Thank you all for coming to read up on some of the best times across the ACC in what should be another entertaining year after new blood took the trophy in 2021 in Pittsburgh. If you enjoy the article, make sure to check out the Pac-12 and Big 12 articles! I’ve got a few bets I absolutely love and am excited to share my thoughts on them. As always, I encourage and welcome feedback and conversation, so please reach out to me on Twitter @RickHHSports and share where you agree and disagree! With all that said, let’s get into how the conference slate played out last year beginning with a snapshot of the standings:
As I mentioned above, the shock of the season was Clemson struggling due to offensive issues. DJ Uiagalelei came into Clemson with expectations to become the next Tajh Boyd, Trevor Lawrence, or Deshaun Watson but has looked no part of that group. Struggling with all sorts of weapons around him, Clemson was only able to put up 342 points through 13 games, good for 8th. One team that had no issues scoring was Pittsburgh behind Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison, a Heisman contender and Biletnikoff award winner respectively. Those two have since left and Pittsburgh will be looking to fill those holes quickly as they still return loads of starters elsewhere.
The Demon Deacons of Wake Forest were one of the most entertaining teams in college football to watch with their high-flying attack. They lacked the defense (12th in PA) to push them over the line towards a College Football Playoff birth, but should be back for more entertaining games as they return 9 starters on offense. North Carolina State was right on the brink of an ACC Championship berth but a 45-42 loss in Winston-Salem depleted those chances. With many teams in the conference returning loads of starters, we should be a wide open race for the championship in 2022. Lets get into my Top 5 teams and Best Bets!
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Top 5 Teams
5. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
The name of the game for Wake is their offense, it’s no secret. If they want to head back to Charlotte and potentially to Los Angeles for the CFP Championship that defense will need drastic improvements. Insert Brad Lambert from Purdue, the new Defensive Coordinator of the Demon Deacons. He has the unenviable job of improving a unit that returns only 6 starters and is bringing in the 13th ranked recruiting class in the ACC (71st nationally). Their offense should stay as dynamic as it was and possibly improve as they return 9 starters, losing just one offensive lineman and their best wide receiver. They should have no problem getting their way on that side of the ball, but I worry heavily for how that defense looks in big games when they need stops.
The Deacons should begin the season 3-0 before facing Clemson at home in a test that will go a long way in determining the division’s winner. Their October is very manageable with their toughest test being a trip to Tallahassee to face the Seminoles. Given their offense, they should be able to take care of the other three opponents in Army, Boston College, and Louisville, so assuming they lose the Clemson game they’re still looking at a 7-1 record, possibly 6-2. Their other massive test comes in a trip to NC State in Raleigh on November 5th. This game last year determined the winner of the division and there’s a chance it does again this year. I think the Wolfpack’s depth on both sides of the ball edges the Deacons but I do see them winning the rest of their games and finishing with a bare minimum 9 wins, just falling short of a championship birth.
Win Total: 8.5
Championship Odds: +1800
4. Pittsburgh Panthers
Pittsburgh might’ve lost Kenny Pickett to the NFL draft and Addison to the transfer portal, but this team retains much of what helped them achieve greatness in 2021. They return their entire offensive line and stable of running backs as well as multiple wide-receivers. Their biggest problem will be in replacing Kenny Pickett, but where it’s Kedon Slovis or Nick Patti they should have the time to develop and rely on a great running game. Defensively they return 7 starters including some of their larger names up front like Calijah Kancey and SirVocea Dennis, but will have strides to make on the backend. Unfortunately, much like Wake Forest, they didn’t bring in any real reinforcements as their recruiting class was putrid (76th nationally) and no notable transfers other than Slavis.
Their schedule does them no favors either, facing West Virginia, Tennessee, and Western Michigan (who they lost to in 2021). They should be favored in all 3 games but all will be tricky. After that stretch, I love the rest of their schedule. They avoid all three of the tanks in the Atlantic Division, so their toughest test will come in their season finale against the Hurricanes, who we will talk about shortly. Traveling for that game isn’t reassuring for me, nor do the concerns surrounding the Panthers’ secondary against a potent air attack in Miami. I think they fall just short, but I’d still be shocked if they won less than 9 games this season.
Win Total: 8.5
Championship Odds: +900
3. Miami Hurricanes
Unlike the first two teams on this list, the Hurricanes really struggled through the first half of their season until they started Tyler Van Dyke. He was brilliant in the latter half, throwing 20 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions and should only improve behind a new offensive coordinator and lost of returning pieces on offense. The Hurricanes brought in Mario Cristobal from Oregon in the offseason and with him came reinforcements via the transfer portal. Expect their offense to be dominant this year with an improved defense, and though they likely won’t win the conference, they could get damn close.
Much like the Panthers, they have a relatively easy conference schedule with the exception of a trip to Death Valley the week before the game against the Panthers. They begin their season with two cupcakes before traveling to College Station to face Texas A&M in what should be a blowout loss, but could impress folks. Octoer should be easy for the Hurricanes as their toughest test will be the Tarheels at home, and they should cruise into that matchup with Clemson at 9-1 if not 8-2. I think they give the Tigers a run for their money and come up just short but beat the Panthers at home en route to a 10-2 or 9-3 season and a birth to the ACC Championship Game.
Win total: 8.5
Championship Odds: +350
1. Clemson Tigers
Clemson was one of the most disappointing teams in the country last year. While their defense was up there with the best in the country, the offense was putrid. Sputtering often with little deep threats due to DJ Uiagalelei’s ineptness, they look to bounce back after securing yet another fantastic recruiting class and developing more of their talent. Cade Klubnik, the 5-star Freshman QB, has a very real chance to usurp DJ as the starter and Clemson fans are salivating at the thought of it. No matter the starter, if their offense makes any steps forwards they will dominate the league and book a trip to Charlotte.
With Georgia Tech, Furman, and Louisiana Tech over their first three games, the Tigers should have every opportunity to iron out the offense before their trip to Wake Forest. Regardless, I think the Tigers’ visit to Wake will be a relatively easy victory as that defensive line should disrupt nearly everything the Deacons try to do. Immediately after, they welcome NC State to town in what should be a division determining battle as I described earlier. A win there settles them in for a likely 12-0 or 11-1 season as their only tests moving forward are Notre Dame and Miami. I’m not sure Clemson make it through the season unscathed but I find it very likely they acquire enough wins to take the division and beat Miami a second time in Charlotte.
North Carolina State o8.5 Wins -161 (1.5u)
As I mentioned above, NC State boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the league and are returning 17 starters from a team that was 3 points from a championship birth. Their schedule is easy aside from a trip to Clemson and home game against Wake, so expect them to get to 9 even if both games result in losses. At worst, I see this team as a 9-win team.
Pittsburgh Panthers to win Coastal Division +260 (.5u)
I’m sure some of you are wondering why I’m betting this after having Miami above Pitt in my rankings. I believe Miami will have the tools and team to run through their division and beat Pitt in the final game, but as we’ve seen with Miami through the years, they often disappoint. There’s too much value here on a team who just won the ACC and are returning a lot of their core players to run it back and beat what could be a deflated Miami team at the end of the year.