ACC preview: Can Clemson reign in the Atlantic again?


Many elite faculty soccer applications have been taken down by both key assistant teaching adjustments, a failure to maintain up with the occasions, or each. In 2022, Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers, the ruling energy of the ACC Atlantic for greater than a half-decade, has to fend off each. Swinney should change longtime coordinators Brent Venables and Tony Elliott, each of whom are actually Energy 5 head coaches. His Tigers even have to determine what the heck occurred to their offense final yr.

Parity immediately arrived within the Atlantic, with Wake Forest touchdown its first title in 15 years final fall. If Clemson does not rebound as most projections assume it’ll, issues might get even wilder in 2022. Let’s preview the ACC Atlantic!

Earlier previews: MWC West | MWC Mountain | AAC (Nos. 6-11) | AAC (Nos. 1-5) | MAC East | MAC West | Sun Belt West | Sun Belt East | Conference USA (Nos. 6-11) | Conference USA (No. 1-5) | Independents | Pac-12 South | Pac-12 North

2021 recap

Issues have been topsy-turvy from the beginning. Clemson started the season simply 4-3, shedding a number of convention video games for the primary time since 2014. In the meantime, Florida State, the division’s pre-Clemson energy, started Mike Norvell’s second season 0-4, and a run of 4 losses in 5 video games eradicated Louisville from division rivalry as nicely. With its star quarterback injured, Boston College misplaced six of eight after a 4-0 begin; Syracuse crumbled after a stable begin as nicely.

Two contenders stepped up. Wake Forest’s 45-42 win over NC State on Nov. 13 gave the Demon Deacons an insurmountable edge, they usually gained the division by a recreation over the Wolfpack and a resurgent Clemson. They could not sustain with Pitt in an ACC championship recreation observe meet — Wake video games tended to require observe sneakers — however they stomped impromptu opponent Rutgers within the Gator Bowl to cap the second 11-win season in program historical past.

2022 projections

Three issues it is advisable find out about SP+:

  1. It offers longtime powers the good thing about the doubt. Clemson stumbled to 71st in offensive SP+ final season however is projected to rebound properly due to each the elite run that preceded the stumble and wonderful recruiting.

  2. It does not take teaching adjustments into consideration. It does not know concerning the twin coordinator adjustments Clemson is working with.

  3. It hates Wake Forest’s protection. Loathes it. The Deacs peaked at solely twenty eighth throughout their 8-0 begin, and the protection completed 92nd.

If Clemson does not rebound as forcefully as projected and Wake overcomes its D to make one other run, this may very well be a captivating four- or five-team race. Or perhaps Clemson certainly rebounds and rolls.

Burning questions

Did selling from inside repair the Clemson offense? Dabo Swinney is very (and justifiably) happy with the tradition he has constructed at Clemson. His Tigers have gained not less than 10 video games for 11 straight years and, from 2015 to 2020, ripped off a string of six straight ACC titles and School Soccer Playoff appearances with two nationwide titles. Not dangerous for a program that had one nationwide title (additionally its solely top-five end) in its historical past when Swinney arrived.

Regardless of faculty soccer’s speedy change, Swinney has thrived partially by resisting it. He brings in minimal assist from the switch portal and does not lose as many transfers as others. He hires good assistants, pays them nicely and will get out of their approach. His offense cratered in 2021, however he sought virtually nothing from the portal, and when coordinator Tony Elliott left to take the Virginia head-coaching job, Swinney promoted from inside: New coordinator Brandon Streeter has spent the previous seven years as Clemson’s quarterbacks coach.

The QB place stunk in 2021, although. In his first yr succeeding No. 1 NFL draft choose Trevor Lawrence, sophomore D.J. Uiagalelei accomplished simply 56% of his passes with extra interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9) and failed to supply the anticipated effectivity punch within the run recreation. Clemson ranked a hundred and fifth in passing success charge. A run recreation pushed by Will Shipley and Kobe Pace had its moments, and the Tigers averaged 34 factors per recreation throughout a season-ending six-game win streak. However Uiagalelei nonetheless ranked solely 91st in Whole QBR throughout that streak, and main receiver Justyn Ross left for the NFL.

