2022 saw Clemson bounce back and win the ACC once again even if they did not look dominant for the majority of the season. NC State and Miami were let downs after entering the season with plenty of hype. Syracuse and Florida State surprised many by their success. The ACC in 2023 has plenty of questions heading into the offseason and we likely will not have any answers until the season begins. It is never too early to hypothesize and predict the future even if we are going to be completely wrong.
Can Clemson return to the College Football Playoffs? – Clemson had a bounce back season winning the ACC after may believed the Tigers were trending down. Dabo Swinney also made a surprising move by replacing his offensive coordinator with Broyles Award winner, Garrett Riley. Cade Klubnik enters 2023 as the unquestioned starter at quarterback after DJ Uiagalelei transferred to Oregon State. Klubnik played well in the ACC championship but struggled against Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. The defense will return a strong veteran presence with Xavier Thomas and Tyler Davis both returning on the defensive line. Clemson’s biggest challengers next year will be Notre Dame and Florida State as both will be vying for a spot in the College Football Playoffs. Clemson could possibly make the the playoffs with one loss but the ACC’s reputation is down so going undefeated is the only surefire way to make an appearance.
Will Florida State return to an elite level? – Florida State made a quiet resurgence in the ACC last year under Mike Norvell. The Seminoles finished the season 10-3 with the losses coming to Wake Forest, NC State and Florida State. The ACC has lacked a second dominant team with the conference consistently rotating the second best team. Jordan Travis returns as the starting quarterback for Florida State after having his best year throwing for 3,214 yards and 24 touchdowns. The best news for Florida State is the return of Jared Verse. Verse was one of the best defensive linemen in the country registering 17.0 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks last year. He was projected to be a first round pick but instead will anchor the Florida State defensive line. The Seminoles return plenty of talent plus obtained numerous impact transfers such as Fentrell Cyress (defensive back, Virginia) and Jahiem Bell (tight end, South Carolina). Florida State has a difficult schedule with trips to Florida and Clemson plus a neutral site match with LSU.
What does Mario Cristobal need to do in order to make Miami competitive? – Miami was a complete disaster in 2022 after firing Manny Diaz to hire Mario Cristobal. Tyler Van Dyke was injured but he was ineffective when he played. The offense struggled to find an identity and could not run the ball consistently. The Hurricanes lost their final four games to Duke, Florida State, Pitt and Clemson by a combined 122 points. The defense allowed at least 40 points on five different occasions including a loss to Middle Tennessee State. Cristobal did make moves in order to address some of the concerns. He signed two five star offensive tackles plus received a commitment from Jovien Cohen, a former Alabama offensive guard, which will help raise the talent level of the offensive line. Matt Lee is another offensive tackle transferring from UCF. Miami also took in four other defensive transfers at various positions to help address needs. Cristobal is a good coach but Miami has been consistently down for the last two decades with a few exceptions. He needs to change the culture from the ground up and it starts with bringing in new blood. The Hurricanes will not compete for the ACC championship this year but a floor of eight wins should be expected.
Can Drake Maye take North Carolina to a new level? – Some people considered Drake Maye the Heisman favorite at one point in November. The redshirt freshman was an instant success as soon as he stepped on the field this past season. Maye finished 10th in the Heisman voting after throwing for 4,321 yards and 38 touchdowns and rushing for 698 yards and seven touchdowns. Rumors began to swirl where Maye was going to explore the transfer portal but ultimately he decided to stick with North Carolina. He is going to enter the 2023 season with significantly more hype than he did in 2022. Maye is now a known commodity and will not surprise teams when he begins to sling the football across the field. The ACC has numerous talented quarterbacks but Maye has a chance to be the best of the bunch and be a first round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. North Carolina needs to improve defensively if they are going to put up a fight in the ACC. Maye will keep North Carolina in almost every game but unfortunately he does not play cornerback or linebacker.
Who is the sleeper team this fall? – Florida State, Wake Forest, Pitt and Virginia have all been the ACC’s surprise team at one point over the past few seasons. The conference tends to have one team who has an unexpected good season and wins a few games they typically would lose. 2023 will likely have a sleeper team step and finish in the upper half of the conference. NC State is a candidate even after Devin Leary departed for Kentucky. The Wolfpack brought in Brennan Armstong from Virginia where he will have a bounce back opportunity. Mike Elko surprised everyone helping Duke finish with nine wins in his first season. Duke tends to be an afterthought in football so finishing with 10 wins would surprise most fans. Georgia Tech could be the ultimate sleeper. Brent Key helped the Yellow Jackets finish 4-4 in their final eight games after starting 1-3. Key is now the permanent head coach but a difficult schedule awaits him. Georgia Tech will face Georgia, Ole Miss, Clemson and North Carolina next year. All of the remaining games on the schedule should give them a chance at victory.