2022 college football: ACC preview, odds and predictions

·13-min read

Clemson’s perch atop the ACC standings was taken away in 2021.

Will the Tigers return to form in 2022? Or will another contender like NC State, Pittsburgh or Miami emerge as the conference champion and push for a possible spot in the College Football Playoff?

Below, Yahoo Sports details the outlook for each team in the ACC entering the 2022 season before providing title picks for the Atlantic and Coastal divisions and the conference as a whole.

Oh and don’t forget, this is the final year that the ACC will have two divisions. And we could be in for two really fun races.

Other conference previews: Big 12, Big Ten, Group of Five, Pac-12, SEC

(All odds via BetMGM)

Favorites

Clemson (-145 to win the ACC)

  • 2021 record: 10-3 (6-2 ACC)

  • National title odds: +1200

  • Over/under: 10.5

Getting to 10 wins is a great accomplishment for most programs, but for Clemson it was a disappointment. The Tigers struggled mightily on offense in 2021 but an excellent defense allowed them to stay in ACC title contention. In the end, Clemson’s six-year conference championship streak came to an end.

Entering 2022, some of the same questions remain for Dabo Swinney’s team, beginning with quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. Uiagalelei was excellent in the two starts he made in 2020 but was one of the ACC’s worst starters in 2021. The inconsistent play at receiver and injuries at running back and on the offensive line didn’t help, but Uiagalelei needs to play much better or he risks getting benched in favor of Cade Klubnik, the next five-star QB in Clemson’s pipeline.

The running back room is solid, with Will Shipley leading the way, but offensive line and receiver are still concerns. Even with former defensive coordinator Brent Venables now at Oklahoma, this defense should again be one of the nation’s best. The line is especially nasty. If the offense improves, it’s hard to envision Clemson not climbing back to the top of the Atlantic Division and into playoff contention.

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, left, and running back Will Shipley, right, are looking to take a big leap after the team struggled offensively for much of 2021. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, left, and running back Will Shipley, right, are looking to take a big leap after the team struggled offensively for much of 2021. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Miami (+600)

  • 2021 record: 7-5 (5-3 ACC)

  • National title odds: +6600

  • Over/under: 8.5

Miami went 15-8 over its last two seasons but fired Manny Diaz in order to bring in hometown hero Mario Cristobal from Oregon. Expectations are through the roof, but is Miami ready to take the next step?

Beyond Cristobal, the optimism begins with quarterback Tyler Van Dyke. Van Dyke had an excellent redshirt freshman season and should be the beneficiary of a better rushing attack this year. Cristobal has a track record of coaching up the offensive line and Jaylan Knighton and Henry Parrish are a nice 1-2 punch at running back. Receiver is a question mark, but veteran tight end Will Mallory should be a reliable option for Van Dyke.

There is much less returning production on defense. The secondary is promising but Cristobal had to heavily dip into the transfer portal to try to bolster his defensive line. If that group is up to the task, Miami has the potential to win the Coastal. A Sept. 17 trip to Texas A&M will serve as a major early-season test.

NC State (+700)

  • 2021 record: 9-3 (6-2 ACC)

  • National title odds: +15000

  • Over/under: 8.5

One of the toughest things to do in college football is go from good to great. NC State has been consistently good under Dave Doeren, winning at least eight games in four of the past five seasons. Last year, the Wolfpack went 9-3, with their two ACC losses coming by a combined four points. Those two close losses, plus the team’s bowl game (and the chance to reach a 10th win) getting canceled has left an already accomplished group hungry for more.

NC State returns 17 starters, including one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country, Devin Leary. The Wolfpack must replace first-round tackle Ikem Ekwonu, receiver Emeka Emezie and their top two running backs, but there’s still good depth at those positions. Meanwhile, nearly the entire defense is back and All-ACC linebackers Isaiah Moore and Payton Wilson are returning from injury.

With questions about Clemson’s offense still unanswered, NC State has an opening to win the ACC Atlantic and potentially put itself into the playoff conversation. But with expectations higher than ever, will a program with a history of coming up short in big moments be ready to seize the opportunity?

Pittsburgh (+900)

  • 2021 record: 11-3 (7-1 ACC)

  • National title odds: +15000

  • Over/under: 8.5

On the heels of winning the ACC title, what can Pitt do for an encore? Last year, Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison were the stars of a high-powered offense, but now Pickett is in the NFL, Addison is at USC and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple departed for Nebraska.

