From a conference realignment standpoint, it’s nearly impossible to consider the ACC a winner. With the Big Ten and SEC growing larger — and more valuable — the ACC seems less enticing for Notre Dame, and schools like Florida State, Miami, Clemson, North Carolina, and Virginia could have their sights on eventually switching leagues if the ACC continues to fall behind financially.
On the field, however, the ACC’s football product should be respectable in 2022, perhaps leading to improved national perception. Clemson returning to form after a down season would help the league’s national title chances, and N.C. State looks the part of a top-15 team. Miami and Florida State might just be on their way back to national relevance, too, which would help the ACC’s standing.
ACC teams ranked in the top 25 of the College Football 2022 Preseason Coaches Poll
13. NC State
19. Wake Forest
— Raleighwood Scott (@ScottNCSU) August 8, 2022
“Florida State’s gotta be better, Virginia Tech’s gotta be better, Miami’s gotta be better,” ESPN college sports analyst Kelly Gramlich told US Bets. “I think those are the three, and then I think Pitt is trying to establish itself as a brand because Pitt does have a great history, but that needs to happen, and it needs to happen this year.”
Adding to the intrigue of the league’s immediate future is the final season of ACC divisional alignments. Starting with the 2023 season, the league will pin its two best teams against each other in future conference title games.
“I do think we’re going to be in for a very entertaining year of football in the ACC,” David Cunningham, managing editor of Tech Sideline, told US Bets. “As a whole, it’s … a lot of young talent and a lot of really good quarterbacks.”
Cunningham accurately points out the league’s depth at quarterback, as five quarterbacks have Heisman odds of +6000 or shorter on DraftKings.
From a sports betting view, the Atlantic Division is Clemson’s to lose. The Tigers are +800 on FanDuel to win the national championship, making them the only ACC team with odds shorter than +15000 (where N.C. State sits) to win the national title. If Clemson’s offense performs respectably, it’s hard to see a scenario where the Tigers don’t contend for the ACC title (they’re -120 to win the ACC on DraftKings), given the team’s defensive talent.
Gramlich, a co-host of the Gramlich and Mac Lain podcast, sees the Atlantic Division being competitive even if oddsmakers don’t completely agree. She likes North Carolina State’s roster, and Wake Forest is coming off an 11-win campaign.
“I think this division is much more wide open than it has been in the past couple of years,” Gramlich said. “There’s no doubt about it. With N.C. State and Wake Forest in there, you’ve got three teams who can truly win it.”
On DraftKings, Clemson is -240 to win the Atlantic, N.C. State is +500, and Wake Forest is +950. Louisville has longer odds of +1600, while Florida State is +1800 and Boston College is +2200. Bringing up the rear is Syracuse at +10000.
When it comes to the Wolfpack, Gramlich likes quarterback Devin Leary. The signal caller has 51 career touchdown passes compared to just 12 interceptions, and he enters the season as ACC Preseason Player of the Year. Leary is +5000 to win the Heisman Trophy on DraftKings.
“He’s kind of your perfect college quarterback in a lot of respects,” Gramlich said. “He’s been there forever. He’s been in that system forever. He doesn’t make mistakes. He threw five picks last year, which is just incredible. He is not going to lose a game for his team.”
Dark-horse Heisman candidate in 2022?
Mine is NC State QB Devin Leary.
Leary finished last year with 3,433 yards, 35 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 65.7% completion percentage.
Now it’s your turn ⬇️
— Bryce Koon (@bryce_koon) June 15, 2022
While Clemson and N.C. State will enter this year as the division’s best, Gramlich says she could see all seven Atlantic teams making a bowl game this year. Louisville is led by a dynamic quarterback in Malik Cunningham (+5000 to win the Heisman on Barstool Sportsbook), while Florida State is taking strides forward and Boston College looks steady under head coach Jeff Hafley. Syracuse has had just one winning season — a 10-win year — in six seasons under head coach Dino Babers, but running back Sean Tucker is one of the best players in college football.
“In some ways, the ACC has been kept afloat by Clemson, but I think Clemson taking a little bit of a step back — as long as other teams step forward — could make this league even more interesting,” Gramlich said.
The Coastal Division is up for grabs entering the season, although Miami (+150 on DraftKings) is the betting favorite with Pitt (+260) close behind. Pitt won the ACC last season, and despite quarterback Kenny Pickett entering the NFL and star wide receiver Jordan Addison transferring to USC, Cunningham likes the Panthers’ chances of winning the Coastal again.
“Pitt, outside of Jordan Addison, outside of Kenny Pickett, returns most of its starters,” Cunningham said.
Gramlich also expects a strong year from the Panthers, citing Pitt’s front seven as a reason the Panthers could earn the division title. Cunningham believes Pitt might have the most complete team in the Coastal, and USC transfer quarterback Kedon Slovis could smoothly take over for Pickett. Pitt is +800 to win the ACC Championship on DraftKings.
Miami will lean on quarterback Tyler Van Dyke (+4000 to win the Heisman at several sportsbooks, including bet365), who starred for the Hurricanes at the end of last season. Miami’s roster is talented, and coach Mario Cristobal is a proven winner with two double-digit win seasons as Oregon’s head coach.
The University Miami gave head football coach Mario Cristobal a 10-year, $80 million deal.
In his first week on the job, UM sold 2,000 new season tickets, per @MiamiHerald.
In his first three weeks, UM athletics received $1M in donations and merch sales were up 20% over 2021. pic.twitter.com/a0xmbKSA0B
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) August 5, 2022
Outside of Pitt and Miami, North Carolina (+400 on DraftKings), Virginia (+700), and Virginia Tech (+1000) are somewhat realistic contenders with longer odds to win the division. Georgia Tech (+3500) and Duke (+20000) figure to scuffle at the bottom of the division, and a bet on them is a longshot play.
For UNC, the goal is turning talent into results. Despite successful recruiting efforts and elite athletes, coach Mack Brown hasn’t won more than six games in either of the last two seasons.
Virginia’s offense appears loaded with Heisman dark-horse candidate Brennan Armstrong (+5000 on Barstool Sportsbook) at quarterback and wide receivers Dontayvion Wicks, Keytaon Thompson, Billy Kemp IV, and Lavel Davis Jr. returning. Defensively, however, the Cavaliers were abysmal a season ago. New defensive coordinator John Rudzinksi takes over after four years in the same role at Air Force, and he has his work cut out for him.
“Brennan Armstrong can put up all the points he wants, but if the UVA defense can’t stop anyone, it doesn’t really matter,” Cunningham said.
As for the Hokies, who Cunningham covers daily, there’s talent there. Pry seems like a better fit for the program’s culture than previous coach Justin Fuente, but that doesn’t mean Virginia Tech will be good in his first season.
“Virginia Tech’s starting 22 is actually pretty good,” Cunningham said. “Tech’s 22 could compete with most guys in the ACC. … The problem is the depth, and Tech lacks depth all over the field.”
When it comes to picking a Coastal champion, there are legitimate questions facing every team. Could an unexpected team emerge from the pack to win the division? Certainly, as that happens seemingly every season. Projecting which team will make a run is a challenge, and if the ACC Coastal’s wacky history is any indication, it could be worth looking past the preseason favorite.
Photo: Ken Ruinard/USA TODAY