In 2022, the Power 5 structure is still in place and ACC remains one of the big boys. That means that the biggest of the ACC big boys, the Clemson Tigers, has to be on the short list of teams that are considered national title contenders.
With perhaps the nastiest defensive front seven in the land and four starters returning on the offensive line, the Tigers should have the physical presence to compete with anyone. Questions about the skill positions persist and how the team responds to new coordinators on both sides of the ball will need to be monitored, but Clemson has the talent to navigate its 2022 schedule.
As for that schedule, it's a typical Clemson setup of two Power 5 non-conference games, a Group of 5 opponent, and an in-state FCS foe. The rotating crossover game is Miami, which presents a challenge, and the Atlantic Division as a whole looks to be improved this season.
Here is a ranking of Clemson's opponents, from 12 to 1.
12. Sept. 10 vs. Furman
The Purple Paladins are a one-dimensional FCS team that won six games last year. Running back Dominic Roberto is a bruiser, but Clemson will cruise in its home opener.
11. Sept. 17 vs. Louisiana Tech
Skip Holtz guided the Bulldogs to seven straight bowl appearances, but he was shown the door after a 3-9 finish in 2021. Sonny Cumbie made his name on offense, but improving a defense that finished 114th in scoring is the top priority.
10. Sept. 5 at Georgia Tech
It may be now or never for Geoff Collins at Georgia Tech. In his fourth year, the roster is now his and at least doubling last year's win total and getting to a bowl game may be the only way he survives. Having only two starters back on the nation's 117th-ranked defense is not a good start.
9. Oct. 22 vs. Syracuse
It is also a big year for Dino Babers at Syracuse, but the Orange situation is more favorable than the Yellow Jackets'. Eight starters are back from what was a very stingy defense and Sean Tucker is as good a running back as you will see.
8. Nov. 12 vs. Louisville
Another coach potentially on the hot seat is Louisville's Scott Satterfield. One thing going for Satterfield is that the Cards have a unique weapon in quarterback Malik Cunningham. The fifth-year senior has had an up-and-down tenure at Louisville, but he is coming off a monster 2021 season where he threw for nearly 3,000 yards and ran for more than 1,000 while accounting for 39 total touchdowns.
7. Nov. 26 vs. South Carolina
Optimism abounds in Columbia as Shane Beamer enters year two with Oklahoma transfer Spencer Rattler as his quarterback. The bad news for Gamecock fans is that they have lost seven in a row to the Tigers and in what was a down year for Clemson, South Carolina still lost 30-0 in the 2021 regular-season finale.
6. Oct. 8 at Boston College
And the Tigers have also beaten the Eagles 11 times in a row. The difference here is that BC has played Clemson to the wire in each of the past two seasons and both those games were at Death Valley. Jeff Hafley's team returns stars in quarterback Phil Jurkovec, wide receiver Zay Flowers, and running back Pat Garwo III.
5. Oct. 15 at Florida State
The Seminoles are a team that could wind up being much higher on this list... or much lower. Quarterback Jordan Travis needs to take another step forward, as does the offensive line, in order for FSU to improve. With games against LSU, Louisville, Boston College, Wake Forest, and NC State before Oct. 15, the Noles will have a pretty good idea of what kind of team they are by the time Clemson comes to town.
4. Nov. 19 vs. Miami
The Tigers will face a bunch of dangerous quarterbacks this season, but none may be as scary as Tyler Van Dyke. In his redshirt freshman season, Van Dyke replaced an injured D'Eriq King early in the year and responded with a performance that put him in the Heisman conversation entering 2022. New head coach Mario Cristobal hopes that veteran defensive coordinator Kevin Steele can work some magic on that side of the ball.
3. Oct. 1 vs. NC State
Many prognosticators are high on the Wolfpack and Athlon Sports has the team ranked No. 12. Much of the production from one of the ACC's best defenses returns and the group should be bolstered by a healthy Payton Wilson at linebacker. On offense, quarterback Devin Leary threw for 3,433 yards and 35 scores last fall and will still have receivers Thayer Thomas and Devin Carter around to snag his throws.
2. Sept. 24 at Wake Forest
The Tigers will have to go to Winston-Salem to play the defending Atlantic champions and what should be a dynamic offense. It seems as though quarterback Sam Hartman has been at Wake for an eternity, but he actually has junior eligibility and the return of A.T. Perry at receiver makes his job easier.
1. Nov. 5 at Notre Dame
There is a considerable amount of unknowns surrounding Notre Dame in 2022, the biggest being whether Marcus Freeman can actually coach. From a personnel standpoint, the Irish are similar to Clemson in a lot of ways. Both teams should have dominant defensive fronts, return significant experience along the offensive line, and are hoping that their quarterback questions are answered in a positive fashion.
– Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, focusing on the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.