Win Total: 10.5 | Atlantic: -240 | ACC Championship: -130 | National Championship: +1000
Clemson had their worst season in the last decade but still finished the year 10-3 and currently have the longest win streak in college football with seven straight wins. Also, their three losses were not even that bad as they came against the eventual national champion Georgia, ACC champion Pittsburgh, and a tough NC State team in overtime on the road. There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding this program as Dabo Swinney looks to replace both the offensive and defensive coordinators for the first time in his tenure.
The issue with the Tigers in 2021 was the offense. Freshman Will Shipley was the star of the offense last year but that is where the positives end. The wide receivers were consistently injured and failed to get open. But the biggest issue was the quarterback play. The public had anointed DJ Uiagalelei (wow that last name is a mouthful) as the next great Clemson quarterback and he was anything but that. The offense finished outside the top-75 in Success Rate, Explosiveness, and Finishing Drives, and the passing offense finished as one of the worst in the entire Power 5. DJ should improve upon last year because it is almost impossible to get worse, but if he doesn’t take enough steps forward then 5-star phenom Cade Klubnik will be waiting to take his job.
While the offense struggled all year long, the defense was elite. They finished top-35 in all Five Factors, including 3rd in Finishing Drives and 5th in Success Rate. The strength of this unit is the defensive line, which returns almost everyone from last year, and should be the best defensive line in the country. Most of the turnover will be with the linebackers and secondary, but an elite d-line is able to mask a lot of those issues. The big question is how this defense will operate without star coordinator, Brent Venables, who left for Oklahoma in the offseason.
Clemson is favored by double digits in eight of their 12 games, and should win all of those fairly convincingly behind this defense. The issue will be the quarterback play in their tough games against Notre Dame, Miami, and NC State. If the Tigers continue to struggle at quarterback then I’m not excited about this team’s future and will be looking elsewhere in the ACC.
NC State Wolfpack
Win Total: 8.5 | Atlantic: +475 | ACC Championship: +750 | National Championship: +12000
One of the reasons I think Clemson continues to take a back seat in the ACC is that NC State should be fantastic. Most importantly, the Wolfpack return quarterback Dennis Leary who threw for 3400 yards and 35 touchdowns last season. The NC State offense finished the year 13th in Havoc, 16th in Explosiveness, and 35th in Finishing Drives and they return 77% of last year’s production. The Wolfpack do lose their leading receiver and rusher, but a deep core of pass catchers and young running backs should fill in around Leary and keep the offense at the top of the ACC.
The offense is good, but the defense is elite and one of the best in the country. The Wolfpack defense finished 2nd in Field Position, 3rd in Success Rate, 23rd in Havoc and 25th in Finishing Drives. The most impressive part about all of this is that they return an insane 90% of last year’s production. Almost this entire defense is back and should improve upon last season’s historic performance. They are deep at all three levels and have NFL talent all over the field. While Clemson has a marginally better defensive line, NC State has a large advantage at linebacker and in the secondary.
An area of concern for this NC State team is how they will react with all of the pressure and expectation that they have entering this season as the best team in school history. Assuming they do not crumble under the pressure, 8.5 wins seems incredibly disrespectful as they will be a favorite in 11 games and a double digit favorite in eight of them. The big question is whether they can go on the road and upset Clemson again. With edges on both sides of the ball, and the confidence from slaying the giant last year, I think the Wolfpack can go in there and get it done.
Picks: NC State over 8.5 wins (-150) & NC State to win the ACC Championship (+750)
Win Total: 6.5 | Atlantic: +1400 | ACC Championship: +2500
Louisville’s dynamic offense is led by dual-threat quarterback Malik Cunningham. He has led the Cardinals as the only offense in the country to average more than 200 yards per game on the ground and in the air in each of the last three seasons. Outside of Cunningham, the Cardinals return 81% of last year’s production from an offense that finished 7th in Explosiveness and 18th in Finishing Drives. They also benefit from the fact that they return all five offensive linemen.
As good as the offense was, the defense struggled and finished outside the top-60 in all Five Factors. A large part of these struggles were due to injuries to important pieces. With 80% returning production, the defense should be improved.
The Cardinals will be favored by more than a touchdown in six games this season, and they will be small favorites in three others. Malik Cunningham and this offense should easily carry Louisville to 7 wins.
Pick: Louisville over 6.5 wins (-110)
Florida State Seminoles
Win Total: 6.5 | Atlantic: +1500 | ACC Championship: +3000
Florida State is the polar opposite of Louisville. The Seminoles offense consistently struggled last season due to their revolving door of quarterbacks. However, once Jordan Travis took over he flashed some promise with his ability to scramble out of the pocket and will take over full time starting in 2022. The skill position players will all be new faces that have come to Tallahassee through the transfer portal. One of the leading reasons for the offense’s struggle in the past few years is the poor offensive line play. However, the linemen that are there have significantly improved over the last two seasons and should finally take that next step this year.
