Spring football is in the process of restarting with new personnel, and in the ACC there are plenty of on-field changes coming in 2022. Clemson’s six-year conference title streak was snapped in 2021 , and the league is getting a strong infusion of new coaches. As such, the conference has a lot of good storylines to follow going into a new season.
Mario Cristobal replaced Manny Diaz at Miami, Tony Elliott replaced Bronco Mendenhall at Virginia, Brent Pry replaced Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech and Mike Elko replaced David Cutcliffe at Duke. As for the league’s recognizable returning faces, many of them are star quarterbacks with high expectations. Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman, NC State’s Devin Leary, Louisville’s Malik Cunningham, Boston College’s Phil Jurkovec, Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong combine to give the ACC arguably the strongest crop of proven passers from the country.
With Clemson regrouping after a down year by program standards, one of the quarterbacks above has a chance to do what Kenny Pickett did with Pittsburgh last season and lead his team past the mighty Tigers to a championship title.
While the Spring Games are largely vanilla, let’s still overreact to what we can expect from ACC teams in 2022.
QB Phil Jurkovec is the new Sam Howell: Jurkovec landed in the first round of a recentfrom CBS colleague Ryan Wilson. He certainly has the tools and the ability to do it, but Boston College is replacing four starters on his offensive line. Spring training served as a reminder that Jurkovec will struggle to keep that stock high in 2022 due to changing roster dynamics beyond his control. Former ACC quarterback Sam Howell of North Carolina faced a similar situation last season as his top two receivers and top two running backs left after a huge 2020 season for the Tar Heels. . Howell was drafted anyway, but in the fifth round instead of the first.
A formerly expired offense will rebound: It’s tempting to say that nothing has improved with Clemson’s offense after his sleepy performance in the spring game. With former offensive coordinator Tony Elliott now Virginia head coach and the Tigers reeling from a substandard 2021 season, a 2-of-5 performance by DJ Uiagalelei in the spring game could be construed as a perilous omen. However, with Uiagalelei pushed by freshman Cade Klubnik in the QB battle and the Tigers’ reps against one of the best defenses in the nation, progress is sure to come on offense. Remember: Clemson ranked eighth nationally in total defense last season, with only Georgia and Wisconsin giving up fewer yards per play. With a mean defensive front that includes the likes of Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy, the Clemson’s floor as a program remains high. Even though the offense isn’t elite, it should be improved enough to get the Tigers back into the ACC Championship Game.
2022 will be difficult to digest: Duke ranked dead last among 130 FBS teams last season in total defense, and making meaningful progress in Year 1 is going to be tough for coach Mike Elko. The former Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Wake Forest defensive coordinator has three of the top four tacklers last season, but depth appears to be a serious issue and the offense has lost running back Mataeo Durant to the NFL. Nothing about Duke’s situation seems conducive to a quick turnaround.
state of florida
RB Trey Benson will be an impact player: The Oregon transfer totaled 77 yards on seven carries in Florida State’s Garnet & Gold game and looked capable of being an impact player in 2022. Once considered a four-star prospect in the 2020 class per 247Sports, Benson wore a red shirt at Oregon as a rookie and played sparingly. last season. With Jashaun Corbin leaving after leading the Seminoles to the run last season, Benson could become one of the ACC’s best transfers in the coming season. It’s the definition of overreacting in the spring, but Benson is giving Seminoles fans something to get excited about.
Staff overhaul won’t be enough: With Clemson leading the schedule as an interdivisional opponent and non-conference games against Georgia, Ole Miss and UCF on the schedule, an offensive personnel overhaul won’t be enough for coach Geoff Collins to gain traction in its fourth season. Landing Chip Long as offensive coordinator is pretty exciting, and new running backs coach Mike Daniels, bringing with him 1,000-yard running back Dylan McDuffie from Buffalo, should help soften the loss of Jahmyr Gibbs to Alabama. But the chasm between the Yellow Jackets and bowl eligibility is too wide to bridge in such a difficult schedule.
