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ACC Preview: Can Dabo Swinney lead Clemson back to the top?

By RJ Young
FOX Sports College Football Writer

For the first time since 2015, we’re starting a university soccer season with out Clemson as the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion. And 2021 was the first season in the previous seven that the ACC hasn’t featured a group in the College Football Playoff or nationwide closing — BCS or CFP.

By that accounting, it was a down 12 months for the ACC. This 12 months, the Tigers are going to be most people’ guess to not simply get the ACC back into the CFP however to win the convention title for the eighth time since 2011. But division rival North Carolina State and convention rival Miami are poised to give the Tigers a run for the title they’ve principally had a stranglehold on in Clemson, South Carolina. 

Clemson’s future amongst high ACC storylines

Can Dabo Swinney overcome his staffing adjustments? That’s one in every of the questions RJ Young addresses in his high ACC storylines.

You can watch the “The No. 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young” on YouTube or subscribe on podcast platforms, together with Apple Podcasts.

Here are the different high storylines we’re watching in the ACC.

How is Dabo Swinney going to reply to change?

No one disputes the dominance Clemson has exhibited since Swinney turned head coach of the Tigers full-time in 2009, and that’s the reason many have picked the Tigers to win the ACC crown this 12 months. It’s additionally why Associated Press ballot voters have seen match to over-rank them at No. 4 — simply behind Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia.

The Tigers completed 10-3 final season with defensive coordinator Brent Venables, line of defense coach Todd Bates and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott on the workers. Two of these males are actually at Oklahoma, and one is at Virginia.

Projecting the Tigers to win the ACC with out these three is a troublesome ask. 

I put Clemson at No. 10 in my FOX Sports preseason rankings behind — amongst others — Utah, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Baylor and Arkansas, which every return final 12 months’s coordinators, head coaches and beginning quarterbacks.

However, as I acknowledged in my high 25, if there’s a head coach not named Nick Saban who can overcome that quantity of turnover, it is Swinney. But he’ll have a to-do listing that goes past overcoming teaching departures.

Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei adopted up a exceptional brief stint in reduction of Trevor Lawrence in 2020 with a nine-TD, 10-INT marketing campaign in 2021, finishing simply 56% of his passes.  

With Frank Ladson transferring to Miami, the finest returning big-play menace is Joe Ngata, who caught simply 23 passes final season.

The Tigers want to discover a bell-cow working back in both Kobe Pace or Will Shipley. Combined, that they had 1,400 speeding yards and 17 TDs final season. 

Defensive linemen Bryan Bresee, Tyler Davis and Myles Murphy, in addition to defensive back Sheridan Jones, are going to have to show they’ll win video games with out James Skalski for the first time in six years. 

To win the ACC, not to mention compete for the nationwide title, the Tigers may have to knock off NC State on Oct. 1, Notre Dame on Nov. 5 and/or Miami on Nov. 19. That will take the type of stifling protection Venables had made a staple at Death Valley, in addition to the growth of an excellent quarterback. 

Why Notre Dame will overachieve, Clemson will underachieve

RJ Young breaks down which ACC groups will exceed their preseason projections, and which groups will fall brief.

I’m betting on Marcus Freeman. Notre Dame is a nationwide title contender.

Freeman is 36 heading into his first full season as head coach at one in every of the most storied packages in historical past. Along with offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, he has 14 starters on final 12 months’s 11-win group returning — plus the addition of former Northwestern All-American security Brandon Joseph

Notre Dame has simply 5 scholarship receivers left on the roster. Only Braden Lenzy and Lorenzo Styles caught greater than 20 passes in 2021.  

Newly named beginning quarterback Tyler Buchner performed in 10 video games final 12 months, threw for 298 yards, three touchdowns and three picks. But the incontrovertible fact that Buchner ran for extra yards (336) than he threw for final 12 months is eye-opening.

Even extra, Buchner averaged 11.8 snaps per recreation in seven of his video games final season.

Buchner, slide, buddy. You cannot play quarterback in case you’re laid out chilly. 

Take it from me, a person who prayed aloud each time Kyler Murray took off like a rogue race automotive by means of the center of grown males chasing him.

Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and Buchner are going to want to make use of the final 12 months of Michael Mayer, who caught 71 passes for 840 yards in 2021. 

Why Marcus Freeman may have an important first season

RJ Young tasks the upcoming seasons for brand spanking new Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Marcus Freeman and new LSU Tigers head coach Brian Kelly.

