ACC football scenarios: realignment questions, QB debate, hot seat and favorites

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Just one day had passed since Commissioner Jim Phillips gave his first speech at the ACC kickoff last July, in which he highlighted the league’s commitment to football, when he had been reminded of the importance of other conferences.

News that the SEC was to add Oklahoma and Texas to its already impressive football roster broke when Phillips held breakout interview sessions, abruptly ending any kind of honeymoon period that the new commish was planning to take advantage.

Realignment is no less of an issue this round, with the announced move of USC and UCLA to the foundations of Big Ten college football a few weeks ago and putting the future of the ACC squarely in the crosshairs.

It is in this context that the ACC media days begin Wednesday in Charlotte. Here are some scenarios to watch:

Realignment Response

Last year, Phillips’ State of the ACC address focused on vaccination policies, the Comcast TV deal, the growing NIL market, NCAA governance and, as that annual rite, the status of one foot in it, one foot of Notre Dame in football. Not once in the nearly 6,500 words Phillips addressed to the assembled ACC media was “realignment” mentioned.

Safe to say that won’t be the case this year.

League members and fans will have a great interest in hearing the commissioner’s thoughts on all the recent emotional plays in college football and how the conference plans to try to keep up with what is becoming a Big Ten-centric universe. and SEC in media rights that threatens to leave the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 in the dust.


Jim Phillips is entering his second year as ACC Commissioner. (Matt Cashore / USA Today)

The granting of ACC rights, which extends to 2036 and seems like an incredible hurdle for any school considering leaving for greener pastures, will surely be mentioned, and I suspect Phillips and others ACC leaders present a united front on the future of the conference. Unity is usually a theme at these pre-season meetings.

But what plans will Phillips have regarding the composition of the conference in the future? Are partnerships with other conferences underway? How does he plan to close an income gap that will widen over the next decade if nothing is done?

Phillips wasn’t necessarily in a great position when he took over, struggling with what looks like an under-market TV deal for a long time, but the ACC’s long-term survival hangs in the balance with what Phillips and other power brokers were at the conference. do next. It will be interesting to hear what part of that plan – if any – he releases publicly this week.

The Quarterback Riddle

If you thought it was hard to narrow things down to three quarterbacks for All-ACC teams last fall, try picking just one from a deep, talented pool for the preseason squad that the league has. will be in place this summer.

Pitt’s Kenny Pickett left after a dream season made him a Heisman finalist and NFL first-round pick, but last year’s second- and third-team picks return, with Sam Hartman of Wake Forest (302 yards per game, 39 touchdowns) and Virginia. Brennan Armstrong (second nationally in total offense at 427.3 yards per game) is back for another year.

It’s not just these two, however. NC State’s Devin Leary (35 TDs, five INTs) was on the outside last year despite monster numbers, as was Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke (26 TDs, five INTs), who thrived once he got the starting job and ranks first among returning quarterbacks with a passing efficiency rating of 160.1.

Louisville’s Malik Cunningham is often overlooked because his passing stats aren’t like other QBs, but he had 39 touchdowns last fall, finishing fifth in the league and first among quarterbacks with 1,034 rushing yards. And Boston College’s Phil Jurkovec, who missed much of last year with a hand injury, has all the tools of a marquee passer.

And not too long ago, Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei was Death Valley’s five-star heir and Pitt’s Kedon Slovis was a freshman at USC who threw for 30 touchdowns. Could they return to their old form?

Good luck to voters sorting this field.

Will Clemson bounce back in the Atlantic?

Wake Forest broke Clemson’s winning streak in the Atlantic Division, which dates back to 2015, going 7-1 last year, despite that lone loss at the hands of the Tigers. Was it a blip or the start of a trend?

Clemson has a lot to do, finally losing its two longtime coordinators to head coaching jobs (Tony Elliott in Virginia and Brent Venables in Oklahoma) and still has to sort out its quarterback situation (Uiagalelei is fixable after a forgettable 2021 season or will the Tigers bring in five-star rookie Cade Klubnik?). But running back Will Shipley is one hell of an offensive piece, and the defense, with a world line led by Bryan Bresee, Myles Murphy and Tyler Davis, should be among the best in the country.

Wake Forest, not getting the respect it deserves, fires nine starters on an offense that has averaged 41 points per game, including Hartman at quarterback. The question is whether deacons can play any defense.