Malik Cunningham is a Heisman sleeper: After compiling nearly 4,000 total yards last season, Cunningham is back for his super senior season. With plenty of experience on the offensive line and a few proven playmakers around him, Cunningham could sneak into the Heisman Trophy conversation. At least he should be able to help the Cardinals break through and deliver on the promise they made in 2019 during coach Scott Satterfield’s first season.
The Hurricanes will win the ACC Coastal crown: First-year coach Mario Cristobal has done well enough in the transfer gate over the past few months for this team to build on the ACC’s 5-3 mark from last season. The Canes, who bring budding star Tyler Van Dyke back to quarterback, finished second in the Coastal last season behind Pitt. However, the Panthers are replacing star quarterback Kenny Pickett, most of their offensive staff and (potentially) star receiver Jordan Addison. And there’s nothing particularly scary about the other teams in the division.
Josh Downs will make the new QB a star: Regardless of whether Jacolby Criswell or Drake Maye wins the starting quarterback job for North Carolina, receiver Josh Downs will make that winner a star in 2022. Downs caught 101 passes for 1,335 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Improving those numbers will be tough with a new QB, but Downs caught touchdown passes from both in the spring game. That underscores the point here: The North Carolina quarterback will throw one of the best hands in the sport, and that quarterback will look good as a result.
Bring expectations: NC State is endearing itself as a potential top-10 team in some of the all-too-early polls circulating this time of year. Those expectations seem awfully high for a program that has never finished in the top 10, but go for it! The last time the Wolfpack finished in the top 15 was in 2002, when Philip Rivers was quarterback. Devin Leary is the best QB they’ve had since, and there’s enough around him for NC State to build a 9-3 season. Leary threw for 35 touchdowns to just five interceptions last season. The sport could use a new face in the CFP conversation, and NC State could find itself in the mix if things go wrong at Clemson on Oct. 1.
Forward regression: Whether or not star receiver Jordan Addison returns after catching 100 passes and winning the Bilentnikoff Award as a sophomore, there is major regression ahead for Pitt. Expect a team closer to seven wins than the 11 win total posted by the ACC champions last year. The Panthers are lucky to avoid Clemson, NC State and Wake Forest out of the Atlantic Division, but their non-conference roster is tricky with games against West Virginia and Tennessee on the road. Next is a trip to western Michigan to try to avenge last season’s home loss to the Broncos.
Justin Lamson should start at QB: Syracuse ranked 122nd in passing offense last season, failing to reach 2,000 total yards through the air in a 5-7 season. If you go back to Syracuse’s 10-win season in 2018, there was a more useful aerial attack. If the Orange want to regain some momentum under seventh-year coach Dino Babers, they should pick Lamson at quarterback. The redshirt freshman made his case by throwing a pair of long touchdowns and going 7 of 10 passing for 151 yards in the spring game.
QB Sam Hartman will be fine: Hartman finished third in the 2021 ACC Player of the Year voting, but he still has plenty of room to improve, as evidenced by his 6-of-14 assist performance in the spring game. Now a fifth-year senior, Hartman was second in the league with 39 passing touchdowns last season … but he also threw more interceptions than any other ACC quarterback (14) and ranked near the bottom of the league in completion percentage (58.9). %). He’s already one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the nation, but you can expect Hartman to take another step forward in 2022.
QB Brennan Armstrong is key to Tony Elliott’s tenure: Elliott received a gift in his first offseason, with Armstrong opting to return for a fifth season. Armstrong threw for 4,449 yards and 31 touchdowns in just 11 games last season while completing 65.2% of his passes. If Elliott can turn Armstrong into an NFL draft pick, it will establish the Cavaliers as a QB destination and set the tone for what the former Clemson offensive coordinator will accomplish.
The quarterback will remain unsettled in the season: Marshall transfer Grant Wells appears to be the favorite to win the quarterback job in coach Brent Pry’s first season, but South Carolina transfer Jason Brown is also in the game. The bet here is that multiple quarterbacks will play this season. Wells brings two seasons of starting experience to the equation, but he’s struggled with interceptions for the Thundering Herd. Brown became famous for moving from a role as an AG to a QB for the Gamecocks last season after a career at FCS level. He helped guide South Carolina to wins over Florida and Auburn and has the intangible to challenge Wells for the job.