Spring practice has already started or will soon for all 14 teams in the ACC for the 2022 college football season. Although it's tough to get an accurate read on teams from practices in the spring, this is the first set of official workouts and provides some insight into the upcoming year.
Last year's ACC title game provided a surprise matchup between Pittsburgh and Wake Forest, and with all of the teams at the top of the league entering '22 with concerns, another off-the-radar championship is likely. The Demon Deacons have to contend with Clemson and NC State in the Atlantic, with Miami expected to push the Panthers in the Coastal. Florida State should improve in coach Mike Norvell's third year, and Boston College will benefit from a healthy Phil Jurkovec at quarterback. New coaches at Virginia, Virginia Tech and Duke add uncertainty to the always chaotic Coastal Division.
What are the early storylines to watch and how do the teams stack up in the ACC going into '22? Here are Athlon's top things to watch on both sides of the ball for the conference going into spring practice:
ACC Football: Spring 2022 Power Rankings
What to Watch on Offense: This unit is under the spotlight after ranking 12th in the ACC (conference-only games) in yards per play (5.3). New coordinator Brandon Streeter needs to get quarterback DJ Uiagalelei back on track, while also finding the right answers at receiver and up front along a shaky offensive line.
What to Watch on Defense: The concerns are minimal on this side of the ball. Replacing linebackers James Skalski and Baylon Spector and cornerbacks Mario Goodrich and Andrew Booth Jr. top the offseason priorities for new coordinator Wes Goodwin.
2. Wake Forest
What to Watch on Offense: Nine starters – including standout quarterback Sam Hartman – are back from a unit that averaged 41 points a game last fall. Replacing All-ACC tackle Zach Tom is the top priority for coach Dave Clawson this spring.
What to Watch on Defense: Scoring points won’t be a problem, but for the Demon Deacons to return to the ACC title game, improvement on this side of the ball under new coordinator Brad Lambert is a must. This unit gave up 31.2 points a game and 6.2 yards per play in ACC contests last year.
3. NC State
What to Watch on Offense: Quarterback Devin Leary is back, but the Wolfpack have to replace their top two running backs (Bam Knight and Ricky Person), leading receiver Emeka Emezie and standout left tackle Ikem Ekwonu.
What to Watch on Defense: After holding teams to 19.7 points a game last season, along with the return of 10 starters this fall, this unit should be among the better defenses in the ACC in ‘22.
What to Watch on Offense: Who replaces Kenny Pickett at quarterback? USC transfer Kedon Slovis, Nick Patti and Davis Beville will compete for the job this offseason.
What to Watch on Defense: A strong core is in place on defense with seven starters back, but coach Pat Narduzzi has a few voids to fill with the departures of linebacker Phil Campbell and cornerback Damarri Mathis.
What to Watch on Offense: Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke is a rising star, but the ‘Canes are transitioning to a new play-caller in Josh Gattis. Getting the returning pieces acclimated to a new scheme ranks atop the priority list this spring, along with replacing the top two receivers from last year and continuing to improve up front.
What to Watch on Defense: The ‘Canes need big-time improvement on defense after allowing 28.4 points a game last year to win the Coastal Division in ’22. Improved tackling should be one area of focus for new coordinator Kevin Steele.
6. Florida State
What to Watch on Offense: Quarterback Jordan Travis is primed for a big season, and the Seminoles are getting better up front. This spring is all about sorting out the pecking order at running back to replace Jashaun Corbin, along with getting four key transfers at receiver acclimated.
What to Watch on Defense: Can the defense replace the departing production from Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas off the edge?
What to Watch on Offense: The Cardinals ranked third in the ACC in yards per play (6.7) last year. Repeating (or exceeding) that total is within reach thanks to the return of quarterback Malik Cunningham. Center Cole Bentley and receivers Justin Marshall and Jordan Watkins need to be replaced, however.
What to Watch on Defense: Louisville allowed 5.4 yards per play in ACC games last season, which ranked as the lowest mark under coach Scott Satterfield. But this unit has plenty of room to improve after struggling to stop Kentucky and Air Force to close out ’21. Standout linebacker C.J. Avery must be replaced.
8. Boston College
What to Watch on Offense: A healthy year from quarterback Phil Jurkovec is a big boost to Boston College’s offense, but new coordinator John McNulty has to replace four standouts along the line of scrimmage.
What to Watch on Defense: The Eagles allowed 5.7 yards per play in conference games last fall but held teams to 25.1 points per contest. With seven starters back, improvement should be a reasonable expectation, but coach Jeff Hafley’s defense lost key players at every level, including cornerback Brandon Sebastian.
9. North Carolina
What to Watch on Offense: A quarterback battle between Drake Maye and Jacolby Criswell to replace Sam Howell is on tap this spring. The Tar Heels also need to solidify a struggling offensive line that must replace four starters.
What to Watch on Defense: What type of impact can new coordinator Gene Chizik make on this defense? The Tar Heels allowed 32.1 points a game and struggled to stop the run (180 yards a game allowed) last year.
10. Virginia Tech
What to Watch on Offense: Transfer quarterbacks Jason Brown (South Carolina) and Grant Wells (Virginia Tech) are set to battle for the starting job. Additionally, the Hokies have to identify new playmakers at receiver after Tayvion Robinson transferred to Kentucky and Tre Turner departed to the NFL.
What to Watch on Defense: New coach Brent Pry should make an impact on this defense in his first year at the helm, and seven returning starters certainly eases the overall transition. Developing depth up front and improving the rush defense will be under the spotlight this spring.
What to Watch on Offense: Brennan Armstrong is back as one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC, but the Cavaliers lost all five starters along the offensive line.
What to Watch on Defense: Major improvement is needed here under new coordinator John Rudzinski. Virginia allowed 6.8 yards per play and 34.3 points a game in ACC contests last year. Also, this unit struggled to stop the run and gave up 14 plays of 50-plus yards.
What to Watch on Offense: Running back Sean Tucker and quarterback Garrett Shrader helped the Orange lead the ACC in rushing offense last year. New coordinator Robert Anae is tasked with jumpstarting a passing game that averaged only 141.3 yards in ACC games in ’21.
What to Watch on Defense: The Orange showed progress on this side of the ball last year, but in order to build on that in ’22, coordinator Tony White has to rebuild a front that lost five key players.
13. Georgia Tech
What to Watch on Offense: Losing running back Jahmyr Gibbs as a transfer to Alabama was a major blow to the offense. However, while Gibbs’ playmaking ability will be missed, the hopes of a Yellow Jackets’ turnaround will rest on improved play under center from Jeff Sims or Akron transfer Zach Gibson.
What to Watch on Defense: The Yellow Jackets gave up 33.5 points a game last year and return only two starters for ’22. Rebuilding the defensive line and secondary top the list of offseason concerns.
What to Watch on Offense: New coach Mike Elko inherits a plethora of concerns for his first year. There’s uncertainty at quarterback after Gunnar Holmberg transferred to FIU, and the unit’s top playmaker (running back Mataeo Durant) departed for the NFL.
What to Watch on Defense: Elko was one of the nation’s top defensive coordinators at Texas A&M, so this unit should see some improvement in ’22. But there’s a heavy lift ahead as the Blue Devils allowed 6.5 yards per play and 46.6 points in ACC contests last year.
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