Five Teams to Watch in the ACC
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Clemson had been on top of the ACC for several years, but last year things changed. The Pittsburg Panthers and Wake Forest Demon Deacons were atop the conference. Pittsburg beat Wake Forest in the ACC championship game to win the ACC title. Clemson will look to get back to the top spot in the 2022 season.
Clemson brings back a tough, experienced defense that should carry the team to the top. Quarterback D.J Ulagalelei must play better. Last season he struggled, and it cost Clemson the ACC championship; Uiagalelei completed just 55.6% of his passes and threw nine touchdowns and ten interceptions. If Ulagalelei plays better this season, Clemson should be at the conference's top.
2. NC State
NC State beat Clemson last year and returned a tough defense. The Wolfpac returns 17 starters, including quarterback Devin Leary (35 TDs, 5 INTs), and one of the nation's top linebacker units anchored by Payton Wilson and Drake Thomas. NC State travels to Clemson in early October, which could determine the winner of the Atlantic division. It will be hard seeing the Wolfpac beating the Tigers two years in a row.
3. Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons won the Atlantic Division last season and should be in the running this year. However, the strength of Wake Forest's team is the quarterback. Sam Hartman returns after leading the offense to an average of 41 points a game. Wake Forest lost two key offensive players but still has a lot of talent and four returning offensive linemen. The key to the Demon Deacons' season will be if their defense can improve. Last season they gave up 31.2 points per game.
The Hurricanes have a new coach Mario Cristobal, who has assembled a good coaching staff. Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was excellent in his last six starts (2,194 yards, 20 TDs, 3 INTs) last season and should play well under offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. In addition, the Hurricanes have talented running back options and a solid offensive line, including an All-American candidate, left tackle, Zion Nelson. However, receivers are a bit of a question mark, and the defense must improve. The defense missed a lot of tackles last season.
Pittsburgh lost quarterback Kenny Pickett but got Kedon Slovis, a transfer from USC. They return all five starters on the offensive line and have strong, stable running backs. Israel Abanikanda, Vincent Davis, and Rodney Hammond should be the strength of the offense under new play-caller Frank Cignetti Jr. With seven returning starters on defense; the Panthers could surprise some teams this season. The Panthers' defense held opponents to 5.1 yards per play, led the ACC in rush defense, and limited teams to 23.6 points a game last year.