When the current collection of programs were formed, the league and media had dreams of a FSU / Miami title game almost every season. That has yet to come to fruition even though both programs have had some success. The Clemson Tigers have been the kings of the conference over the last 7 or so seasons, but their reign was halted in 2021. The Pitt Panthers and Wake Forest Demon Deacons ensured that a new school would lift the trophy in Charlotte. QB Kenny Pickett and the Panthers capped of an exciting campaign with a championship that also saw WR Jordan Addison capture the Biletnikoff Award. The NC State Wolfpack and Miami Hurricanes also showed flashes last Fall that they are ready to challenge for the crown.
We have seen a lot of roster turnover over the past few months. The ACC as a whole might be the exception when it comes to the collection of returning QB’s. The most accomplished is Devin Leary (NC State), and he is supported by Malik Cunningham (Louisville), Tyler Van Dyke (Miami), Brennan Armstrong (UVA), Phil Jurkovec (Boston College), and Sam Hartman (Wake Forest) once he is fully healthy and ready to return. PITT is replacing Kenny Pickett with USC transfer Kedon Slovis and Virginia Tech is trying to find their position stability in Marshall transfer Grant Wells. There are other programs still looking for the answer at the position like Clemson, UNC, Georgia Tech and FSU. Who replaces Sam Howell in Chapel Hill, is DJ U the answer for the Tigers, can Jordan Travis put it all together for Florida State and is Jacksonville product Jeff Simms ready to improve and own the job in Atlanta?
In an era of conference realignment, the ACC is in the crosshairs. Their “Alliance” with the B1G and PAC 12 dissolved almost as fast as Tom Brady’s retirement. Is the conference comfortable with the current footprint or do they up the ante to entice Notre Dame to fully commit? With NBC being involved in the recently announced B1G Media deal, I believe that’s a preamble to Notre Dame being the next brand to join the B1G unless the ACC can make an offer. They had 2 great options in UCF and Cincinnati to add, but those programs went west to the BIG 12. The question that will hover over the league for a while is… Will they make a move to strengthen the leagues footprint?
The current collection in the ACC have great football legacies, but they have fallen on leaner years. Syracuse was a powerhouse in the 50’s and 60’s, producing legends in Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little. They had a resurgence in the 1990’s with Donovan McNabb, Marvin Harrison and Dwight Freeney. Georgia Tech was a very consistent program for many years, but the final couple under Paul Johnson were rough and the Geoff Collins era has totaled 9 wins in 3 years. Boston College has been a solid program producing NFL players and iconic Hall Mary’s, but I think we’re all waiting for the moment when they put it all together in Chesnut Hill. Virginia and Virginia Tech were great in the 1990’s and 2000’s, but both have just been lacking that elite consistency since then. I know for a fact that we haven’t seen stars in Blacksburg like Michael Vick, Kevin Jones, or DeAngelo Hall the past few years. Lastly, the level of play in Tallahassee has dropped off dramatically since 2016. Florida State won the Natty in 2013 and earned a CFP Spot in 2014. Those were followed by back to back 10 win seasons, but only 1 winning record since the 2016 season. There were “rough” years in Doak Campbell 2001 thru 2011, but even then, the worst year was 7-6. The best season between 2017 and 2021 was 7-6 in 2017 and the only winning season in that span. This program is at a major crossroads entering 2022, improve or risk becoming the 4th best program in Florida.
- BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES
- CLEMSON TIGERS
- DUKE BLUE DEVILS
- FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES
- GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS
- LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
- MIAMI HURRICANES
- NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
- NORTH CAROLINA STATE WOLFPACK
- PITTSBURGH PANTHERS
- SYRACUSE ORANGE
- VIRGINIA CAVALIERS
- VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES
- WAKE FOREST DEMON DECONS
PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
- QB DEVIN LEARY (NC STATE): Threw for 3,433 yards and 35 Touchdowns in 2021. He has his full cast of receivers returning along with motivation to own every passing record in Wolfpack history.