I count on Chris Tyree to succeed Kyren Williams as the RB1 as a junior. Offensive linemen Blake Fisher and Joe Alt ought to make that simpler, although the offensive line gave up 35 sacks and 82 tackles for loss in 2021 — yikes. 

Brandon Joseph is greater than able to filling the void left by star security Kyle Hamilton. Like Hamilton, Joseph was an All-American — at Northwestern. Cam Hart and Clarence Lewis are simply nearly as good.

All I’m asking is for defensive coordinator Al Golden not to mess up a great factor in the secondary and let JD Bertrand and Jack Kiser go search and destroy at linebacker. 

Make gentle work of Clemson on Nov. 5 and are available appropriate. 

In Week 1, we’ll get to see simply what the Fighting Irish are manufactured from after they tackle Freeman’s alma mater, the — trademarked, don’tcha know — Ohio State Buckeyes

Is every part that glitters gold, ND? 

What Pittsburgh was in 2021, NC State will be in 2022.

The Wolfpack gained eight of their final 10 and return 16 starters from final 12 months’s group. 

If quarterback Devin Leary returns in full type — 35 touchdowns to 5 interceptions in 2021 — we could be speaking about NC State as a playoff contender in November. Time to get on his Bruce Leroy. 

NC State was 4-8 in 2019, 8-4 in 2020 and 9-3 in 2021. A banner season awaits in 2022. 

The Wolfpack have been 14th in the nation in scoring protection and may very well be a top-10 scoring protection this season. But they’re going to have to do a greater job in the turnover recreation — final season, NC State compelled 11 fumbles and did not get well a single one.

Tanner Ingle leads that protection as an All-ACC First Teamer with 82 tackles at security. Beat Clemson on Oct. 1 and other people will start to discover what I’ve. 

Why Miami and NC State can win the ACC

RJ Young shares which ACC gamers he believes may have a breakout season and explains why he thinks there are 4 groups in the ACC who can realistically compete for the championship title.

Will Virginia contend in Tony Elliott’s Year 1? 

Elliott’s work at Clemson as an offensive coordinator since 2015 speaks for itself. He first made waves at the college as a working backs coach, and he is aware of what a great offensive line is meant to appear to be. 

His 2022 offensive line at UVA goes to be his hardest impediment. The Cavaliers misplaced 4 starters from the place to the switch portal, and two of their subsequent finest graduated. That’s six seasoned, skilled and proficient males leaving their trenches.

If you are a Virginia fan, you are going to have to hope Elliott picks proper up the place Bronco Mendenhall left off, or kiss one other 4,500-passing-yard, 30-touchdown season goodbye. But if the Cavs can defend, they have threats: Keytaon Thompson and Dontayvion Wicks

Defensively, the Cavs gave up extra booty than an 18th-century British warship — 466 yards and 32 factors per recreation for the nation’s 121st-ranked protection. 

If the Cavs can determine their offensive line, hold a lid on the protection and defend Brennan Armstrong, there is no cause to imagine that they can not compete for the ACC crown.

Is Mario Cristobal the man to carry back The U? 

There is quite a bit using on Mario Cristobal having tapped the proper man, reigning Broyles Award winner Josh Gattis, to get the finest out of QB Tyler Van Dyke in 2022. 

If Van Dyke can create chemistry with Clemson switch Frank Ladson, the offense may very well be cooking with grease.

And Kevin Steele can hold a lid on the protection, the Hurricanes may effectively change into The U as soon as once more. 

He’s going to want defensive sort out Leonard Taylor to be much more disruptive than his 9.5 tackles for loss final season, and if he can develop 6-foot-5 security James Williams into the pterodactyl his expertise underscores, then the Hurricanes could be working up and down the coast wrecking their competitors. 

Cristobal may have the offensive line buzzing. Running backs Jaylan Knighton and Ole Miss switch Henry Parrish can reap the benefits of that. 

Miami hasn’t resembled The U for 20 years. In truth, it feels, at instances, like the Hurricanes have forgotten that legacy. This is why Cristobal is essential. 

He lived by means of it, performed by means of it and understands how far-off the program is from its heyday. 

The Hurricanes have away video games at Texas A&M and Clemson. Get by means of these with Ws, and we’ll begin speaking about the return of The U. 

RJ Young is a nationwide school soccer author and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The No. 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young, and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube. He isn’t on a StepMill.

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