Friedlander: 3 ACC football teams most likely to win 3 more games in 2023 than 2022
Three wins doesn’t sound like a lot in the context of a 12-game college football season.
But it is a quarter of the schedule. And it’s an awful big ask for teams looking to make an improvement from 1 year to the next.
Still, it’s not impossible. Three ACC teams improved their win total by at least 3 in 2022.
Duke doubled that goal by going 9-4 and winning 6 more games under 1st-year coach Mike Elko in 2022 than it did in its 3-win final season with David Cutcliffe.
While those at the bottom of the standings stand a much better chance of making a big improvement, it’s not necessarily a prerequisite. Florida State used a strong finish and a bowl victory against Oklahoma to improve by 5 wins while North Carolina was 3 victories better on its way to the final Coastal Division title.
Who are the most likely candidates to improve by 3 wins in 2023?
Here are 3 teams to watch:
2002 record: 5-7
I know, I know.
I’m as aware as anyone of the hype that always seems to surround the Hurricanes going into every football season, proclaiming that their “swagger” is back and setting expectations that they never seem to meet.
But I swear I didn’t drink the orange and green Kool-Aid and fall into that trap. As much as I hate to admit it, Miami really is the most likely ACC team to improve by 3 or more games in 2023.
For several reasons.
First and foremost is that the bar is set extremely low. After stumbling to a 5-7 record a year ago, 8 wins is hardly an unrealistic goal. FanDuel set the Hurricanes’ over/under win total at 7.5.
It’s especially reachable because of a pillowy soft nonconference schedule. Barring another no-show like the one that helped produce a loss to Middle Tennessee State, Miami should be able to pad its record in virtual walkovers against the other Miami (the one located in Ohio), Bethune-Cookman and Temple.
Then there’s the return of a healthy Tyler Van Dyke at quarterback and the massive changes brought about by coach Mario Cristobal ahead of his 2nd season at The U. The extreme makeover sent 29 players out of the program, including 20 through the NCAA transfer portal, and replaced them with 8 transfers to go with a top-10 national recruiting class.
Cristobal, a former Hurricanes offensive lineman who played on 2 national championship teams in 1989 and ‘91, also replaced both coordinators and several other assistants.
The changes, combined with less-than-challenging nonconference schedule and an ACC slate that includes bottom feeders Boston College, Virginia and Boston College, should give the Hurricanes an opportunity – swagger or not – to make some noise in the ACC this fall.
2022 record: 3-7
The Cavaliers had it rough last season. They struggled on the field in their 1st season under new coach Tony Elliott, then endured an unthinkable tragedy off the field when 3 of team members were killed and another was severely wounded in an on-campus shooting.
The memory of those 3 – Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry – has become a rallying point for the program. And the remarkable recovery of running back Mike Hollins has been an inspiration.
But the motivational aspect of UVA’s return after having its final 2 games canceled in 2022 isn’t the only reason for optimism. There’s plenty of room for improvement after last year’s 3-win output. And even with an incredibly challenging opener against Tennessee in Nashville, the rest of the schedule is manageable.
The most pressing task Elliott and his staff face is rebooting an offense that finished last in the ACC at just 17 points per game, even after inheriting a record-setting veteran passer. Brennan Armstrong has moved on to NC State. Elliott and coordinator Des Kitchings believe that transfer QB Tony Muskett is more compatible with their offensive scheme. They’ve also added talent and depth at running back and in the receiving corps.
FanDuel isn’t necessarily sold, setting the Cavs’ over/under at 3.5 wins. If the Cavaliers are going to be good enough to reach their likely ceiling of 6 win in 2023, it’s going to be a defense that ranked 7th in the ACC a year ago and should be the strength of the team again despite the loss of all-conference cornerbacks Anthony Johnson and Fentrell Cypress.
2022 record: 3-9
Like UVA, there’s plenty of room for improvement. If the Eagles can navigate arguably the ACC’s easiest nonconference schedule by going 4-0 against Northern Illinois, Holy Cross, Army and UConn, all they need to do is go 2-6 in the league to improve by 3 games, reach the 6-win threshold for bowl eligibility and, presumably, save coach Jeff Hafley’s job.
Their ability to win 6 will largely depend on the development of sophomore quarterback Emmett Morehead, who stepped in because of injury midway through 2022 and showed some promise, despite leading an offense that was last in the conference in total offense at 310.3 yards and 12th in scoring at 17.8 points per game.
In an effort to maximize Morehead’s ability, quarterbacks coach Steve Shimko, whom Hafley calls a rising star in coaching. has been elevated to offensive coordinator. He has a lot of work to do between now and Sept. 2 if BC’s spring game is any indication.
Shimko’s offense committed 6 turnovers in the scrimmage. That’s clearly a concern. Then again, it could also be interpreted as a positive sign for a defense that got 2 interceptions from sophomore cornerback Amari Jackson and 1 each from Jamareeh Jones, CJ Clinkscales and Carter Davis.
FanDuel seems to like BC’s chances at being 3 wins better than it was in 2022. The betting site has set the Eagles’ over/under at 5.5 victories. It’s certainly doable. And Hafley’s job likely depends on it.
But the margin for error is slim.