Most preseason debates surrounding the ACC in previous years were relatively short. After all, it was obvious Clemson was the front-runner and a contender for the national title. However, for the first time since the 2014 season, a team other than the Tigers represented the ACC Atlantic in the conference title game last year.
Wake Forest won the division, with coach Dabo Swinney's team finishing third in the Atlantic at 6-2 in league play. Offensive problems slowed Clemson last season, but this program should be in the mix to get back to the top of the division with a dominant defense in place. The Demon Deacons are still a threat to win the conference title again, especially with quarterback Sam Hartman returning to lead one of the ACC's top offenses. NC State knocked off Clemson and finished 6-2 in the league last year. Coach Dave Doeren's squad brings back 17 starters - the most of any team in the conference - and should push both Wake Forest and Clemson for the top spot in the Atlantic.
Wake Forest, NC State and Clemson are the three favorites in the Atlantic Division for 2022. But is there a consensus on which team should be the favorite? Athlon's editors and college football contributors debate this topic:
Wake Forest, NC State or Clemson: Which Team Wins the ACC Atlantic in 2022?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Tough call, as I could see all three winning the division this year. However, I'll go with Clemson to rebound and claim the Atlantic in 2022. The unquestioned strength of this team rests on defense with a dominant line and a standout linebacker group led by rising star Trenton Simpson. Even with coordinator Brent Venables leaving to be the head coach at Oklahoma, this unit shouldn't miss a beat under new play-caller Wes Goodwin. While the defense doesn't feature many concerns, the same can't be said on offense. The Tigers have a new play-caller (Brandon Streeter) and uncertainty at nearly every position. Last year, Clemson ranked last in the ACC by averaging 5.1 yards per play and struggled to generate big plays (just eight of 40-plus yards). Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei was inconsistent in his first season as the starter and could be pushed by true freshman Cade Klubnik this fall. Additionally, the offensive line and weapons at receiver have to play a lot better. As those pieces emerge, this unit should be able to lean on its ground game with Will Shipley and Kobe Pace returning. The schedule isn't too daunting, but Clemson has to play at Wake Forest, Florida State and Notre Dame, with NC State and Miami coming to Death Valley. If the offense can show small improvement, a deep and elite defense should be enough to get back to the top of the ACC.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Clemson stubs its toe a little and we are just supposed to ignore the Tigers? Yes, 2020 was very un-Clemsonlike for Dabo Swinney and company, and replacing both coordinators won't be easy. But the players are still there, and so is Swinney, the architect of the program that had owned the ACC for six straight seasons prior. And yet, the Tigers still found a way to win 10 games and field the nation's No. 2-ranked defense (yards per game). Well, that defense should be just as good, if not better, this fall even if Brent Venables is no longer around to call the signals and fire everyone up. There are plenty of questions on the other side of the ball, yet also plenty of talent, and again, an offensively challenged 2021 team still piled up 10 victories. There's also a little extra motivation this year because the championship run is over and plenty of people have loved pointing that out these past several months. Swinney doesn't have to worry about finding any bulletin-board material, and that does not bode well for the rest of the ACC. I'm not saying the Tigers are ready to win another national championship, but I think they'll be back in Charlotte in December.
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
I'm not sure that Clemson gets back to being a College Football Playoff team this year, but I do think the Tigers will win the Atlantic. Their defensive front seven may be the best in the country and the offensive line should be able to open up enough holes for Will Shipley in the running game. Progress has to be made throwing the football, but if DJ Uiagalelei is not up to the task, freshman Cade Klubnik looks like he will be able to step in and perform.
Also, the schedule sets up pretty nicely in terms of winning the division title. The Tigers will host NC State, Louisville, and Miami, and while they do go to Wake Forest, they have not lost to the Demon Deacons since 2008 with only the 2011 game being closer than 14 points. As good as Wake was in 2021, Clemson still beat them by 21 points. So despite some questions that linger - and with new coordinators on both sides of the ball - Clemson will be back atop the Atlantic Division come the end of November.
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