ACC Preview- Atlantic Division
The Eagles have gotten to bowl eligibility both years under Jeff Hafley, but have yet to play in a bowl game due to Covid-19 issues. BC opted out of a bowl game in 2020, and their game against ECU in the Military Bowl last year was cancelled. The Eagles went 6-6 last year, but really only had 2 impressive wins, Missouri and Virginia Tech. Both of which were at home; however, they did have very close losses against Clemson and Florida State. Boston College was dead last in the ACC last year in offense with only 350 yards per game, but was 3rd in points allowed.
The Eagles were led by Phil Jurkovec, Zay Flowers, and Pat Garwo III, all of which are back this year. Jurkovec missed part of the year with an injury last year, and the offense really struggled in his absence. Garwo was a 1,000 yard rusher last year and will look to duplicate that success again; however, that could be a struggle with so many new faces on the offensive line. Flowers is one of the best wide receivers in the ACC, even if he hasn't had the numbers to back it up. These 3, if healthy, should easily bring BC out of last place in offense this year.
Looking to the schedule this year, BC is going to have to upset a team or 2 if they want to reach bowl eligibility for a third straight year. They have winnable games against Rutgers, Maine, UConn, Duke, and Syracuse. The next 2 best options would be at Virginia Tech or against Louisville, but the rest of their schedule is a beast. They are at FSU, Wake Forest, NC State, and Notre Dame and host Clemson. I think the Eagles can get it done and get 6 wins again this year, but I wouldn't expect much more than that.
Clemson had a "down" year in 2021, after winning only 10 games. That just shows you how great the expectations are for the program that Dabo has built. Even though the national media completely wrote off the Tigers last year, they still had an unbelievable season by anyone's standards other than Clemson or Alabama. They finished 10-3 and number 14 in the country. Their only losses came by a touchdown to the National Champions to open the season, a double overtime game to a good NC State team on the road, and the ACC Champions in Pittsburgh.
Really the only place that the Tigers struggled last year, besides some injuries on the defensive side of the ball, was at the QB position. DJ Uiagalelei came into the season as a Heisman hopeful after shining as a Freshman in limited work, but he did not live up to the hype. Clemson did, however, establish a dominant ground attack with Freshman Will Shipley and Kobe Pace. They are both back this year, and Clemson signed the #1 High School QB prospect, Cade Klubnik, so if DJU struggles as he did last year, expect Klubnik to get a chance.
After the season, Clemson lost both coordinators, Brent Venables and Tony Elliott, to head coaching positions at Oklahoma and Virginia respectively. Dabo replaced both of them with inside hires, so other than getting used to calling plays in games, there shouldn't be much of a change from them schematically.
The 2022 should be right back on top of the college football world. They are ranked #4 in the preseason AP poll, and have one of, if not the, best defenses in the country. According to ESPN's FPI, the only game that they are currently not favored to win is at Notre Dame in November. Obviously, a lot can change between then and now, but I fully expect them to get through a really solid Atlantic Division and win another ACC Championship, regardless of which QB finishes the season as starter.
The 2021 Florida State Seminoles had a really weird year. They lost 4 straight games to open the season including an embarrassing loss to FCS Jacksonville State, but turned it around and came up 3 points short of securing bowl eligibility against Florida. I think the main reason for the turnaround mid season was because Mike Norvell began using Jordan Travis as his only QB, after using both him and McKenzie Milton early in the season.
FSU had a fairly decent rushing attack last year, including Jordan Travis' dual-threat ability, but only finished 6th in the league in rushing. Combined with barely averaging, over 200 yards passing per game, it was a pretty average offense. They will need to be much better than that, if they want to get back to the dominant program they were less than a decade ago. The defense was middle of the pack as well last year, and even though they have to replace ACC DPOY, Jermaine Johnson II, the defense is loaded with experienced players.
One big thing FSU has to find this year are some offensive playmakers (other than Travis). Leading rusher, Jashaun Corbin is now gone, and while they had 11 players catch double digit passes, none of them caught more than 25. They went to the transfer portal to look for the answers by bringing in Mycah Pittman at WR and Trey Benson at RB from Oregon. If Travis can take a step forward, and the transfers and guys like Ontaria Wilson and Treshaun Ward progress from a year ago, this offense could be a lot better this year.
The Noles have a pretty tough schedule having to play in the Atlantic division, having a cross-over with Miami, and LSU and Florida on the schedule, so I think their ceiling is probably around 8 wins, but I believe this FSU team will be way better than the team we saw lose to Jacksonville State a year ago.
Louisville was exactly average a year ago. They were 7th in the league in scoring, 8th in points allowed, 6th in total offense, and 9th in total defense. They beat the teams they should have, and they lost to the teams better than them. All of that led to a 6-6 record and playing in a lower bowl where they lost a tight game to Air Force. That's pretty much who they've been since Scott Satterfield has been the head coach, an 18-19 record with 2 bowl appearances (1-1 record). Average. Which is a shame because they have probably my favorite guy to watch in the ACC in Malik Cunningham. The guy is freaking electric. He threw for just under 3,000 yards, ran for over 1,000, and had 39 touchdowns. Those 39 TDs were good for 9th in the country last year, but 4th in the ACC (with another ACC QB rounding out the top 10).
This season they will look to build around Cunningham. They return 4 starters from an offensive line that was solid a season ago, so that should be a plus again. They lose their top 3 receivers, but bring in 2 solid transfers and bring back Braden Smith after missing most of last year with an injury to fill their shoes. They also have a handful of running backs that should all be able to contribute. On the defensive end, the DBs should be their strength. They have to replace quite a few guys in the front 7, but have plenty of guys that have been in the program for a few years and a couple of veteran transfers.
