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.
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.
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.
What we learned this spring: The Seminoles' ground game could be terrific. Want to build up hopes in Tallahassee? Start on the ground. The trend line was already pointing in the right direction. After two woeful years under Willie Taggart (4.27 yards/rush in 2018 and 2019), FSU has averaged 5.76 yards per carry the past two seasons -- the second-best mark in the ACC in that span. Mobile QB Jordan Travis certainly helps, but the backfield is awash with talent, including Treshaun Ward, Lawrence Toafili and D.J. Williams, but the spring's breakout star was Trey Benson. The Oregon transfer is coming off a knee injury, but he looked fully healthy this spring, gaining 77 yards on seven carries in the spring game.
What we need to learn by Week 1: If the ground game is the foundation for FSU, the passing game remains the looming question mark. Florida State's receivers were among the worst in the conference in 2021, and while only Andrew Parchment departs from the group, there are no guarantees the unit will take a big step forward in 2022. Indeed, the receivers dropped four passes in the spring game alone. Still, the group has four transfers hoping to make their mark, so perhaps a full offseason will have the Seminoles receivers in a better place by fall camp.
What we learned this spring: The biggest concern entering the spring at BC was the massive overhaul happening on the offensive line, where four starters -- including Zion Johnson -- were moving on. The spring at least offered some answers on the likely replacements, even if their ability to match their predecessors' success remains a big question mark. Right guard Christian Mahogany is the lone returner, with left tackle Jack Conley, left guard Finn Dirstine, center Drew Kendall and Ozzy Trapilo at right tackle. The group has much to prove, but establishing some chemistry among the expected starters in the spring is at least a first step in the right direction.
What we need to learn by Week 1: Can Boston College improve its pass rush without drastically altering its defensive line? The Eagles return a veteran front, led by Marcus Valdez, but not all experience is good experience. BC had just 55 tackles for loss last season -- 13th in the ACC -- and Valdez was the lone D-lineman with more than three sacks. The Eagles had a 22.3% pressure rate on defense, worst in the ACC and 124th nationally. Given that all four projected starters on the line have at least three years of experience in the program, an optimist might say they're due for a breakthrough. The pessimist might suggest that if they were going to be much better, we'd have seen signs by now.
What we learned this spring: New coach Mike Elko wanted to establish a shift in mindset with his players, after a winless ACC season a year ago filled with struggles across the board. That effort started with setting a different tone in practice, where competition was open across the board and players were encouraged to be much more physical. On defense, that also meant reteaching proper tackling techniques and fundamentals, because the Blue Devils struggled in both areas defensively a year ago. The result has been a reenergized team.
What we need to learn by Week 1: There are major holes to fill across the board, but the two biggest are on offense. First, there remains an open quarterback competition between dual threat Jordan Moore and Riley Leonard. Then there is the question of who will replace their best offensive player, running back Mataeo Durant. Jordan Moore actually led all players in rushing in the spring game, but look for Jaylen Coleman, Jaquez Moore, Jordan Waters and possibly freshmen Terry Moore and Eric Weatherly to emerge from the mix.
What we learned this spring: What we learned this spring: Coach Geoff Collins enters a critical fourth year, after winning only three games in each of his first three seasons. He has retooled a large portion of his staff, including on offense, where offensive coordinator Chip Long now takes over. Though Jeff Sims returns as the starting quarterback, the offense should look different. Sims took snaps from under center during the spring, and there is an expected emphasis on the run given Long's background. Sims has shown flashes of potential over the course of his career, but never the consistency the position demands. Perhaps a change at coordinator, along with Chris Weinke taking over as quarterbacks coach, will help.
What we need to learn by Week 1: The Yellow Jackets lost their best player in running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who transferred to Alabama. Last season, Gibbs finished No. 3 in the nation in all-purpose yards with 1,805, and at least in the spring, it did not seem apparent who would emerge to take over his spot. Dontae Smith and Louisville transfer Hassan Hall are both in the mix to start at running back, but neither has seized control of the position. Plus, Georgia Tech must replace three starting offensive linemen -- making the task of establishing the run that much more challenging.
What we learned this spring: The Miami offensive line made huge strides throughout the spring, and that is a credit to both new coach Mario Cristobal (a former offensive lineman) and offensive line coach Alex Mirabal. This has been an area of inconsistency over the last several seasons, so seeing those strides with quarterback Tyler Van Dyke and a talented group of running backs returning is hugely important. Several transfers look as if they will make an immediate impact, including Ole Miss transfer running back Henry Parrish Jr. and USC transfer defensive end Jacob Lichtenstein.
