impact freshmen 

Cade Klubnik, QB, Clemson 

Klubnik (Westalke, Austin, Tex.) is a five-star quarterback from a Texas football factory, and he's become a popular name among Clemson fans. He's not the starter, but there is enough talent that he could push for that job if D.J. Uiagalelei falters. It will be interesting to see how new offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter mixes Klubnik in 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 got in the 2022 recruiting class. Rice has missed time in fall camp with injuries, but when healthy should be able to work in the rotation. He could be a full-time starter by the second half of the season. 

Impact transfers

Kedon Slovis, QB, Pitt 

Slovis transferred from USC, and he'll try to get his career back on track. Pitt has a new offensive coordinator in Frank Cignetti Jr. Slovis has a bizarre career arc. He had 30 TDs and seven INTs as a freshman but has 28 TDs and 15 INTs the last two seasons. He's the X-factor in Pitt's hopes for a second straight ACC championship. 

Grant Wells, QB, Virginia Tech 

Wells does have to beat out South Carolina transfer Jason Brown for the starting job, but there are reasons to buy in on the Marshall transfer. He was 14-9 as a starter, and that experience could help ease the transition to Pry. Wells struggled wtih turnovers last season, and that needs to change. 

Frank Ladson, WR, Miami 

Ladson did not play much for Clemson in 2021. He had 428 yards and six TDs the last three seasons, and now he gets a second chance with the Hurricanes. He's back home now, and he could find a rhythm with Van Dyke in a high-volume offense. 

Kobie Turner, DE, Wake Forest 

Turner, a 6-3, 290-pound edge rusher, transferred from Richmond, where he was a disruptive player. Turner compiled 31.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks the last three seasons. He could develop more with the Demon Deacons. 

Heisman hopefuls 

D.J. Uiagalelei, QB, Clemson 

Crazy how this could 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 huge numbers and get into 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. The victories against NC State and Pitt were stepping stones, and he should thrive under Cristobal. Miami hasn't had a quarterback in the Heisman mix since Ken Dorsey was runner-up in 2001. 

Devin Leary, QB, NC State 

Devin Leary

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 C.J. Stroud (+38). That mistake-free play is why the Wolfpack are thinking about an ACC championship. Rivers finished seventh in the Heisman voting in 2003. 

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 winning at Memorial Stadium. NC State hasn't won there since Philip Rivers led a 38-6 blowout 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 smackdown in Death Valley in 2020. This could potentially be the Tigers' 40th straight home victory. Remember, the Canes have the home winning streak record at 58 games, which was set from 1985-94. 

3. North Carolina at Miami (Oct. 8) 

This is an early swing 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 blowout in 2020. 

4. Pitt at Miami (Nov. 26) 

The Panthers have won the ACC Coastal twice in the last four years, but they have lost four straight to the Hurricanes in that run. Narduzzi is 1-6 against Miami. This game could decide the division, and the Rivalry Week spotlight makes it more interesting. 

5. NC State at North Carolina (Nov. 25) 

The rivalry is on Black Friday, and it's a cross-over game that should be exciting given last year's 34-30 nailbiter the Wolfpack won in Raleigh, N.C. Will this result impact who makes the ACC championship game? It's possible, and one of these teams could be a spoiler, too. 

ACC stat that matters

For all the offensive struggles, Clemson allowed just 15.0 points per game last season. The Tigers did allow 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 must follow. 

ACC champion: Clemson

The schedule isn't easy. The Tigers have 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 back-to-back home games to close the season against Miami and rival South Carolina. This isn't one of those years to hammer the Tigers' soft schedule. The defense should be dominant, and Swinney has proven in the past he'll make a tough quarterback decision if it comes to that. The Tigers return to the CFP, where they will get a chance to renew their heavyweight credentials.

Read Entire Article