- ACC reporter.
- Joined ESPN.com in 2010.
- Graduate of the University of Florida.
- ACC reporter.
- Joined ESPN in 2012.
- Graduate of the University of Delaware.
With spring football wrapped up and the start of another season just four months away, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned and what we still need to learn for each ACC team. Has Clemson figured out its quarterback issues? Is Mario Cristobal ready to make an instant impact? And what will Pitt do if Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison moves on? Let’s break it all down.
What we learned this spring: There’s no immediate cure to Clemson’s QB woes. If fans were hoping highly touted freshman Cade Klubnik would offer a genuine alternative to much-maligned D.J. Uiagalelei, there was little evidence of a real competition this spring. Indeed, Uiagalelei drew a fair amount of praise from coaches after he arrived with a slimmed-down physique and a renewed focus on football. Meanwhile, Klubnik endured his share of freshman mistakes. That much might’ve been expected, but after Clemson saw early signs that Deshaun Watson or Trevor Lawrence would ultimately unseat a veteran ahead of them on the depth chart during their first spring practices, there’s a lot more gray area with Klubnik and plenty of questions remaining about Uiagalelei.
What we need to learn by Week 1: Pretty much everything about the offense. Following a season defined by offensive injuries and ineptitude, spring ball at Clemson was largely marked by … offensive injuries and ineptitude. There was progress in a few areas, and new offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter and passing game coordinator Kyle Richardson talked at length about a trimmed-down playbook aimed at letting playmakers make plays. Thing is, there weren’t many playmakers on the field during spring ball. From Beaux Collins to Will Shipley to Kobe Pace and Will Taylor, there just weren’t many options for the QBs to use. And while Dabo Swinney says he’s in the market for a transfer on the O-line, the existing group remains a work in progress. In other words, the only offensive certainty after spring is that there’s still not much that’s certain.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
What we learned this spring: There’s room for optimism on defense. It’s hard to take too much away from the spring game, but the Demon Deacons’ D did look far better under new coordinator Brad Lambert. Of course, there wasn’t much tackling involved, and Wake’s offensive starters played limited snaps. Still, Lambert’s installation seemed to move forward nicely, and while big questions remain — particularly at linebacker — there are pieces in place to make the case that Wake’s defense won’t be the massive liability it was in 2021. If the trend line continues pointing up, it’s a unit that could look vastly better by Week 1.
What we need to learn by Week 1: Who is carrying the rock? A year ago, it was Kenneth Walker III who transferred out, and while he became a star at Michigan State, the Deacons didn’t miss a beat with a three-headed monster at tailback. This year, Christian Beal-Smith — who led the team with 604 yards rushing in 2021 — hit the portal. Wake still has solid options in Justice Ellison and Christian Turner, but Dave Clawson has prioritized depth at the position, hoping to keep any one back from getting too much wear and tear. Perhaps more noteworthy, when Beal-Smith was on the field last year, Wake averaged a yard per play more than it did with either of the other two backs on the field.
What we learned this spring: The offense might look a bit more like Dino Babers’ offenses have usually looked. Credit new offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who worked magic with Virginia’s offense a year ago, with an up-tempo passing attack that should dovetail nicely with Babers’ history of fast-paced play. Syracuse relied heavily on its ground game last year behind All-ACC back Sean Tucker and the wheels of QB Garrett Shrader, but the Orange showed off some options in the passing game this spring, with Justin Lamson making his pitch for the starting QB job with a huge spring game, and a few young receivers such as Damien Alford and Donovan Brown flashing real potential.
What we need to learn by Week 1: Can Babers land some defensive line help via the transfer portal? The Orange saw all three starters from last year’s group depart, and the players that are left are both limited in experience and incredibly undersized. Depth is an obvious issue, but if Syracuse wants to get its defense right, it’s going to need to find some help from the portal to bring in at least one impact player up front.
NC State Wolfpack
What we learned this spring: Devin Leary should be in the discussion as the best QB in the ACC — and among the best in the country. Somehow, Leary continues to fly beneath the radar nationally, but NC State fans were well versed in his talent after a 2021 in which he threw for 35 touchdowns with just five picks. He showcased his arm again in the spring game, throwing for 355 yards and three touchdowns, and the NC State passing attack is clearly poised to be one of the most explosive in the league. Eventually, people outside Raleigh will take notice, too.
What we need to learn by Week 1: The ground game lacks a workhorse. Even with veterans Bam Knight and Ricky Person, NC State had limited success running the ball last year. Now both are gone, and while Dave Doeren thinks he has some options, the spring did little to help establish a firm pecking order. Jordan Houston, Demie Sumo-Karngbaye, Delbert Mimms and Michael Allen could all have a shot at carries, but particularly with the loss of star left tackle Ikem Ekwonu, the challenge of finding someone who can move the ball on the ground might be the biggest obstacle between NC State and a historic 2022 season.
What we learned this spring: The offense has some playmakers beyond Malik Cunningham. Too often in 2021, Louisville’s success depended nearly entirely on whether Cunningham could do his best impression of Lamar Jackson. But this spring showcased the depth in a talented backfield, led by transfer Tiyon Evans, while a healthy Braden Smith gives the passing game a needed threat. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise was Tyler Hudson, the FCS transfer from Central Arkansas, who flashed potential to be a genuine star this season.
What we need to learn by Week 1: Can Louisville get after the quarterback? The secondary took its licks last year, but the Cardinals think they’ll be better on the back end in 2022. The biggest key to that, however, might be getting a bit more pressure from the defensive line. Despite a terrific season from outside linebacker Yasir Abdullah (10 sacks, 16.5 TFL), Louisville ranked 12th in the ACC in pressure rate. Finding more burst at the line of scrimmage remains the biggest lingering question, and it could be the key to the Cardinals hopes for 2022.