1 – Clemson Rebound?
Clemson faced uncharacteristic issues at the quarterback position in 2021, leading to a down season for the Tigers at 10-3 and without a birth in the ACC Championship game. On top of that, longtime defensive coordinator Brent Venables left the program to take over at Oklahoma and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott left to head the Virginia job. As usual, Dabo Swinney opted to promote within to replace his long time assistants which should lead to some continuity heading into 2022.
The biggest question mark will be at quarterback, where incumbent D.J. Uiagalelei under performed and will be chased by five-star recruit Cade Klubnik early and often, similar to the Kelly Bryant-Trevor Lawrence season. Will Shipley took off last season, and will be mentioned in Heisman conversations should he continue his strong play down the stretch. One big question offensively is whether anyone in the wide receiver room will truly break out and become a star like Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins a few years back.
On the defensive side of the ball, there will be natural questions about the loss of Brent Venables, and I do think it plays a factor, however the returns of a dominate front four of Xavier Thomas, Bryan Bresee, Tyler Davis, and Myles Murphy along with Trenton Simpson in the linebacker room should provide yet another top end defense.
Schedule wise, the Tigers have a pretty relaxed schedule for the most part. A road trip to South Bend to face Notre Dame will provide the toughest test, and matchups against N.C. State and Miami will both take place at home. If the Tigers quarterback play gets straightened out, I would expect Clemson to make another Playoff run in 2022.
2 – Can Mario bring life back to Miami?
One of the biggest stories of the offseason in the ACC was what the hell was happening at Miami. They kept Manny Diaz on as head coach while very obviously making moves towards alum Mario Cristobal. Lo and behold, Cristobal was hired, Diaz was fired, and the administration at The U signaled that they were willing to start pumping money into the program (for those unaware of Miami athletics, they’ve long run on a “eat what you kill” mentality and underspent compared to similar brands).
So where does Miami go from here? Cristobal inherits one of the top quarterbacks in the country in Tyler Van Dyke and a fairly young and talented roster that needs to be properly trained on techniques. Cristobal also brought in one of the most accomplished coaching staffs to back him up, from Josh Gattis and Kevin Steele in the coordinator roles, to names like Charlie Strong and right hand man Alex Mirabel as position coaches. This time, it honestly feels like Miami can be back to being a consistent top 10, top 15 program year in and year out.
So what are the realistic expectations for Miami in year one under Mario? 9 regular season wins feels like a must, with 10-2 being my personal projection. They’ll make three very tough road trips throughout the course of the season, visiting Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, and Clemson, though luckily for the Canes all three are spread out. My prediction is that Miami wins one of those three (likely VT), falls to the other two, and probably stumbles in an unexpected loss somewhere down the line because college football *shrug*
Mario is a proven college football head coach with ties to the school and area, is a high energy recruiter (proven quickly by raising Miami sum 20+ spots in the 247 rankings only a few weeks into the job this offseason), and with money behind him and the program? Vibes are at all time highs.
3 – New Era of the Irish
There was plenty of shocking movement among the college football coaching ranks, and maybe none that were bigger than Brian Kelly leaving the Notre Dame program after 12 season to head to LSU. Tapped to take his place was rising star and Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. The Freeman era didn’t kick off to quite the start Irish fans might have wanted after blowing a pretty big lead in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State, but nonetheless I think the Irish will be in good hands moving forward.
For one, I think Freeman will bring more energy when it comes to recruiting. Notre Dame has never had much of an issue when it comes to finding elite talent amongst the trenches, or at tight end, or even finding various random defensive stars on the back end. The big issue for the Irish has been finding stud quarterbacks and skill position players, which often plays a big role in why Notre Dame is unable to climb that final step to being a true national championship contender every year. Freeman has already proven to be an ace recruiter in his short time at the highest level of the sport, and his youth and experience in the game of college football is something that makes him loved by his players and will play really well on the recruiting trail.
So, what does year one look like for Notre Dame under Freeman?
They’ll need to quickly find a successor at the quarterback position. Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne both played limited time in 2021 and one will ultimately take the starting role when the Irish open up the year in *gulp* Buckeye Stadium. Standout tight end Michael Mayer and a returning offensive line led by center Jarrett Patterson will provide some key leadership early, and former five-star recruit Chris Tyree will take the lion share of the rushing attempts after Kyren Williams departed for the NFL. Defensively, the Irish lose versatile safety Kyle Hamilton but brought in standout Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph to take over in the backend, and lengthy pass rusher Isaiah Foskey opted to return for 2022 to provide a great pass rushing talent.
The schedule isn’t particularly easy, and Freeman should ultimately be given a year zero in 2022, though that doesn’t mean Notre Dame shouldn’t win, say, nine games. Road trips to Ohio State and a reenergized USC to open and close the season, as well as a road trip to Las Vegas to play BYU, and a home game against Clemson will all prove to be tough tests. They’ll also make a trip to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina and play a home game against former quarterback Phil Jurkovec and Boston College that could play spoiler on the Irish season.
Notre Dame should feel good. Brian Kelly was a great coach for the program, but if Marcus Freeman can provide results on the field, there is a real chance the Irish can take that next step that fans want to see, and honestly, Marcus Freeman makes the Notre Dame Fighting Irish…likable. Ew.
4 – Predictions & Notes
5 Biggest Games
West Virginia at Pittsburgh (Sept 1) – One of the most entertaining rivalries in college football, The Backyard Brawl, finally returns to help kick-off week one of the season.
Florida State vs. LSU *in New Orleans* (Sept 4) – A huge test for Mike Norvell and the Seminoles as they look to take a step back up the college football ranks against Brian Kelly and the Tigers in New Orleans.
Miami at Texas A&M (Sept 17) – Miami travels to one of the hardest stadiums to play in, Kyle Field, in a game that should provide a measuring stick for where the Miami football team is amongst the powers of college football.
Clemson at Notre Dame (Nov 5) – A huge non-conference battle that should provide a huge playoff résumé booster for the winner.
Miami at Clemson (Nov 19) – Happy birthday to me, the Hurricanes get to go play in Death Valley. A possible preview of the final Atlantic/Coastal ACC Championship.
- Clemson defeats Miami
Predicted Final Standings
- Wake Forest
- NC State
- Boston College
- Florida State
- North Carolina
- Virginia Tech
- Georgia Tech