ACC Atlantic: Here are the 5 games that will decide who reaches the ACC Championship Game
The ACC Atlantic is projected to be one of the best divisions in all of college football this season.
The Atlantic is in a unique position this year — all 7 teams return their head coach and starting quarterback in 2022. That degree of continuity should lead to a higher level of play all season long.
There’s also quite a bit of parity this season. Clemson and NC State are the favorites to win the division, but Wake Forest is coming off the 2021 crown and should be in the mix as well. Louisville and Florida State are also expected to be improved while Boston College and Syracuse could contend for a bowl game.
Here are the 5 games that will impact the Atlantic the most in 2022:
5. Clemson at Florida State on Oct. 15
The Atlantic’s 2 biggest programs meeting on the gridiron will still move the needle — even if the Seminoles haven’t held up their end of the bargain in recent years.
Clemson has won 6 straight meetings in this series, but this will be an important game for Mike Norvell and the Noles to show they’re progressing as a program. Hosting this contest at Doak Campell Stadium will help, too, as Florida State looks to claw its way back to the top. It’s also facing a Clemson team that is largely unproven on the offensive side of the ball. If FSU is going to upset the Tigers here, it will likely be a low-scoring affair.
4. Florida State at NC State on Oct. 8
NC State has the more talented team on paper, but this is a potential trap-game for the Wolfpack that will be squarely in the middle of what is supposed to be a dream season for them. This game takes place 1 week after NC State goes on the road to face Clemson. Regardless of the result vs. the Tigers, NC State could be vulnerable to coming out flat vs. a FSU team that could still be undefeated in ACC play at this point in the season.
NC State has won 4 of the last 5 meetings in this series, with the last 3 wins coming by 2+ touchdowns. Still, this is a Florida State team that returns Jordan Travis and has made several key additions in the transfer portal. Expect the Noles to make this a competitive, entertaining game.
3. Clemson at Wake Forest on Sept. 24
This is a rematch of the game that knocked Wake Forest out of College Football Playoff contention a year ago. The Demon Deacons were the ACC’s most dominant team up until they faced Clemson, at which point the Tigers took over by controlling the trenches. Clemson had 2 rushers clear 100 yards, including Kobe Pryor’s 191-yard day. Sam Hartman completed just 27 of 43 passes and threw for just 1 touchdown as Clemson’s defense seemed to figure out Wake’s unique attack.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Demon Deacons are doomed in this rematch. Hartman is back and had a case to be named the ACC’s preseason player of the year. Wake Forest has quietly made 6 straight bowl games and has become one of the ACC’s most consistent programs. If Clemson isn’t careful, Wake could absolutely pull off this upset and potentially take control of the Atlantic division.
2. Wake Forest at NC State on Nov. 5
This game played a big part in deciding the Atlantic division title last season, and Wake Forest came out on top in a 45-42 thriller. Both teams scored 2 touchdowns each in the final 10:05 of the game. Wake Forest’s defense was able to get just enough stops to overcome 3 interceptions from Hartman.
If Clemson struggles again this season, it could be this game that once again decides who goes to the ACC title game out of the Atlantic. To add more drama to the mix: this will be the final annual meeting between these 2 programs after the ACC adopts a new scheduling format for 2023. These teams have met in every season since 1910. Wake Forest has won 4 of the last 5 meetings.
1. NC State at Clemson on Oct. 1
This is a game that will most likely decide who represents the Atlantic in the ACC Championship Game. Both Clemson and NC State are loaded defensively — the Wolfpack have 4 former first-team All ACC defenders and the Tigers boast numerous potential future first round picks. Similarly, both teams have questions they need to answer offensively; NC State at running back and receiver and Clemson at quarterback and on the offensive line.
NC State got the better of Clemson last year, winning a 27-21 battle in Raleigh. But the Tigers have largely figured out their issues since then and have won 8 of their last 9 games since that defeat.
To add to the intrigue, this game will be Clemson’s first major home game of the season. Expect Clemson’s home crowd to play a factor. The Tigers haven’t lost in Death Valley since 2016.