Clemson Tigers taking a few steps back as ACC Football leader:Other teams are starting to emerge as top contenders

Clemson no longer the whole story in the ACC
from Matt Wiesenfeld, with

From 2015 to 2020 the Clemson Tigers won the ACC every year. Amazingly, they beat a different team each time, firmly establishing themselves as the best team in the conference and one of the best programs in America. They won a national championship in two of those seasons, too.

However, last year, the program came “crashing back down to earth” with a 10-3 season. Their defense was among the best in the nation but without solid quarterback play, they struggled to score, opening the door for Wake Forest to steal the Atlantic Division, and get into the ACC Championship Game, where they were beaten by Pitt.

As the 2022 season creeps closer, I wanted to take a look at the contenders in the ACC and try and determine whether another program is once again in a position to prevent Clemson from reclaiming its spot at the top of the ACC (and back in the playoffs)

Last year, both Pitt and Wake would have been considered pretty deep sleepers to win the league. Let’s have a quick look at the top teams and the odds to see if we can find the best value.

ACC Championship Contenders and Odds

Clemson -110
Clemson might have the best defensive line in the nation right now and that could definitely lead to them having one of the best defenses overall too. They gave up just 14ppg last season, which was second in the nation to Georgia, but they did not lose as much talent to the pros. The question for this team is quarterback. DJ Uiagalelei looks the part but the results have not been there. Behind him is freshman Cade Klubnik, so it is still his job to lose. I don’t like the schedule which has their first 2 league games on the road, including Week 1.

Clemson deserves to be the favorite but it is hard to justify the premium. Just take them against the spread in the best spot and you are right there.

Pittsburgh +600
Kenny Pickett was awesome last season, riding his success all the way to being the first QB selected in the NFL Draft. His replacement is USC transfer Kedon Slovis, who is likely just as talented, but has to learn the system and won’t have award-winning WR Jordan Addison to throw to (he should have stayed at USC for that possibility). The reason to like Pitt is their schedule but they do have to travel to Miami to close the year.

It felt like it all came together for Pitt last season and doing so again does not seem likely to a program that does not have the highest talent level. Pass here.

Miami-Florida +600
Other than USC, no team has been as buzzy or busy this offseason. They have brought Mario Cristobal home as head coach and have a lot of positive NIL momentum too that is going to help them compete long-term. QB Tyler Van Dyke is the reason they can compete now though. The Hurricanes visit Clemson and host Pitt the last two weeks of the season. Those games give them a great chance to make up ground late or seal a division win.

This bet was made for prop swap, as it is very likely to go up in value over the course of the season. Miami is my pick to win the Coastal Division and that gives you a chance. There is good value there.

UNC +1000
This is the team that just doesn’t make sense to me on this shortlist (especially at that price). Last year the Tar Heels really disappointed as QB Sam Howell did not take a leap forward the year after all of his skill-position personnel went pro. Now they are looking to replace him, so there is massive uncertainty. The only reason to like the Tar Heels more than either team below is the schedule.

This is an absolute pass. I would not expect the Tar Heels to beat any teams on this list.

NC State +1100
The Wolfpack might have the best QB in the league in emerging Devin Leary. Like Wake Forest below, they have to find a way to beat Clemson, made even tougher by the fact that the game is on the road. In terms of talent in the Atlantic, NC State looks like the second-best team. They might be the most complete though.

Why not make a bet on a breakthrough by NC State this season? Best QB, balanced team, good payoff.

Wake Forest +1500
The Demon Deacons have the challenge of being in the same division as the Tigers, but they get them at home this season. Just as important, this is one of the most experienced teams in the country led by QB Sam Hartman, who has developed into an NFL prospect. You will likely know if your bet is bust by October 1, when Wake Forest visits Florida State after hosting Clemson.

Similar to NC State, there is a lot to like about the Demon Deacons, including that they get Clemson relatively early. They are worth a sprinkle too.