Despite the success, Pat Narduzzi wasn’t a fan of Whipple’s pass-happy offense and brought in Frank Cignetti Jr. to implement a more balanced approach. And to replace Pickett, Pitt added USC transfer Kedon Slovis. Slovis is a downgrade at QB, but with a really solid group of backs and receivers and last year’s line intact, this offense should still be quite proficient, even if it’s not as explosive.

Defensively, there’s a lot to like. Narduzzi favors a really aggressive style that can result in allowing big plays, but it also causes an abundance of negative plays and turnovers. With the talent returning, this can be one of the better defenses in the ACC. And that unit may have to carry more weight with Pickett and Addison gone from the offense.

Pat Narduzzi's Pitt Panthers are coming off an ACC title, but he'll have his work cut out after losing several key players to the NFL draft and transfer portal. (Photo by Logan Whitton/Getty Images)
Pat Narduzzi's Pitt Panthers are coming off an ACC title, but he'll have his work cut out after losing several key players to the NFL draft and transfer portal. (Photo by Logan Whitton/Getty Images)

Contenders

North Carolina (+1500)

  • 2021 record: 6-7 (3-5 ACC)

  • National title odds: +20000

  • Over/under: 7.5

UNC was one of the most-hyped teams in the country entering 2021. The Tar Heels were ranked in the top 10 in the preseason but ended up finishing 6-7 with some really ugly losses, including going winless on the road. Sam Howell, the team’s star QB, is gone, but there’s reason to believe that UNC can rebound in 2022.

Mack Brown has recruited well and this roster is way better than what it showed last year, particularly on defense. Bringing in Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator should stabilize things. On offense, there’s a quarterback competition between Drake Maye and Jacolby Criswell, but the bigger concern is improving an offensive line that gave up more sacks than any other Power Five team in 2021.

If the QB play is solid and the line steadies, the Tar Heels — humbled from last year’s disappointment — could be an under-the-radar contender in the Coastal.

Louisville (+2800)

  • 2021 record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)

  • National title odds: +25000

  • Over/under: 6.5

The Scott Satterfield fit at Louisville hasn’t been great so far, but the Cardinals could get back on the right track. Four of UL’s seven losses last season came by six points or fewer, but the talent on this offense could flip some of those close losses into wins.

The offense is led by Malik Cunningham, one of the top dual-threat QBs in the country. Cunningham has an underrated group of play-makers (look out for WR Tyler Hudson) and an experienced line. On defense, Satterfield was aggressive in the transfer portal in an effort to bolster a unit that really struggled. Injuries also played a role in those struggles, but both the secondary and line received significant overhauls.

If those transfers make the impact the coaches hope, Louisville has the chance to surprise.

Louisville Cardinals' Malik Cunningham is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Louisville Cardinals' Malik Cunningham is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Florida State (+3000)

  • 2021 record: 5-7 (4-4 ACC)

  • National title odds: +15000

  • Over/under: 6.5

Florida State is in the midst of four consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1973-76. Will that streak end in 2022? Last year, FSU had a disastrous 0-4 start but managed to win five of its last eight and nearly got to 6-6.

Mike Norvell has steadily increased the talent level across the roster but will have to overcome a tough schedule to get FSU back to a bowl game. The offensive line has particularly been a weak point and that group again struggled in pass protection in 2021. FSU could run the ball, an approach that suits QB Jordan Travis’ strengths, but will need to find more success through the air this year. A solid collection of transfer receivers should help that cause.

On the other side, ACC Defensive Player of the Year Jermaine Johnson was a first-round pick but is expected to be replaced by Jared Verse, an FCS All-American at Albany. Verse helps solidify the strength of the defense — the line. The secondary also returns three starters.

Boston College (+3000)

  • 2021 record: 6-6 (2-6 ACC)

  • National title odds: +50000

  • Over/under: 6.5

Jeff Hafley has been unable to push Boston College through Steve Addazio’s 7-5 glass ceiling through two seasons on the job.

The wrist injury to quarterback Phil Jurkovec was a setback for BC last season. Jurkovec and star receiver Zay Flowers return, but BC needs to replace its entire offensive line. This team is strong at the skill positions, but a lot is going to hinge on the line play on both sides of the ball.

BC has a strong secondary, but could not stop the run or get after the quarterback last year. This feels like another season in the six or seven-win range.