Unfortunately for Louisville, even if they might be improved, their record probably won't show it. They have a tough schedule. They have non-conference games at UCF and Kentucky, play cross-overs at UVA and against Pitt, and have to play Clemson, NC State, Wake, and FSU in the Atlantic side. The Cardinals may be better this year, but I have them going 6-6 again.
I came into this preview wondering why NC State was getting so much preseason love, but when I started researching for this article, I remembered how good they were a year ago, even if they seemed to be overlooked. The Wolfpack lost an early game on the road to Mississippi State, but after that, they went on a roll. They only lost 2 games the rest of the way; at Miami and at Wake Forest, by a combined 4 points, and they beat Clemson for the first time in 10 years. They were then invited to the Holiday Bowl to play UCLA, which was cancelled hours before kickoff. A game which was considered by NC State a forfeit (they do have the trophy) and an unofficial 10th win on the season.
I also remember how much fun it was watching Devin Leary on offense with weapons like Emeka Emezie, Zonovan Knight, and Ricky Person. Well, all of those weapons are gone, but they have a veteran offensive line and will look to guys like Thayer Thomas and Devin Carter to take a step up to be Leary's leading receivers. On defense they return 8 starters from a defense that ranked 3rd in yards and 2nd in scoring in the ACC last year. They should easily be the 2nd best defense in conference this year, behind Clemson.
There are certainly high expectations for the Wolfpack this year. They are 13th in the preseason AP and Coaches poll. They have 4 tune-up games before they travel to Clemson, where both teams should be undefeated and could potentially decide the Atlantic Division October 1st. I don't think they can get past Clemson 2 years in a row, but they'll probably be favored in every other game they play this year. I think they get to double digit wins this year without any controversy.
Syracuse won 5 games last year, with their best win coming against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Other than that game, they did exactly what you would expect. They were able to find success on the ground last year, leading the ACC in rushing at 213.5 yards per game. Most of this was due to one of the best running backs in the country in Sean Tucker (1496 yards), but quarterback Garrett Shrader (781 yards) is also great on the ground. The Orange defense was definitely a strong point last year. They finished 2nd in total defense and 4th in sacks. They do have to replace quite a few starters, but they should still have a decent defense.
In the off season, Dino Babers brought in Robert Anae from Virginia to be the new offensive coordinator. This means they will probably no longer be a slow, ground and pound team, as Anae likes to play up-tempo and run unconventional plays and formations. I'm still shaking my head at this one:
With all that said, it will be interesting to see if Anae runs his normal offense, or will he play to the strengths of Tucker and Shrader. Regardless of what offense they decide to run, I see this Orange team about in the same spot they were last year: winning around 5 games and fighting with Boston College for the bottom of the Atlantic Division.
If I were writing this a couple weeks ago, I would have been way more optimistic about the Demon Deacons, but unfortunately things change quickly. Sam Hartman is out indefinitely with a non-football related issue. The only thing we know for sure is that he underwent surgery and that Coach Dave Clawson says he will be back at some point this year. There's still a lot of uncertainty about that. Stepping in for Hartman while he's out is Mitch Griffs, a 5-11 redshirt freshman . He has very little experience in his time at Wake Forest (2 completions for 28 yards and a TD), but he was the 22nd ranked dual-threat QB coming out of high school. There's plenty of talent around him, and he's playing in a great system, so as long as Griffs doesn't make too many mistakes, the Deacs should be fine until Hartman returns.
Speaking of talent, Wake Forest's offense has plenty of it returning this year. A.T. Perry is back after securing 71 catches for 1293 yards and 15 TDs and was named to the Preseason All-ACC team. Christian Turner and Justice Ellison will be the lead running backs after combining for over 1,000 yards and 12 TDs last year, and the leading rushing, Christian Beal-Smith, transferred out, so those numbers should be even better this year. They also return 4 starters on an offensive line that played a major factor in an offense that averaged 468 yards per game last year. On the defensive side, they return most of their starters, but that might not be a good thing. Wake Forest was in the bottom third in both points and yards allowed in the conference. The defense will have to be better this year if they want to repeat as division champs.
All-in-all this is still a really talented team with a fairly easy schedule. Their toughest non-conference game is at Vanderbilt and they get to host Clemson. With Sam Hartman, I was thinking that the Clemson game in week 4 would decide who wins the Atlantic Division. Without Hartman, I think Wake slides in as the 3rd best team in the division behind Clemson and NC State. Regardless of who is under center, 9 or 10 wins is still very possible for this team.
ACC Survivor Pool
Announcing the first ever ACC Guru Survivor Pool. I actually put together one of these last year and it was a lot of fun. I would love to get even more people involved this year.
How it works:
Each week you pick one ACC team to win. If they win, you move on to the next week. If they lose, you're out. Easy enough, right? The catch is that you can only pick each team once. The pool will take place from Week 1 through the end of the regular season (Week 13), which means if you make it all the way to the end, you will only have 1 team that you didn't pick. Last year we made it to Week 12 before everyone was out.
The entry fee is $10 and the winner keeps the entire pot. I will send out an update each week showing who everyone picked and who's still in the running. If you want in, let me know either by email (email@example.com), on Twitter (@TheACCGuru), or on Facebook (The ACC Guru) and you can Venmo me your entry fee @Drew-Lester.