The ACC Atlantic saw a new champion last year with the rise of Wake Forest and Clemson falling short in its own lofty expectations. With the Tigers seemingly reloaded, will we have a return to form, or will another surprise champion come from this division? Here’s our look at the ACC’s Atlantic Division for 2022.
BOSTON COLLEGE (6-6, 2-6 ACC, 6-6 ATS, 3-9 O/U, Computer Rating 26.78)
Over/Under: 6.5 Wins
Getting seven wins isn’t going to be easy for this group. Whether Boston College can make a move into the upper half of the ACC Atlantic depends on whether the offensive line can get established and whether quarterback Phil Jurkovec can stay healthy. When Jurkovec was on the field, the Eagles were solid on offense, but the best win they had in that stretch was over Missouri in overtime. BC didn’t beat one FBS team that finished above .500 last season, as the offense didn’t really go anywhere against better teams.
That said, the Eagles do have an excellent defense and return their entire secondary and linebacking corps. BC only gave up 22.2 points per game last season, and coach Jeff Hafley’s background has been on that side of the ball. There’s a reason the Eagles played to the under nine times in 12 games last year, and they’re likely to do more of the same this season given that the defense is more experienced and the offensive line only returns one starter from last year. But road games at Wake Forest, N.C. State, Notre Dame and Florida State, plus a home game with Clemson, means that the Eagles will either have to steal one on the road or run the table the rest of the way in order to reach their number. I lean toward the under.
CLEMSON (9-3, 6-2 ACC, 4-8 ATS, 4-7-1 O/U, Computer Rating 42.45)
Over/Under: 10.5 Wins
This is all about one thing for the Tigers: Can they actually get quality play from the quarterback position? A year ago, Clemson averaged a mere 26 points per game because of poor play from D.J. Uiagaleilei, who simply was not ready for the job of replacing Trevor Lawrence at quarterback. Take away three games against defensively-challenged Wake Forest and overmatched South Carolina State and Connecticut, and the Tigers would have scored a mere 22 points per game for the season. Quite simply, that’s not good enough, even when you have a defense as powerful as what Clemson had a year ago.
The Tigers don’t have that defense in place this year, which means quarterback play is even more important to them this season. But the early schedule is incredibly manageable, which should give Dabo Swinney time to either get Uiagaleilei up to speed or find someone else who can do the job. As long as the defense doesn’t collapse before the Tigers get to play Wake Forest and N.C. State, they’ve got a good chance to return to the ACC championship game. But a road game at Notre Dame this year and home tilts with N.C. State and Miami means that 11 wins is going to be a tough target for Clemson to hit. I think nine or 10 wins sounds more likely.
FLORIDA STATE (5-7, 4-4 ACC, 6-6 ATS, 4-8 O/U, Computer Rating 32.11)
Over/Under: 6.5 Wins
Eventually, Florida State is going to get this thing turned around. The Seminoles should have been a bowl team last year but couldn’t close out games, losing by three points to Notre Dame, Jacksonville State and Florida to finish with a disappointing 5-7 mark.
If they’re going to improve on last year and get to a bowl for the first time since 2019, the Seminoles have got to get the defense fixed. Florida State gave up at least 23 points to every opponent it played in 2021 except FCS Jacksonville State and Massachusetts, which should be an FCS team. With eight starters back on defense, the Seminoles almost have to get better on that side of the ball, if only by default.
The schedule isn’t the most favorable, given that they’ve got to go to N.C. State and Miami, but there’s enough here for the Seminoles to find their way to seven wins as long as they take care of business at Doak Campbell Stadium. With seven games in Tallahassee, the over looks doable for the Seminoles this season.
LOUISVILLE (6-6, 4-4 ACC, 6-6 ATS, 5-7 O/U, Computer Rating 35.96)
Over/Under: 6.5 Wins
Consistency is the name of the game for the Cardinals, who couldn’t maintain any level of consistent play from the defense a season ago. When the defense was at least decent, the Cardinals usually won, going 5-0 when the opponent scored 27 points or less. But when Louisville couldn’t slow down its opponent, the results got ugly, as the Cardinals were just 1-6 plus a bowl loss when they gave up at least 28 points. Only UCF wasn’t able to beat Louisville while scoring at least 28, and that’s because the Knights don’t play any defense. Even in the games where the defense was decent, there were still warning signs. Florida State and Duke both rolled up over 450 yards of offense against the Cardinals, but left as losers because they couldn’t cash in on their opportunities.