- HONORABLE MENTION – QB BRENNAN ARMSTRONG (VIRGINIA): He amassed 4,449 passing yards and 31 Touchdowns last season in Charlottesville. This team will continue to air it out at will.
- HONORABLE MENTION – RB SEAN TUCKER (SYRACUSE): The ACC’s leading rusher and 4th best in the Nation in 2021. He ran for 1,496 yards and 12 Touchdowns with a yards per carry average of 6.1. Is he the next great Syracuse running back?
- HONORABLE MENTION: QB MALIK CUNNINGHAM (LOUISVILLE): He is an electric player who can throw or run for a score at any time. He will push for 4,500 yards total offense and 40 TD’s if he can stay healthy.
TEAMS WE’RE WATCHING IN 2022:
- The defending ACC Champions
- Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison have departed the Steel City, can USC Transfer Kedon Slovis and the returning playmakers keep the offense humming
- PITT had the 2nd best offense in total yards per game with 504.3 and passing yards per game 350.2
- Pat Narduzzi is a defensive guru and his defense will be called upon to be better early and often
- The Panthers led the ACC in sacks last season with 51
- They were 5th in the ACC in points allowed per game with 23.1 and in yards allowed per game with 348.6
- This defense isn’t going anywhere and they are led by First Team All Irrational Confidence Defensive Lineman Calijah Kancey.
- PITT is loving the fact that they are not getting the respect they deserve as defending ACC Champions, but the fact remains….. can the 2022 offense match the explosiveness from 2021
- The Panthers won’t have much time to get adjusted because they host rival West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl to open the campaign, then they welcome the Volunteers to the Steel City
- The Coastal should come down to PITT and Miami, so circle the regular season finale on Thanksgiving weekend when they meet down in Miami Gardens.
VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES:
- Can this program return to the elite Frank Beamer / Bud Foster years?
- Is Marshall transfer Grant Wells the answer at QB for the Hokies? They have seen Burmeister transfer to San Diego State this past spring and Herndon Hooker to Tennessee the year before.
- The Hokies produced the 4th best rushing attack in the ACC based on rushing yards per game with 190.8
- They had the 2nd worst pass offense (179 per game) and 11th in points per game with 24.8
- The defense was 4th in the ACC in points allowed per game last season with 22.9
- The Hokie offense was 10th in the ACC in total yards per game with 370.5
- This team has 6 wins on the schedule right now, the Hokies will be defined by the 5 game stretch from September 22nd thru October 27th. During this span, they host West Virginia and Miami as well as trips to UNC, PITT, and NC State
- Lane Stadium is a fantastic home environment and is a legit 12th man
- If the defense can grow and offense find the end zone more often, this program could be a sneaky underdog to arrive in Charlotte come December.
NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS:
- Head Coach Mack Brown and his staff have recruited very well the past 4 seasons, but the team has not been consistent
- Where do the Tar Heels go in the post Sam Howell era. He was the offense along with stud running backs in 2020 and WR Josh Downs
- They produced the 3rd best offense in total yards per game with 479.7 and led the ACC in rushing with 219.8
- WR Josh Downs is an elite playmaker who brought in 1,273 receiving yards last season…..how will he gel with a new QB this season?
- The Tar Heel defense was less than efficient last year, costing this team some victories, especially the late collapse against the Wolfpack.
- They allowed 408 yards a game and 31.6 points per game, which were both 10th in the league
- The Tar Heels have an intriguing road game over Labor Day Weekend when they head to App State. This is not your typical lesser conference filler game, this is a big challenge for UNC and they should be ready to play or they could find themselves on Upset Alert
- This is a very tough schedule for the Heels and if the defense can improve, their ground game should provide dividends
- It is time for those top 25 recruiting classes to showcase on the field and prove this program is more than just recently departed QB Sam Howell
GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS:
- Is this HC Geoff Collins make of break season on The Flats
- Collins is a defensive minded coach and was a defensive coordinator in prior coaching stops, that side of the ball must improve dramatically this Fall.
- The defense in 2021 allowed 33.5 points per game, which was 13th in the ACC
- They were 12th in total yards allowed with 454 yards allowed per game
- They were 13th 8n passing yards allowed per game with 273 yards
- The offense led by Jeff Simms was 11th in the ACC in total yards per game.