And don’t forget NC State, which won nine games a year ago, gets Leary back at quarterback and has nearly all of the defense coming back from a top-20 group. The only downside might be that expectations are rarely the Wolfpack’s friend.

Vegas likes Clemson’s chances. BetMGM has the Tigers at -140 to win the ACC this year, the best odds on the board. NC State is +700 and Wake Forest +1800 on the Atlantic side.


Tyler Van Dyke tries to lead Miami to its first ACC title. (Jasen Vinlove / USA Today)

One more chance at Coastal Chaos?

We’re saying goodbye to the splits after one last season, but wouldn’t it be fitting that the Coastal Division – the roulette wheel that’s paid off for everyone a bit over the years – is finally reaching its ideal state with each team going 4-4 play in league?

It’s probably dreaming. Virginia, Virginia Tech and Duke are all facing questions with new coaches and Georgia Tech’s Geoff Collins is playing a schedule that looks like it was designed to get him fired. But we can dream, can’t we?

The race probably comes down to a few teams. Defending champion Pitt has lost a lot, with Pickett turning pro, Biletnikoff-winning receiver Jordan Addison moving to USC and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple leaving for Nebraska, but the Panthers have eight returning players who made headlines. of the three All-ACC teams in the playoffs last year, so the closet isn’t empty.

Miami will be a hip choice (isn’t it always?), with Van Dyke at the helm and Mario Cristobal bringing “The U” to life. North Carolina lost a lot of last year’s offense, including quarterback Sam Howell, but don’t all those four- and five-star players the Tar Heels recruited under Mack Brown have to show up ultimately?

Bettors love Miami right now (+600 to win the league) and here’s guessing the ACC media, never a group that was shy to fall in love with the talent of the Hurricanes, is following suit. Pitt (+1200) and UNC (+2000) are the only coastal teams with odds of +2000 or better.

Who is on the hot seat?

We mentioned Collins, who has won just nine games in three years since embarking on a tough rebuild from Georgia Tech’s option days. The Yellow Jackets’ best player (RB Jahmyr Gibbs) has moved to Alabama and they have a schedule that includes Ole Miss, UCF and Georgia, as well as the annual ACC Clemson crossover. It’s hard to see things changing in Atlanta.

Dino Babers has won more than five games only once in six years at Syracuse, struggling in a 5-7 season last year but still finishing sixth in the Atlantic. Can he ride running back Sean Tucker and a better defense than you think for an eighth year?

Florida State’s Mike Norvell has significantly cooled his seat after a terrible start to 2021 by winning five of seven games midway through the season. With quarterback Jordan Travis in place and a few decent recruiting classes under his belt (flush with transfers), Norvell could be trending up. But the people of Tallahassee don’t appreciate missing bowls, and Norvell 0-for-2 on that front. It’s hard to imagine a third straight season without a bowl going well.

And finally, Louisville’s Scott Satterfield is in winning mode now after going 18-19 in his first three years. Once promising at Appalachian State, Satterfield hasn’t been able to ride out the hump with the Cardinals since an impressive 8-5 first season, and he hasn’t helped himself with his wandering eyes on the coaching carousel. Cunningham gives this team a high ceiling if they could figure things out on a defense that ranked 88th in yards per play last year.

New faces on stage

Four new coaches will debut at the ACC Kickoff this week: Cristobal for Miami, Brent Pry for Virginia Tech, Elliott for UVa and Mike Elko for Duke. Who has the best path to success in 2022 and who has work to do?

Cristobal inherits the better situation, thanks in large part to Van Dyke, but also with a roster that’s usually packed with top-notch talent. The Hurricanes lost conference games to Virginia, North Carolina and Florida State by a combined eight points last year, a thin line that was the difference between 10 wins and the coach’s dismissal.

The other three coaches have their work cut out for them. Pry inherits a depleted roster with few high-end talent and little depth. Elliott has Armstrong and a fabulous receiving corps, although it’s a total overhaul of the offensive line and the defense couldn’t stop anyone last year.

Elko is a defensive specialist, which is a good thing for a Duke team that was last in FBS last season, giving up 517.9 yards per game.

(Top photo by Sam Hartman: Bob Donnan/USA Today)

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