The protection might be going to be wonderful once more — selling from inside made whole sense on this case; Wes Goodwin, Venables’ right-hand man, takes over as coordinator and inherits one of the best line of defense in faculty soccer. The again seven should change 5 starters, however Clemson palms heavy snap counts to backups (which creates high quality succession plans), and the road options the all-world duo of finish Myles Murphy and sort out Bryan Bresee and each different participant who took 100-plus snaps final yr. The Tigers are projected second in defensive SP+ for a motive.

Even with an elite protection, although, they will not have a CFP ceiling if their quarterback is enjoying at barely a top-100 degree. Can an offseason of labor repair what ailed Uiagalelei? His confidence vanished and by no means got here again, and the offense gave him not one of the straightforward throws so many different blue-chippers see. Can Streeter convey a few crucial refresh? Is blue-chip freshman Cade Klubnik prepared if Uiagalelei once more cannot get going? 9 starters return, however there is not any Lawrence or Travis Etienne Jr. right here to create chunk performs out of nothing. New blood won’t be the worst concept on the planet.

Swinney is trying to repair this downside the way in which he is aware of how. It’d work, but it surely’s arduous to belief this offense till we see high quality QB play once more. And that makes Clemson one in all 2022’s most fascinating groups.

How does NC State stay as much as hype? Dave Doeren’s Wolfpack have turn out to be a preseason darling. Mark Schlabach ranked them eighth in his up to date Way-Too-Early top 25 (Clemson is twelfth), and it is not arduous to see why. They fielded a top-15 protection in 2021 — even whereas it obtained hit arduous by harm — and incumbent quarterback Devin Leary threw for 3,433 yards and an eye-popping 35 touchdowns to 5 interceptions. There’s turnover within the talent corps, however the protection each returns 13 of the 15 gamers with 250-plus snaps final yr and brings again three potential starters from harm. NC State has someway by no means completed within the AP high 10; it is fairly conceivable that 2022 is the yr.

If it is not the yr, nonetheless, it in all probability would be the offense’s fault. For all of Leary’s hype, he nonetheless ranked solely thirtieth in Whole QBR — good however not elite — and the Wolfpack’s nibbling offense ranked solely eightieth in passing success charge. The Pack discovered themselves in too many third-and-longs, and whereas they bailed themselves out with massive performs and robust pink zone execution, they nonetheless ranked solely thirty ninth in offensive SP+. The run recreation was inefficient with All-American sort out Ikem Ekwonu and backs Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr., and all three of them are gone, as is the largest receiving risk, Emeka Emezie. Leary nonetheless has receivers Thayer Thomas and Devin Carter at his disposal, however the Pack might once more be one-dimensional, and solely Carter has confirmed explosiveness.

The Pack’s protection continuously pushed groups backward in 2021 and boasted among the surest tackling within the nation regardless of a season-long harm for star linebacker Payton Wilson. NC State pressured opponents delayed, then dominated with constant strain (eighth in strain charge) and an elite secondary that returns intact and returns Cecil Powell, a beginning cornerback in 2020. It is a big alternative for State in 2022. Let’s have a look at if the offense can maintain up its finish of the cut price.

Is Wake Forest’s protection a difficulty or a disaster? Of final yr’s three Atlantic contenders, Dave Clawson’s Demon Deacons have been the picture unfavorable of the opposite two: unbelievable on offense and a slight debacle on protection. Wake allowed not less than 34 factors in seven of 14 video games however really managed to go 4-3 in these video games due to its personal ridiculous passing recreation led by quarterback Sam Hartman (4,228 yards, 39 touchdowns, twelfth in Whole QBR). It is robust to maintain doing that.

Even with out 1,000-yard receiver Jaquarii Roberson and all-conference left sort out Zach Tom, the Deacs will rating a number of factors once more behind Hartman, 1,200-yard receiver A.T. Perry and 2020 breakout receiver Donavon Greene (injured in 2021). However can new defensive coordinator Brad Lambert — who flipped Purdue from sixtieth to twenty fifth in defensive SP+ final season — engineer just a few added stops? Wake should change three of six regulars on the line of defense, three of 4 within the secondary and main tackler Luke Masterson at linebacker. Granted, changing starters from a foul protection can typically be a “excellent news, dangerous information” state of affairs, however somebody nonetheless must step up. In finish Rondell Bothroyd and linebacker Ryan Smenda Jr., Lambert inherits not less than a few playmakers. However he wants some play-preventers, too, and that may very well be difficult along with his line and secondary probably leaning closely on sophomores.