Wake Forest (+5000)

  • 2021 record: 11-3 (7-1 ACC)

  • National title odds: +8000

  • Over/under: Off the board

Wake Forest had one of its best seasons ever in 2021 but a recent development could severely cap the team’s potential for 2022. It was announced last week that Sam Hartman, the team’s star quarterback, will be sidelined indefinitely due to a non-football related medical condition.

Hartman is a three-year starter who has thrown for 9,266 yards and 72 touchdowns in his career, so his absence is a massive blow. Hartman is expected to return at some point this season, but the drop-off to Mitch Griffis or Michael Kern at QB is significant even with a loaded receiver room and veteran offensive line.

Without scoring a ton of points, Wake isn’t going to win many games unless its defense significantly improves. Last year’s defense was one of the ACC’s worst, allowing 47.8 points per game against teams that finished with a winning record. It’s going to be hard to recapture last year’s magic unless Hartman comes back sooner than expected.

Virginia (+5000)

  • 2021 record: 6-6 (4-4 ACC)

  • National title odds: +25000

  • Over/under: 7.5

Following Bronco Mendenhall’s surprising decision to walk away from coaching, Virginia hired ex-Clemson assistant Tony Elliott. Elliott was the play-caller for two national champions, but the offense at Clemson in 2021 didn’t exactly inspire confidence.

Elliott inherits an excellent quarterback in Brennan Armstrong and a really good group of receivers. But like Boston College, Virginia has to replace its entire offensive line. Armstrong got hit a ton last year, and it’s hard to find optimism that the new-look line will be any better in 2022. There's also very little returning experience at running back.

Coupling the offensive line issues with the fact that Virginia had one of the worst defenses in the country, it feels like this may be a bit of a rebuilding year.

Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong (5) plays against Pittsburgh an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong is back for another season after throwing for 4,449 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2021. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Virginia Tech (+6600)

  • 2021 record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)

  • National title odds: +30000

  • Over/under: 6.5

Another program in transition is Virginia Tech, which hired Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry after moving on from Justin Fuente. Pry feels like a good fit for the program, but there could be struggles in Year 1.

The Hokies had a losing record in three of the last four seasons and Fuente did not leave much behind, especially on offense. Marshall transfer Grant Wells is the presumed favorite to start at quarterback. But if he struggled with turnovers in Conference USA, what is he going to do in the ACC? Additionally, the Hokies also have to replace their top running back, top two receivers, best tight end and three linemen. That’s a lot.

With seven starters back, the defense should be pretty solid but needs to find a way to create more quarterback pressures. If this team can get to a bowl game, that would be a real win for Pry.

Long shots

Syracuse (+25000)

  • 2021 record: 5-7 (2-6 ACC)

  • National title odds: +50000

  • Over/under: 4.5

Syracuse going 10-3 in 2018 is looking more and more like an anomaly. In Dino Babers’ five other seasons, Syracuse’s combined record is 19-40 with a 9-33 mark in ACC play.

The Orange stayed competitive with a run-heavy offense in 2021. With Robert Anae now calling plays, the offense should be different — and more creative — in 2022. Sean Tucker is one of the best backs in the country, but QB Garrett Shrader is pretty limited in the passing game.

The back of the defense should be pretty good with eight starters back, but the line is a big concern. The schedule is brutal, so getting this team to a bowl feels like a stretch.

Georgia Tech (+25000)

  • 2021 record: 3-9 (2-6 ACC)

  • National title odds: +50000

  • Over/under: 3.5

Is this Geoff Collins’ last stand? Georgia Tech hired Collins to transition out of playing option-style offense and to revitalize its recruiting efforts. Neither have materialized as the Yellow Jackets are 9-25 in Collins’ three seasons.

Collins made a major shakeup on his staff to search for improvements in 2022, but there’s very little production returning and the team’s best player, running back Jahmyr Gibbs, transferred to Alabama. The defense was also hit by a slew of transfers and the schedule is incredibly difficult.

Duke (+75000)

  • 2021 record: 3-9 (0-8 ACC)

  • National title odds: +100000

  • Over/under: 3

Duke cratered in David Cutcliffe’s last two seasons, going a combined 1-17 in ACC play. Mike Elko, most recently Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator, is the Blue Devils’ new coach and he has signed up for a massive rebuilding project.

Duke’s defense was one of the worst in the country in 2021. The offense wasn’t much better and the team’s top players at quarterback, running back and wide receiver have all departed. The coaching staff is promising but wins will be hard to come by for Duke this season.

Who will win the ACC?

Atlantic: Clemson

Coastal: Miami

ACC champion: Clemson