What we need to learn by Week 1: Miami has hit the portal hard looking for contributors on the defensive line and linebacker. In addition to Lichtenstein, Miami has added four other defensive linemen. With some talented players returning up front, who will end up starting? Perhaps the bigger question is at receiver. The team's leading receiver in 2021, Charleston Rambo, is gone, and Miami is still searching for a receiver who is able to stretch the field. In the spring game, the receivers had far too many drops. The potential is there for this group, but it's going to have to show a little bit more in fall camp to answer questions about who will step up.
What we learned this spring: The most important thing coach Mack Brown wanted to establish this spring was a return to the basics, reestablishing the culture that helped the Tar Heels get to the Orange Bowl following the 2020 season. Perhaps expectations got the best of the team a year ago, and Brown is the first to admit he failed at keeping his players accountable throughout the course of the season. Bringing in Gene Chizik to lead the defense was only part of that thorough evaluation, and through 15 practices, it appears the defensive front could emerge as a strength.
What we need to learn by Week 1: Who is the quarterback? Sam Howell was such a large part of the offensive production a year ago; replacing him won't be easy. Offensive coordinator Phil Longo must make a choice between Drake Maye and Jacolby Criswell, and the competition between the two will stretch into fall camp. Hand-in-hand with that is improving the offensive line, which struggled last season. Jack Bicknell replaced Stacy Searles, and the biggest advantage he brings is a familiarity with both Longo and the offensive scheme he likes to run. Getting these two groups squared away is obviously a huge key headed into the season.
What we learned this spring: Unfortunately for Pitt, what we learned came long after spring practice ended, when Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison began considering a transfer away from the Panthers, with USC the most likely destination. The fact that Addison would even consider leaving the team where he became a star was a huge blow for the Panthers, who already have to replace quarterback Kenny Pickett. With him, the receiver group looks deep and talented -- thanks to the addition of Freshman All-American Konata Mumpfield from Akron. But all of that is now up in the air. As for the defense, some key questions at linebacker seem to be answered after strong springs from Solomon DeShields and Bangally Kamara and the addition of Notre Dame transfer Shayne Simon.
What we need to learn by Week 1: If Addison is, indeed, off the roster, the Panthers must replace their top two players from a year ago - dealing a hit to their chances to repeat as Coastal champs. Pitt left spring without an announcement at starting quarterback, and that was by design as coach Pat Narduzzi wants to see how USC transfer Kedon Slovis and Nick Patti compete throughout the offseason and into fall camp. Slovis is expected to have the edge given his previous starting experience, but Patti did look slightly sharper in the spring game. One more point to keep in mind - new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. takes over and will have a more run-first approach. That may have played a role in Addison's decision.
What we learned this spring: The Cavaliers know what they have in returning quarterback Brennan Armstrong and a talented group of receivers -- Dontayvion Wicks, Keytaon Thompson, Billy Kemp IV and Lavel Davis Jr. (working his way back from a knee injury). To that extent, the new coaching staff wants to take the rushing load off Armstrong and rely on the running backs for more carries and yards. That might be easier said than done at this point. Injuries at running back left no clear-cut starter after the spring, and the offensive line is a major work in progress. Armstrong may end up scrambling more than anyone wants if the line does not come together.
What we need to learn by Week 1: The offensive line remains a huge question mark. Virginia has to replace all its starters and was down to eight scholarship players for the spring game. But the truth is, offense was not the problem last year in Charlottesville. The defense could not stop anyone, and that is the area that ultimately must make the most improvement for Virginia to challenge in the Coastal Division. There were glimpses in the spring -- including better tackling -- and new coach Tony Elliott made sure to note the improvement by his defensive linemen.
What we learned this spring: First-year coach Brent Pry did a lot of exploring this spring -- as in figuring out what positions fit his personnel best. Among the most notable is converted quarterback Connor Blumrick, whom Pry described as one of the team's 22 best players. Blumrick is listed as an 'athlete' on the roster, trying out receiver, tight end and a little H-back during the spring. Pry also shifted players around on defense, including Gunner Givens, Lakeem Rudolph, Jorden McDonald and Keonta Jenkins.
What we need to learn by Week 1: The biggest, of course, is at quarterback, where two transfers are competing for the starting job -- Grant Wells (Marshall) and Jason Brown (South Carolina). If the spring game is any indication, Wells might have a slight edge -- even though Pry remains tight-lipped about who the starter will be. The Hokies have struggled at this position over the last several seasons, so getting it right in Year 1 can help establish the tone moving forward.