In the event you’re a Wake fan and appalled on the barely-top-50 SP+ projection, I perceive. However the Deacs managed to win the Atlantic whereas enjoying solely three top-50 groups final yr (and getting outscored by a mean of 14 factors in these video games). SP+ adores Hartman and the offense. It simply wants a motive to imagine within the D. Perhaps Lambert will present it.

For instance both Florida State or Louisville makes a bounce: Which is extra reliable? It positively seems to be odd when two groups that mixed to go 11-14 final yr — Scott Satterfield’s Louisville and Mike Norvell’s Florida State — are projected forward of the 11-3 Deacs. Let’s stroll by means of it.

Louisville returns an offense that may very well be almost as potent as Wake’s and a protection that, whereas not notably spectacular, does not appear to have as low a flooring because the Deacs’. FSU, in the meantime, has the expertise to take an enormous step ahead on protection and may boast fairly a little bit of explosiveness from an athletic if inconsistent offense.

Perception in both of those applications, nonetheless, takes some apparent religion. Satterfield has gone simply 18-19 with a mean SP+ rating of fiftieth over three seasons; Norvell, in the meantime, has gone 8-13 with a mean rating of 69th over two.

The Seminoles’ protection took a step ahead final season regardless of youth and returns all however three regulars, however two of these departures — ends Jermaine Johnson II and Keir Thomas — mixed for 18.5 sacks amongst 29.5 tackles for loss. Can FCS switch Jared Verse (9.5 sacks at Albany in 2021) present speedy assist whereas everybody else continues to enhance? And may quarterback Jordan Travis, a delight along with his legs, present extra consistency along with his arm beneath new coordinator Alex Atkins? FSU ranked 99th in passing success charge final yr, in spite of everything.

To me, Louisville feels extra more likely to meet expectations. Quarterback Malik Cunningham (2,941 passing yards, 1,142 pre-sack dashing yards) is a pleasure to observe, and he has not less than one real big-play risk in sophomore slot Ahmari Huggins-Bruce. Tennessee working again switch Tiyon Evans might present a lift within the backfield, too, and most of final yr’s line returns. However after rating sixty fourth in defensive SP+, Satterfield is leaning closely on transfers — six within the secondary alone, plus Arizona State sort out Jermayne Lole and Ole Miss linebacker MoMo Sanogo — to supply a lift. Finish Ashton Gillotte and linebacker Yasir Abdullah are also keepers, so perhaps there’s sufficient firepower right here. However it has been some time for the reason that Cardinals fielded a very stable protection.

The place does Boston School really stand out? If my Twitter mentions are any indication, Boston School followers are feeling fairly good concerning the state of their program as Jeff Hafley enters his third season in cost. When wholesome, quarterback Phil Jurkovec has proven apparent potential: He has produced a uncooked QBR of 70 or greater in eight of 16 begins, together with every of his first 4 in 2021, and BC is 8-0 when he does so.

The protection, completely dreadful on the finish of the Steve Addazio period, improved to common (63rd in defensive SP+) final season and located a stable “bend, do not break, and step up within the pink zone” routine at occasions. The Eagles have been thirty fourth in SP+ firstly of October earlier than the burden of a two-month harm for Jurkovec started to take impact. (They have been 2-4 with out him and completed seventy fifth.)

Undoubtedly, BC is projected artificially low right here due to Jurkovec’s harm. However the place do the Eagles really stand out forward of their Atlantic friends? Jurkovec is sweet, and so is go-to receiver Zay Flowers, however there are a number of good quarterbacks on this division, and others will not line up behind a line changing 4 starters. Massive guard Christian Mahogany is a stunning start line up entrance, however the retooling is complete, and the run recreation was under common even with a veteran line.

Defensively, the Eagles might proceed to enhance, however ace nook Brandon Sebastian is gone, and even with enchancment, they will not catch Clemson’s or NC State’s defenses. Even when we assume overachievement in comparison with the projections above, the schedule options 5 projected top-30 groups and minimal margin for error. Can Hafley maintain the optimism ranges excessive?

