While 2021 was a down year (by their standards) for the Clemson Tigers they are still the top dog in the ACC Atlantic Division. The Tigers lost offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and longtime defensive coordinator Brent Vanables to head coaching jobs at Virginia and Oklahoma respectively. Head Coach Dabo Swinney promoted from within in both cases, naming Quarterbacks Coach Brandon Streeter as the OC and Senior Defensive Assistant Wes Goodwin as the DC. While the Tigers lost some big production on defense, that side of the ball will again be the team’s strength. The linebacker room loses two of the Tigers’ top tacklers, but junior Trenton Simpson is still around to lead the defense. Both starting corners from last season are gone and will need to be replaced. On offense the Tigers bring back QB DJ Uiagalelei, who struggled mightily in 2021. The former 5 Star recruit only completed 56% of his passes for 9 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Uiagalelei is a dangerous runner, but that passing game must get better for Clemson to regain their place amongst College Football’s elite programs. If Uiagalelei falters again, prized recruit Cade Klubnik will be given every chance to show the Clemson faithful his talents. Whoever the quarterback is he will have plenty of options at wide receiver with Joseph Ngata and Beaux Collins returning. Ngata can flat out fly while Collins is a 6’3” target. With the familiarity of the team by both new coordinators, as well as the impressive talent the Tigers have on the roster, they’re my pick to win the ACC
The rest of the Atlantic is tough, so Clemson winning the division will not be easy. NC State returns a very good team who is being picked by a lot of people to not only challenge Clemson in the Atlantic but to win the division outright. I like what Dave Doeren has done in Raleigh, but I still give the edge to Clemson. Wake Forest is another dark horse pick by some, but I still think the difference in talent overall will get Clemson and NC State ahead of the Demon Deacons. Florida State is still a work in progress and until Mike Norvell and the Seminoles show me they’re “back” I’ll keep them where they belong, in the middle of the pack. Louisville returns some key pieces but still is struggling to find solid footing in the Atlantic. Boston College gets injured QB Phil Jurcovek back but has too many holes in their lineup to seriously challenge for the division title. Syracuse has one of the best backs in the country in Sean Tucker but, like Boston College, is too thin talent-wise to pose any threat.
The hype in the Coastal division comes down to Miami Hurricanes’ new head coach, Mario Cristobal, and three letters: TVD, Tyler Van Dyke. The Canes’ sophomore quarterback is coming off a tremendous freshman season where he threw for 2,931 yards, 25 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Cristobal brings an energy and passion for Canes football unlike any other since Jimmy Johnson. The former Cane offensive lineman is from the Miami area and it’s a wonder it took so long for him to become the head coach in Coral Gables. The Canes’ offensive line desperately needed Cristobal’s help as they were atrocious up front. If Cristobal can get the OL playing better the running game and TVD will be dangerous. As a freshman in 2021 TVD showed the maturity and poise of a seasoned vet. Pitt fans will remember how cool he was coming into (former) Heinz Field and walking out with a 38-34 victory after throwing for 426 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. If he can avoid the dreaded Sophomore Slump the Canes will be something to watch under new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. The Canes defense, however, was bad last season. But, with a new coaching staff comes transfers, both out of the program and into it as well. Via the Transfer Portal, the defense added 4 linemen, a linebacker and a defensive back all aiming to help Miami get the ACC Coastal crown. UCLA LB transfer Caleb Johnson and West Virginia DB transfer Daryl Porter should earn starting spots and will improve the Canes back 7 considerably. With how chaotic the Coastal Division is, as well as with the hype around Cristobal and TVD, the Hurricanes are my pick to win the Coastal. If the Canes can put together a couple of very good seasons, win the ACC and maybe get into the College Football Playoffs, they will be on their way back to being what I knew of growing up as Da U.
As previously stated, the Coastal Division is chaotic. It was difficult to pick teams 2-5 as I don’t think any of them is head and shoulders above the other. More so as a default than anything I have Pitt as the 2nd place finisher. The offense is going to be a lot less exciting compared to the past few years, but you can’t discount that Pitt defense. The D will need to keep the Panthers in most of their games this season. North Carolina was a huge disappointment in 2021 but the good news is the expectations are low this season, which is usually when you can see a team surprise you. Mack Brown is a good coach and should be able to get the Tar Heels trending in the right direction again. Virginia Tech and Virginia are 2 of 4 Coastal teams to replace their coach for the 2022 season. There will be growing pains for both teams, but I also think the Hokies and Cavaliers will surprise you with a win or very close loss this year. Georgia Tech is STILL trying to claw their way out of the Paul Johnson, triple option years, but back-to-back-to-back 3-win seasons is not good for any Power 5 coach. The schedule is brutal and expect more of the same, and a new coach at Georgia Tech in 2023. Duke is, well, Duke. First year head coach Mike Elko has his work cut out for him. He’s revamping the defensive side of the ball but as we’ve learned in today’s college football, offense gets the train moving. Expect it to be a rough year in Durham for the Blue Devils.
I think the ACC Championship game will be Clemson -v- Miami and I think Clemson will win and represent the ACC in the College Football Playoff.