- Their passing attack was 10th in yards per game and the ground game was 8th
- The Jackets had a very tough time putting points on the board as well, averaging 24 a game, which was 13th in the ACC
- The biggest question facing the Jackets program as a whole, can they improve the play on the field
- They play Clemson, Ole Miss and UCF in their first 4 games…..very tough early slate
- The home opener is against the Kerwin Bell coached Western Carolina Catamounts
- They also face the defending National Champion Georgia Bulldogs in addition to Miami, Pitt, FSU, UNC, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
- This program needs to put it all together this season because on paper, it is very tough to find 5-6 winnable games.
- If Tech can improve, it might buy Collins time to fully rebuild, but if things go south quickly a change could be imminent for a proud and historic program.
CONFERENCE GAMES TO KEEP ON YOUR RADAR:
- WEST VIRGINIA AT PITT – BACKYARD BRAWL (Week 1)
- LOUISVILLE AT SYRACUSE (Week 1)
- CLEMSON AT GEORGIA TECH (Week 1)
- TENNESSEE AT PITT (Week 2)
- BOSTON COLLEGE AT VIRGINIA TECH (Week 2)
- FSU AT LOUISVILLE (Week 3)
- MIAMI AT TEXAS A&M (Week 3)
- VIRGINIA AT SYRACUSE (Week 4)
- CLEMSON AT WAKE FOREST (Week 4)
- NOTRE DAME AT NORTH CAROLINA (Week 4)
- NC STATE AT CLEMSON (Week 5)
- VIRGINIA TECH AT NORTH CAROLINA (Week 5)
- FSU AT NC STATE (Week 6)
- NORTH CAROLINA AT MIAMI (Week 6)
- VIRGINIA TECH AT PITT (Week 6)
- CLEMSON AT FSU (Week 7)
- MIAMI AT VIRGINIA TECH (Week 7)
- BOSTON COLLEGE AT WAKE FOREST (Week 8)
- PITT AT LOUISVILLE (Week 8)
- VIRGINIA TECH AT NC STATE (Week 9)
- MIAMI AT VIRGINIA (Week 9)
- FSU AT MIAMI (Week 10)
- WAKE FOREST AT NC STATE (Week 10)
- CLEMSON AT NOTRE DAME (Week 10)
- NORTH CAROLINA AT VIRGINIA (Week 10)
- PITT AT VIRGINIA (Week 11)
- LOUISVILLE AT CLEMSON (Week 11)
- MIAMI AT CLEMSON (Week 12)
- NC STATE AT LOUISVILLE (Week 12)
- GEORGIA TECH AT NORTH CAROLINA (Week 12)
- NC STATE AT NORTH CAROLINA (Week 13)
- FLORIDA AT FSU (Week 13)
- PITT AT MIAMI (Week 13)
- VIRGINIA AT VIRGINIA TECH (Week 13)
BEST STADIUM IN THE CONFERENCE: LANE STADIUM AT VIRGINIA TECH….Who doesn’t get chills when Enter Sandman starts thumping in the speakers and the stadium is shaking?
CONFERENCE CHAMPION: NC STATE WOLFPACK
- Clemson has a fantastic defense, but the offense will hold them back. In addition, the talent in the ACC has vastly improved. NC State and Miami are 2 of those programs primed to challenge for the title and I see them meeting in Charlotte.
Don’t forget to tune into The Irrational Confidence Podcast (@IRConfidencePod) all season long as we bring you 2 episodes a week. We drop a college football preview episode and game reaction episode weekly. We just released our final installment of our Preseason Top 25 Countdown. We have our season prediction episode, underrated Stadium episode and a special guest interview episode coming very soon. You can subscribe on any podcast platform or via the Spinnable Sports YouTube page. If you’re looking for other conference spotlights, checkout SpinnableSports.com for the Sun Belt, Conference USA, Mountain West, AAC, MAC, PAC 12 and BIG 12…. B1G and SEC Coming Soon!