Is the Syracuse offense salvageable? After profitable 10 video games in 2018, Dino Babers’ Orange fell to 5-7 in 2019, then disintegrated to 1-10 and 111th in SP+ in 2020. The protection went from mediocre to dangerous, the offense from dangerous to horrendous.

In 2021, issues rebounded to 2019 ranges. The offense stayed on schedule barely higher due to freshman working again Sean Tucker (1,751 dashing and receiving yards, 14 touchdowns). The passing recreation nonetheless provided subsequent to nothing, however Tucker’s emergence helped to poke the Orange previous 30 factors on 4 events.

The protection, in the meantime, leaped from 97th to 54th in defensive SP+ regardless of youth. Every of the three linebackers and 5 defensive backs with 400-plus snaps was both a freshman or a sophomore, and every linebacker (Mikel Jones, Marlowe Wax and Stefon Thompson) had not less than three sacks and eight TFLs. If the road weren’t present process a extreme makeover (5 of the highest six are gone), this protection may need top-30 potential. However it’ll nonetheless seemingly be the stronger of two models except a Virginia transplant pays off.

Offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck come over from UVa after engineering a leap to eighth in offensive SP+ final season. They constructed a inventive and explosive assault across the abilities of quarterback Brennan Armstrong, and if they will do one thing comparable with incumbent QB Garrett Shrader (or Florida switch Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, maybe?), perhaps Babers can save his job. However the Orange produced a mean rating of 97th in offensive SP+ over the previous three seasons; getting them again to a mean degree would require a heavy carry even with Tucker.

My 10 favourite gamers

QB Sam Hartman, Wake Forest. The wedding of Hartman with coordinator Warren Ruggiero’s distinctive (learn: bizarre) and thrilling offense has been completely excellent, and he has some of the thrilling receiving corps within the East at his disposal.

QB Malik Cunningham, Louisville. Among the finest working quarterbacks within the nation took a large leap ahead as a passer in 2021, and he completed seventh in Whole QBR. He simply wants just a little extra assist from his protection, because the Cardinals’ ceiling is very excessive.

RB Sean Tucker, Syracuse. Opposing defenses shortly discovered they needed to fear about solely Tucker final yr when enjoying the Orange … and he nonetheless rushed for 100-plus yards 9 occasions and averaged 6.1 yards per carry.

WR A.T. Perry, Wake Forest. Donavon Greene‘s harm pressured the 6-foot-5, 206-pound Perry right into a go-to function, and he responded by posting not less than 110 yards seven occasions and thriving each close to to and much from the road of scrimmage. And now Greene is wholesome too.

WR Zay Flowers, Boston School. The senior needed to do some heavy lifting within the big-play division, working a heavy load of deep routes and responding with 44 catches, 746 yards and 5 touchdowns. And that was with solely half a season of Phil Jurkovec.

DE Myles Murphy and DT Bryan Bresee, Clemson. It has been arduous to separate these two since they each signed with Clemson as top-15 recruits in 2020. They mixed for 18 TFLs as freshmen and may need topped 25 final season had Bresee not torn his ACL final September. He must be wholesome this fall, and this duo ought to anchor one other ridiculous Clemson line.

OLB Yasir Abdullah, Louisville. Energy-conference linebackers with not less than 10 sacks and 15 run stuffs in 2021: Abdullah … and Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. That is it. Nice firm proper there.

LB Drake Thomas, NC State. Whereas we’re at it, Energy 5 linebackers with not less than 5 sacks and 20 run stuffs: Thomas, Anderson Jr. once more and Wisconsin’s Leo Chenal. What harm may Thomas do with battery mate Payton Wilson again as nicely?

LB Amari Gainer, Florida State. The junior from Tallahassee goes by Amari Ferrari on Twitter, and it matches: He is all over the place. He made tackles on 16% of his snaps, generated strain on 29% of his go rushes and threw in 11 run stuffs too. Unbelievable charges throughout.