On offense, there’s not a lot to worry about. Malik Cunningham is a threat to score with his arm or his legs whenever he touches the ball, and as long as the Cardinals can give him another pass-catching option besides tight end Marshon Ford, Louisville will put up a lot of points this year. But the Cardinals can’t get into track meets every time, or they’re going to lose more often than not.
The schedule is very back-loaded for the Cardinals, as they face Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Clemson and Kentucky down the stretch. The fact that four of their last six are at home might be enough to save them, but only if they can put a few wins on the board early. I don’t like this total in either direction.
N.C. STATE (9-3, 6-2 ACC, 7-5 ATS, 7-5 O/U, Computer Rating 40.52)
Over/Under: 8.5 Wins
If there’s one team in the ACC who can play defense outside of Clemson, this is the one. Not only did the Wolfpack give up just 20 points per game last season (17.4 in games not against Wake Forest), but they return 10 starters from last year’s team. Plus, they’ve got a quarterback who genuinely takes care of the ball in Devin Leary, as the junior tossed 35 touchdowns against just five interceptions a season ago.
There are a couple of worries here, namely the fact that they’ve got to travel to Clemson and they don’t have any experience at running back. This isn’t an offense that depends a lot on running the ball, but the Wolfpack did average 4.1 yards per carry a season ago, so they’ve got to get something on the ground so teams don’t drop eight into coverage and take away Leary’s passing windows. Jordan Houston was decent in the limited action he saw a year ago, but 20 carries doesn’t tell enough about how a back will perform. I do like State to come in at nine or 10 wins because of the defense and the quarterback play, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about how well the Wolfpack will close out games.
SYRACUSE (5-7, 2-6 ACC, 8-4 ATS, 5-7 O/U, Computer Rating 26.84)
Over/Under: 4.5 Wins
If new offensive coordinator Robert Anae lets it rip at Syracuse the way that he did at Virginia, look for Garrett Shrader to put up some big numbers. With nine starters back on offense, the pieces are in place for Syracuse to make a move in the ACC, or at least improve on the 22 points per game that the Orange averaged last year in league play.
Sean Tucker gives Anae something that he didn’t have in Charlottesville: an actual ground game. Tucker ran wild last year for Syracuse, averaging 6.1 yards per carry and scoring 12 touchdowns on the season. If Shrader can become more decisive with the pass, the fact that the Orange return four starters on the line could make a big difference. Too often, the Syracuse pass attack stalled out, leaving defenses free to focus on Tucker and force the Orange into bad situations.
And therein lies the issue with Syracuse: can the Orange get enough from the pass to manage a difficult schedule? Wagner and Connecticut should fall easily, and Virginia is a very winnable game at home. But beyond those three, there aren’t any easy wins to be found. Facing Purdue and Notre Dame at home out of conference is not a great way to build confidence, and the Atlantic appears to be too tough a mountain for Syracuse to scale. As it stands, Syracuse might be in position to lose a lot of high-scoring contests.
WAKE FOREST (10-3, 7-2 ACC, 6-7 ATS, 6-7 O/U, Computer Rating 39.54)
Over/Under: 8.5 Wins
How could a team that averaged 41 points a game possibly have been an under team last season? Simple: the Demon Deacons actually played decent defense against bad offenses, and theyir schedule featured several of them. Old Dominion, Norfolk State, Boston College, Duke, Florida State and Virginia all struggled to do much of anything against Wake last year. But the other six opponents teed off on Wake Forest’s defense, scoring at least 34 points per game against the Deacons. The best example of how bad it got came against North Carolina, as Wake scored 55 points in that game and still managed to lose.
If the Deacons are going to win the Atlantic again, they’re going to have to get more out of the defense. The problem is that the linebackers were decimated by graduation, and Wake will start the year very inexperienced in the middle of its defense. The good news is that the Deacons get three winnable games to iron things out before they welcome Clemson to Winston-Salem, and they’ve still got a ridiculously explosive offense led by Sam Hartman. In most games in which it plays, Wake will have the more talented quarterback. But that might not be enough to get to nine wins in a year where the Deacons must visit Tallahassee, Louisville and Raleigh along with hosting Clemson. Wake’s pretty much going to have to be perfect on offense to hit the over.