RICHMOND, Va. — Pittsburgh defeated Wake Forest in last year’s ACC football championship game. Months earlier, voting in the conference’s preseason poll, clairvoyant media picked the Panthers and Deacons fourth and fifth, respectively, in their divisions.
Pitt’s Jordan Addison, last year’s Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s top receiver, was not projected to make All-ACC, while North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell, who had been predicted to be the player of the year, was relegated to honorable mention come December.
The moral of the story: If you value financial security, do not, under any circumstances, use what follows to inform any, uh, speculative investments.
But with the ACC’s annual media days set for Wednesday and Thursday in Charlotte, N.C., it’s time to predict an all-conference team and forecast the order of finish in the Atlantic and Coastal divisions.
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The most-debated position on the preseason squad will be quarterback, with good reason.
Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong, Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman, Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke, N.C. State’s Devin Leary and Virginia Tech’s Grant Wells, a Marshall transfer, give the ACC five of the 13 returning Bowl Subdivision players who averaged at least 270 passing yards last season.
And let’s not dismiss Louisville’s Malik Cunningham and Boston College’s Phil Jurkovec. Cunningham accounted for 39 touchdowns (19 passing and 20 rushing) last year, and Jurkovec averaged 255.8 passing yards in 2020 before missing much of last season with a hand/wrist injury.
So here’s my ballot:
OFFENSEQUARTERBACK: Hartman (his team defeated Armstrong’s, Leary’s, Cunningham’s and Jurkovec’s in 2021).
RUNNING BACK: Syracuse’s Sean Tucker and Boston College’s Pat Garwo.
RECEIVER: Virginia’s Dontayvion Wicks, Wake Forest’s A.T. Perry and North Carolina’s Josh Downs.
TIGHT END: Louisville’s Marshon Ford.
TACKLE: Clemson’s Jordan McFadden and Pitt’s Carter Warren.
GUARD: Louisville’s Caleb Chandler and Miami’s DJ Scaife.
CENTER: N.C. State’s Grant Gibson.
ALL-PURPOSE: Virginia’s Keytaon Thompson.
END: Clemson’s Myles Murphy and Pitt’s Habakkuk Baldonado.
TACKLE: Clemson’s Tyler Davis and Pitt’s Calijah Kancey.
LINEBACKER: N.C. State’s Drake Thomas, Syracuse’s Mikel Jones and Louisville’s Yasir Abdullah.
CORNERBACK: Louisville’s Kei’Trel Clark and Boston College’s Josh DeBerry.
SAFETY: N.C. State’s Tanner Ingle and Florida State’s Jammie Robinson.
RETURNER: Duke’s Jaylen Stinson.
PLACEKICKER: Clemson’s B.T. Potter.
PUNTER: Miami’s Lou Hedley.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Hartman.
Now for the predicted order of finish.
Given their respective starting quarterbacks and complementary personnel, N.C. State and Miami may, indeed, be the consensus choices to clash in the ACC championship game.
But I’m picking Clemson and Pitt.
The Tigers fielded their worst offense in 11 years last season and still only lost two conference games: 27-21 in double overtime at N.C. State and 27-17 at eventual league champ Pitt.
The hunch here is that either incumbent DJ Uiagalelei or freshman Cade Klubnik will elevate the team’s quarterback play and that the defense, even with veteran coordinator Brent Venables’ departure to become Oklahoma’s head coach, will dominate.
No program has finished atop the Coastal Division in consecutive seasons since Virginia Tech in 2010 and ’11, but even with Addison’s abrupt transfer to Southern California, the Panthers return eight players who made first-, second or third-team all-conference last season, plus five who made honorable mention.
ATLANTIC: Clemson, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Florida State, Louisville, Boston College, Syracuse.
COASTAL: Pitt, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Duke.
ACC CHAMPION: Clemson.
No matter its champ, the underfunded ACC can ill-afford to miss the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive season.