Honorable point out: QB Devin Leary (NC State), RB Will Shipley (Clemson), SLOT Ahmari Huggins-Bruce (Louisville), RG Christian Mahogany (Boston School), LG Dillan Gibbons (Florida State), DE Davin Vann (NC State), LB Trenton Simpson (Clemson), FS Tanner Ingle (NC State), NICKEL Josh DeBerry (Boston School), CB Garrett Williams (Syracuse)


In 1987, 35 years in the past, Syracuse almost went 12-0. After a few a long time within the wilderness, Syracuse emerged once more within the late Eighties as an influence beneath Dick MacPherson. In 1987, quarterback Don McPherson almost gained the Heisman Trophy, and the Orange pummeled No. 10 Penn State, amongst others, on the way in which to an 11-0 begin. In opposition to No. 6 Auburn within the Sugar Bowl, they took a 16-13 lead with a trio of second-half subject objectives from Tim Vesling, however with the ball on the Cuse 13 with simply seconds left, Auburn elected to tie the sport with a subject aim as a substitute of going for the win. Win Lyle’s kick was good, and Syracuse completed 11-0-1.

Additionally in 1987: Florida State’s streak started. The one streak of persistently elite play that may probably compete with what Alabama has executed beneath Nick Saban since 2008 passed off in Tallahassee. After hitting a tough patch within the mid-Eighties, Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles beat No. 6 Auburn and No. 5 Nebraska on their option to an 11-1 season and No. 2 end within the AP ballot. They would not end outdoors of the highest 5 once more till 2001. They gained nationwide titles in 1993 and 1999 and got here inside a single lack of probably doing so in 1988, 1992, 1996 and 1997.

Hell, even Alabama has fallen out of the highest 5 a few occasions throughout Saban’s present run.

In 1992, 30 years in the past, Wake Forest gained its first bowl in 47 years. Wake Forest is a small personal college; as former head coach Jim Grobe as soon as identified to me, the College of Michigan has extra residing alumni than Wake has alums, interval. It could possibly clearly be troublesome to maintain up from a spending standpoint, and for lengthy intervals of their soccer historical past, the Deacs have struggled. They’ve bowled 16 occasions and gained two or fewer video games 30 occasions. However after a very arid stretch — the Deacs bowled simply as soon as between 1949 and 1991 and hadn’t gained a bowl since 1945 — Wake gave head coach Invoice Dooley a stunning retirement reward: a visit to Shreveport and an Independence Bowl win over Oregon.

In 2002, 20 years in the past, NC State loved its finest season. Almost each fan base in faculty soccer can regale you with tales proving its staff is cursed. Just one has a respectable declare: NC State. This system has produced 4 top-five draft picks and two of one of the best NFL quarterbacks of the twenty first century (Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson) however has gained double-digit video games solely as soon as with no top-10 finishes.

All of it almost got here collectively in 2002. Rivers threw for 3,353 yards, and the Pack started the season 9-0 … then misplaced three straight video games by a complete of 15 factors. However they rallied, taking down Florida State, then blowing out No. 11 Notre Dame to complete the yr 11-3 and end simply in need of the highest 10.

In 2007, 15 years in the past, Boston School went to No. 2. It seems like half of FBS had a serious function to play within the wonderful mess that was the 2007 season; Boston School was an enormous one. Quarterback Matt Ryan and the Eagles walloped Notre Dame and scored twice within the final 2:11 to beat No. 8 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, rising to 8-0 and No. 2 within the nation in November. However they fell at dwelling to unranked Florida State, then suffered a hangover loss to Maryland earlier than rallying to win the Atlantic Division.

After an ACC championship recreation loss, they took down Michigan State within the Champs Sports activities Bowl to maneuver to 11-3 and rating this system’s solely top-10 end of the previous 37 years.

In 2012, 10 years in the past, Clemson’s upward trajectory absolutely took maintain. Enchancment is never linear, but it surely felt that approach for Swinney’s Tigers. He went simply 19-15 to start out his tenure however gained 10 video games with a surging offense in 2011, then gained 11 in 2012 when Venables took over the protection. From there, it was one accomplishment after one other. The Tigers loved three straight top-15 finishes from 2012 to 2014, then leaped once more in 2015 as Deshaun Watson took over at quarterback.

Clemson went an virtually inconceivable 79-7 from 2015 to 2020, reaching the CFP yearly, earlier than final season’s hiccup. If it is all downhill from right here, that is nonetheless an all-time run. However it won’t be all downhill from right here.

In 2017, 5 years in the past, Lamar Jackson wrapped up his Louisville profession. He was respectable.

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