Way-too-early ACC power rankings: Can Clemson rebound in 2022?
The 2021 college football season is officially in the books.
Looking ahead to 2022, there’s lots of reason to be optimistic about the ACC. Several of the league’s top quarterbacks return, and most of them should have more help next season. There’s also four new head coaches in the ACC who could inspire progress at their respective programs.
Here’s an early look at the ACC going into next season:
1. NC State
NC State returns quarterback Devin Leary and several other key players off a team that went 9-3 this season. The Wolf Pack were in the mix for the ACC title until the final week of the regular season and should be in contention again next year. Dave Doeren’s squad is also expected to return 4 of its 5 starting offensive lineman and 14 of its top 15 tacklers.
This is a bet on Clemson’s talent rebounding in 2022. The Tigers ended this season on a six-game winning streak and appeared to get back on track. Replacing veteran coordinators Brent Venables and Tony Elliott will be tough, but this is still the ACC’s best roster — if it can figure things out at quarterback. Either DJ Uiagalelei will improve or Clemson will need to find a quick solution. But the Tigers return the majority of their production on both sides of the ball, which should help ease the growing pains with turnover on the coaching staff.
Pitt is losing Kenny Pickett, but the Panthers should still be formidable next season. They’ve already picked up two major transfers in quarterback Kedon Slovis and receiver Konata Mumpfield. Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison will also be back. The Panthers should be favored to win the Coastal again.
Mario Cristobal is inheriting a talented-but-flawed roster. However, there are enough pieces there to make an impact in Year 1, especially if Tyler Van Dyke’s freshman season can be repeated. He ended the year with 6 consecutive games of 300+ yards and 3+ touchdowns. Miami might have the most explosive offense in the ACC next season, and the defense should be improved. That’s a recipe for a potential division contender.
5. Wake Forest
What a season Wake Forest had in 2021. The Demon Deacons are returning a lot of production next season, including quarterback Sam Hartman and receiver A.T. Perry. But can they pull off another magical season? History would say no. Wake Forest has won 10+ games just one other time in program history. However, Dave Clawson is building a sustainable program. Wake Forest has now made it to 6 straight bowl games, which is the longest such streak in school history. Wake Forest will be formidable again next season, but it would be shocking if it repeats as Atlantic champs.
6. Florida State
Is this Mike Norvell’s last stand? This is a pivotal year for his tenure, at the very least. He’s entering the year with a fair amount of job security, but fans in Tallahassee are growing more impatient after another losing season. The pressure will be on in 2022.
7. Boston College
Getting into the top half of the ACC in Year 3 under coach Jeff Hafley would be a huge accomplishment for Boston College. With Phil Jurkovec coming back, it’s certainly within reach. The stars are aligned for Boston College to win 8+ games for the first time since 2009.
Virginia is a team who could rise up these rankings throughout the offseason. For one thing, it’s unclear if they’ll have Brennan Armstrong in 2022 or if he’s going to try his luck with the NFL. There’s also plenty of uncertainty around new coach Tony Elliott and what the Cavaliers’ program will look like moving forward. Virginia’s offense should be great again next year regardless, but that was never the problem.
Malik Cunningham coming back means Louisville has a much higher ceiling than 9th, but it remains to be seen how high the Cardinals can climb. Louisville lost three ACC games by one possession last season, which kept it from seriously contending in 2021. That’s a clear area for improvement moving forward.
10. Virginia Tech
The Brent Pry era is here. It might take him a season or two to pick up the pieces from the Justin Fuente era, but things are off to a good start. Virginia Tech has already added impressive coaches (new offensive line coach Joe Rudolph) and players (quarterback Grant Wells) that should help make it a quicker transition. Still, expectations should be relatively low in Year 1.
11. North Carolina
North Carolina is losing more talent than perhaps any team in the ACC. The Tar Heels will have to replace Sam Howell at quarterback and will be doing a full rebuild on its offensive line — a group that struggled to begin with. Expectations should be low after a very disappointing 2021 campaign.
Syracuse decided to keep Dino Babers after the season, but the Orange did part ways with several assistant coaches. It’s possible that could have an impact, but expectations in 2022 should be low for Syracuse.
13. Georgia Tech
Geoff Collins enters Year 4 on the hot seat. He’s won 9 total games in three seasons and just lost perhaps Georgia Tech’s best player — Jahmyr Gibbs — to the transfer portal. There’s little indication that things will be significantly better for the Yellow Jackets in 2022.
Welcome to the Mike Elko era. Unfortunately for him and the Blue Devils, this is a depleted roster that has produced just one ACC victory in the last two seasons. Consider this Year 0 for Elko as he tries to straighten things out in Durham.