While the offense faltered, the Seminole defense was stout in 2021 finishing top-30 in Success Rate, Finishing Drives, and Havoc. The defense also consistently improved from the beginning of the season until the end. The most important part is Florida State returns 9 starters and 95% of last year’s production. The strength will be found upfront on the defensive line, and this defense may make the jump to elite in 2022.
While things are heading in the right direction for Florida State, the schedule does them no favors. The Seminoles have tough road matchups in the ACC and a pair of SEC foes on their schedule. Florida State will only be favored by more than a touchdown in five games this season, and then have tough coin flip games on the road against NC State, Miami, and Louisville. The two SEC games, against LSU and Florida will go a long way in determining the Seminole win total. While I think this team will be improved, I’m not confident enough to see them getting to seven wins.
Win Total: 8.5 | Coastal: +150 | ACC Championship: +550 | National Championship: +9000
Mario Cristobal comes over from Oregon in an attempt to restore Miami to the height of College Football. To do this, Cristobal will have to ride the arm of quarterback Tyler Van Dyke who took over during the second half of the season and led the Hurricane to a 5-1 record in his starts six starts and threw for 3000 yards and 25 touchdowns in just six games. Cristobal is an offensive line coach at his core, and the Hurricane will need him to improve a unit that has been a liability in the past. Three returning starters and two Oregon transfers should have the line better in 2022. Van Dyke is getting all of the praise down in Miami as the next great quarterback, and if he continues to improve this offense has a chance to be the best in the ACC.
The defense was bad last year. They ranked near the bottom of the country in tackling and had major discipline problems. The Hurricane finished outside the top-110 in Explosiveness and Finishing Drives. To fix this, Cristobal brought in former Broyles Award winner (top assistant coach in the country), Kevin Steele, to take over this defense. Steele’s coaching and expertise on defense should help Miami fix last year’s tackling problems. The other thing that will benefit this defense is the five Power 5 who all started last year for their teams and will be immediate contributing members for the Hurricane.
Miami will be favored by more than a touchdown in nine of their games this season which will go a long way towards their win total. They have two tough matchups on the road against both Texas A&M and Clemson, but both of those teams have question marks surrounding the quarterback and either one could be beaten. Finally, and most importantly, they will be a small favorite in the season finale at home against Pittsburgh. Even if Miami loses on the road against Clemson, they get Pitt at home in the finale with the ACC Coastal on the line.
Picks: Miami over 8.5 wins (-135) & Miami to win the ACC Coastal (+150)
Win Total: 8.5 | Coastal: +270 | ACC Championship: +850 | National Championship: +12000
Pittsburgh had a magical season in 2021 and won their first outright Power 5 conference title in school history. However, Heisman finalist Kenny Pickett, Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison, and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple have all departed. This high flying, up tempo offense will take a 180 next year and grind to a halt. Head Coach Pat Narduzzi saw all that success from last season and decided that he never wants to see that again. Instead, Pitt will be lining up with two running backs and a tight end on most plays this season and bring this offense back to the stone age. The only positive is that the offensive line may be the best in the ACC with eight returning linemen that have starting experience.
While the offense is going to be hard to watch, the defense will continue to be one of the best in the conference. They finished 15th in Havoc, 23rd in Field Position, and 29th in Success Rate. The strength of this unit is stopping the run, and Pitt finished top-15 in most metrics against the rush. The defense returns 73% of last year’s production and should once again be a top unit. However, the Panthers struggle against the pass. In their two losses last year they gave up 367 yards to Western Michigan and 426 yards to Miami and Tyler Van Dyke.
The one benefit that Pitt has is an incredibly easy schedule. They will be favored by more than a touchdown in eight games. They luckily avoid both NC State and Clemson from the other side of the ACC. However, their three toughest ACC games all come on the road against Louisville, North Carolina and Miami in the finale. I think the lack of offense will hold them back against some of these other high powered attacks, but this soft schedule keeps the floor pretty high. I’m staying away from the win total, and fading the Panthers with my Miami future.
Pick: None, but would lean under
North Carolina Tar Heels
Win Total: 7.5 | Coastal: +400 | ACC Championship: +1600
It’s not exactly a hot take to say that the loss of Sam Howell will be massive for this Tar Heel offense, but this offense will inevitably take a step back. Drake Maye recently won the quarterback battle but has no previous experience starting for the Tar Heels. The offensive line is undergoing some transition as well with three Power 5 transfers coming in to try and improve a unit that struggled in pass protection last season. The star of the offense will once again be receiver Josh Downs who had 1335 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns and was one of the most explosive receivers in the country.
