Dabo Swinney’s Tigers trended downward. Pitt climbed to the league’s summit, defeating Wake Forest in the ACC title matchup.
The Panthers will aim to fend off challengers this season and retain their crown. Learn more about each program in the ACC football grouping.
Last year, a first-year head coach in Jeff Hafley had a bowl-eligible team that could have accomplished even more if not for quarterback Phil Jurkovec’s injuries. Jurkovec will be back, as will leading receiver Zay Flowers. Both should be able to boost the attack, which didn’t particularly strike fear into opponents a year ago.
The Eagles were one of the nation’s best teams, offsetting the opponents’ air effort in 2021, and starters Elijah Jones, Josh DeBerry, and Jaiden Woodbey will patrol the secondary again.
Following the act of Trevor Lawrence, quarterback DJ Uiagalelei didn’t quite meet expectations in his first time as a regular starter. The offense ranked 100th in yardage per game and 103rd in passing, which will need to improve this season if Swinney’s group wants to be back in the running for a national title.
Clemson Tigers’ running back Will Shipley scampered for 738 yards and 11 touchdowns. He comes back as the squad’s top rusher, with four of his five path-pavers returning, too.
A key pair of defenders in senior linebacker Shaka Heyward and defensive tackle DeWayne Carter figure to help lead a defense that won’t look all that familiar in terms of personnel. Heyward had a team-high 98 takedowns in 2021 and has played in 27 collegiate contests. Carter was a team captain who jarred the ball loose four times.
The same situation goes for the offense, which lost its leading rusher, passer, and receiver. Senior wideout Jalon Calhoun remains, having had 56 catches for 718 yards in the previous go-round.
Despite being successful relative to his predecessors, Coach Mike Norvell has to worry about his job security as this fall gets underway. Much of that is because his offensive and defensive units haven’t been anything better than average. Passer Jordan Travis has an extra element to his game, having set high marks for career rushing yards and touchdowns.
A few switches in the personnel on the defense’s back end aided in improving the Seminoles’ defense down the stretch — sophomores Kevin Knowles II and Omarion Cooper. The crew must jell if Norvell wants to bring FSU to a bowl game.
The Yellow Jackets had a disappointing showing in 2021 — look no further than a bit of a departure of players to the transfer portal to confirm.
Only two starters are coming back on both sides of the ball, but passer Jeff Sims had 1,468 passing yards and 16 total touchdowns on his stat line last year. Senior pass-catcher Malachi Carter had a team-high 489 receiving yards.
Senior linebackers Charlie Thomas and Ayinde Eley are the starters to suit up again on defense. Eight of the unit’s top 10 tacklers have departed, which leaves a hole to fill in Atlanta.
Coach Scott Satterfield will look for his defense to do better than it did a year ago. Linebacker Yasir Abdullah turned in 10 sacks and was named a second-team All-ACC defender in 2021. Around him, however, there will be a lot of turnovers, as the Cardinals have to replace four starters in the front seven.
Senior triggerman Malik Cunningham and junior tight end Marshon Ford are a battery to keep an eye out for on the offensive side of the ball.
Coach Mario Cristobal seeks to provide a spark for the Hurricanes, who haven’t been able to find sturdy footing since their heyday. Miami has a reliable blindside tackle in junior Zion Nelson, who’s started every game since the opener of his rookie season and will block for sophomore passer Tyler Van Dyke.
Van Dyke slung the football for 2,931 yards and 25 touchdown strikes and is a player that professional scouts will be keeping a close eye on.
The fact that several defensive performers got some playing time under their belt should benefit the Hurricanes. Athletic sophomore safety James Williams started seven contests, registering 31 takedowns and a pair of picks.
Devin Leary is the billboard player for the Wolfpack — and deservedly so. The junior signal-caller Leary had a poster showing for NC State, going for 3,433 yards through the air and piling up 35 touchdowns compared to only five interceptions.
He’ll be counted on to keep the ship steady as the unit introduces a new starting running back — either junior Jordan Houston or sophomore Demie Sumo-Karngbaye.
Nine of eleven defensive starters are suiting back up, with senior safety Cyrus Fagan and sophomore end Davin Vann being the only new faces in the lineup.
Freshman Drake Maye and sophomore Jacolby Criswell battle for the right to operate the attack now that Sam Howell is gone. Coach Mack Brown will face tests to keep the offensive standard, as the team ranked in the top 20 in the FBS in scoring, rushing, and total offense. Josh Brown coming back to catch passes — he paced the team with 101 grabs — should help.
The defense wasn’t quite as effective — but a front full of talent remains. Tackles Myles Murphy, a junior, and Raymond Vohasek, a senior, will anchor the unit. Junior corner Tony Grimes has a chance to atone for last season — one in which expectations were high, but he underperformed.
Coach Pat Narduzzi pulled in a transfer to compete for the job vacated by quarterback Kenny Pickett’s move to the pros but also lost a significant piece in the portal.
Kedon Slovis was touted by many to be taken in the early rounds of this spring’s NFL Draft before he took a step back at USC. He left for the Steel City, but receiver Jordan Addison decided to take off and go to Slovis’ former school. Suppose new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti’s ground-based scheme works out with junior Israel Abanikanda. In that case, last season’s leading rusher could lessen the blow of losing the Fred Biletnikoff Award winner.
Pieces from a defense adept at chasing the quarterback and stuffing the run are back, including senior defensive end Habakkuk Baldonado and junior defensive tackle Calijah Kancey.
Coach Dino Babers shook things up on his staff in the offseason. Whether that leads to any change in the Orange’s success remains to be seen.
Both units have a bevy of returning starters. On offense, sophomore running back and track runner Sean Tucker is back after running for nearly 1,500 yards last year. The defense has Mikel Jones, a junior linebacker, who is at the head of what some think is the best in its position group in the nation.
Former Clemson assistant Tony Elliott plans to infuse some championship pedigree into the Cavaliers’ program after the team went 6-6 last season.
The passing game should be entertaining, as senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who accounted for 40 total scores, adds an air of confidence. Fellow senior linebacker Nick Jackson totaled at least 100 stops in the previous two campaigns.
Brent Pry is the new head coach in town. A tandem of transfers vies for the right to guide the offense. Grant Wells, formerly of Marshall, and Jason Brown, who comes over from South Carolina, are the contenders for the signal-calling gig. Whoever gets it won’t have many targets with experience to seek. Junior Kaleb Smith, who had only 20 catches last year, is the only pass-catcher in the projected two-deep that was a regular starter last year.
The pieces of the puzzle on the other side might limit the Hokies. Senior linebacker Dax Hollifield is the player to watch, leading the squad with 92 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2021.
Coach Dave Clawson’s group hopes to follow up an appearance in the conference final with another solid effort. At the head of that will be junior signal-caller Sam Hartman, who has a good amount of experience, having played in 36 games for the Demon Deacons. Fellow junior A.T. Perry had the third-most touchdown grabs in the country in 2021. As a whole, Wake Forest returns all but two offensive starters.
The defense was boom or bust last year, allowing opponents a wealth of points, but has to break in over half of its starters this time.
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