The big question surrounding North Carolina is their defense that has consistently regressed over the last three seasons. The defense was gashed all season long and finished outside the top-85 in all Five Factors. Gene Chizik has come in to try and rebuild this defense; he has plenty of talent to help him do so with two All-ACC defensive linemen, and multiple 5-star recruits waiting to fill in around them. The defense can only improve with the transfers, young recruits, and a much needed upgrade in coaching.
North Carolina has one of the sneakiest difficult schedules in the country. They have to travel on the road to App State and Georgia State in consecutive weeks, and if you read my Sun Belt Preview you know those will be incredibly difficult games while breaking in a new quarterback. Then, they host Notre Dame before even starting ACC play. This non-conference schedule is brutal, and if they get upset by either Sun Belt team on the road then it becomes very difficult to get to eight wins on the season. There are too many question marks surrounding this team, and the range of outcomes is far too wide, to feel comfortable with any futures.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Win Total: 6.5 | Coastal: +1000 | ACC Championship: +5500
I may be in the minority, but I really like transfer quarterback Grant Wells who comes in from Marshall. Last year, Wells threw for 3500 yards and 16 touchdowns. While he does have to clean up some turnover concerns, I think he is a major upgrade over Burmeister. Around Wells there is even more turnover as the Hokies must replace their two leading receivers and three offensive linemen. However, I think there are enough pieces in this Virginia Tech locker room for new offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen to work with. The combination of Bowen, and former offensive line coach from Wisconsin (they usually have a decent o-line), will get this offense back on track.
New head coach Brent Pry is coming in from Penn State where he led the Nittany Lions defense and transformed it to one of the best units in the country every single year. This Hokies defense is going to thrive under Pry’s watch and return to the top of the ACC. The back seven is full of veterans and All-ACC honorees that will help make the transition smooth as they rework the defensive line.
The optimism for this Virginia Tech team stems from a schedule that could not be easier. Their non-conference schedule includes Old Dominion, Wofford, Liberty and West Virginia. The Hokies should pretty easily go 4-0 in these games. They also have two free wins over Georgia Tech and Duke who are awful. The Hokies just have to win one of their remaining six ACC games to get over 6.5 wins and have very winnable games at home against Virginia and Boston College. My good friend Cole Baker is a big Virginia Tech fan, so I hope he and the Hokies break a leg this year and get to seven wins.
Pick: Virginia Tech over 6.5 wins (+125)
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Win Total: 3.5 | Coastal: +3500 | ACC Championship: +20000
Georgia Tech has been bad for a while, but last year was supposed to be the year they took a step forward. However, they again only won three games. The offense was bad last year, and their lone bright spot was running back Jahmyr Gibbs who transferred to Alabama. The Yellow Jackets will now have to replace him along with four offensive linemen.
The defense was even worse than the offense and finished 104th in Finishing Drives, 115th in Success Rate, and 119th in Havoc. This was supposed to be a veteran defense that took the next step but that never came t fruition and now all that experience is gone with only 51% of last year’s production returning. Georgia Tech has lost all five secondary starters, their leading tackler and their sack leader. Once again, this Georgia Tech defense is going to be at the bottom of the ACC.
The Yellow Jackets will be favored by two touchdowns in two of their games this year against Western Carolina and Duke. But after that, they will be a double digit favorite in the remaining 10 games. Even if they do win those first two games, I don’t see any way they pull off two separate massive upsets to get to four wins.
Pick: Georgia Tech under 3.5 wins (-125)
Duke Blue Devils
Win Total: 3 | Coastal: +20000 | ACC Championship: +80000
I’m going to keep this one short and sweet, Duke is really bad. The offense finished outside the top-75 in all Five Factors while the defense finished 114th in Success Rate, 121st in Explosiveness and 126th in Finishing Drives. The Blue Devils also return less than 50% on both sides of the ball so there will be little continuity or chance for internal improvement. While new head coach Mike Elko will be a good hire for the future, his impact will not be felt immediately with a roster devoid of talent.
Duke is favored by more than a touchdown in only one game, and a short favorite in the opener against Temple. If they lose to Temple there is no chance they get to four wins. Even if they do win these games, they will be more than a touchdown underdog in the remaining ten games on their schedule. The only two games they could potentially pull the upset are both on the road against Northwestern and Kansas, two teams who both will be improved. All four of these games happen the first four weeks of the season so we will know early the fate of this win total early because Duke has no chance of getting a win the rest of the season.
Pick: Duke under 3 wins (-110)