Spring Practice Preview: ACC

Spring Practice Preview: ACC

This article is part of our Spring Practice Preview series.

Spring practices are underway across the country as programs reset and begin their preparation for the 2022 campaign. This article will tackle the major storylines for each program in the ACC after an unexpected 2021 season where odds-on favorites like Clemson and North Carolina fell flat while Pittsburgh and Wake Forest proved to be two of the most pleasant surprises in all of college football. 

To catch up on the spring practice action elsewhere, check out our other previews from the Sun Belt, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Conference USA.

Boston College

Point of Interest: Wide Receiver

Boston College struggled mightily on the offensive side of the ball last year as they finished dead last in the ACC in yards per game and bottom three in passing yards per game and points per game.

A lot of the struggles can be attributed to the loss of quarterback Phil Jurkovec for a large portion of the season. The Eagles return their big three in Jurkovec, running back Pat Garwo and top wide out Zay Flowers. Outside of Flowers, the Boston College receiving corps struggled in the absence of Jurkovec. Upon Jurkovec's return there was a spark in the connection with Jaden Williams. In the final three games of the season Williams had five catches for 93 yards including a long of 38 yards. Williams will most likely battle for the number two spot with Jaelen Gill who slightly outproduced Williams over the course of last season.

Clemson

Point

Spring practices are underway across the country as programs reset and begin their preparation for the 2022 campaign. This article will tackle the major storylines for each program in the ACC after an unexpected 2021 season where odds-on favorites like Clemson and North Carolina fell flat while Pittsburgh and Wake Forest proved to be two of the most pleasant surprises in all of college football. 

To catch up on the spring practice action elsewhere, check out our other previews from the Sun Belt, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Conference USA.

Boston College

Point of Interest: Wide Receiver

Boston College struggled mightily on the offensive side of the ball last year as they finished dead last in the ACC in yards per game and bottom three in passing yards per game and points per game.

A lot of the struggles can be attributed to the loss of quarterback Phil Jurkovec for a large portion of the season. The Eagles return their big three in Jurkovec, running back Pat Garwo and top wide out Zay Flowers. Outside of Flowers, the Boston College receiving corps struggled in the absence of Jurkovec. Upon Jurkovec's return there was a spark in the connection with Jaden Williams. In the final three games of the season Williams had five catches for 93 yards including a long of 38 yards. Williams will most likely battle for the number two spot with Jaelen Gill who slightly outproduced Williams over the course of last season.

Clemson

Point of Interest: Quarterback

Following a dismal 2021 season for the Tigers, the biggest watch this summer is the quarterback position. Rising junior quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei was far from impressive last season in his first year as a starter. Uiagalelei managed to complete just 55.6 percent of his passes for 6.0 yards per attempt with 9 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. It is going to be a very crucial spring for Uiagalelei as Clemson brings in five-star, top quarterback prospect and MaxPreps Player of the Year (an honor Uiagalelei shared with reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young in 2019) Cade Klubnik.  Head coach Dabo Sweeney has already had high praise of Klubnik saying "He's special. He's Magic. He reminds me so much of Deshaun (Watson), just his traits, his attributes as a quarterback and even his frame and his build coming out of high school… He's just incredibly accurate, can extend and create and just has a great feel for where everyone is on the field."

Needless to say, even with a great spring Uiagalelei should be looking over his shoulder all offseason.

Duke

Storyline: Replacing top starter at all skill positions

The Blue Devils went winless in conference play and follow it up with overturn all throughout their offense. Quarterback Gunnar Holmberg transferred to FIU, leading rusher Mataeo Durant declared for the NFL draft, and leading receiver Jake Bobo graduated.

Filling the void of  Durant is going to be a big ask as he ran for 1,249 yards on 255 carries last season. The top candidate looks to be Jordan Waters who was the only other Duke running back to receive double digit carries with 39. As for the quarterback spot, Riley Leonard is the likely successor as he took the majority of the backup reps last season with few other options on the roster. Jalon Calhoun looks to be the top option in the receiving corps as he was second on the team in receptions with 57 behind Bobo, who hauled in 74.

Florida State

Point of Interest: Wide Receiver

The program has been spiraling the last few seasons, but it started to look as if they found some stability last year after starting 0-4 while quarterback Jordan Travis was recovering from a shoulder injury.

With Travis set to lead the offense, the big question remains: who will Travis throw the ball to?

Returning are all the Seminoles top options at wide receiver, Ontaria Wilson, Andrew Parchment and Keyshawn Helton. None of which were able to put up more than 382 yards receiving, however. Returning as well is top tight end Camren McDonald. Despite being experienced within the program, these Seminoles' pass catchers should be looking over their shoulders this spring as Florida State brought in a heavy class of wide receivers.

The Seminoles added four transfers at wide receiver, Mycah Pittman from Oregon, Johnny Wilson from Arizona State, Deuce Spann from Illinois and Winston Wright from West Virginia.

Georgia Tech

Point of Interest: Running Back

The Yellow Jackets took a big hit this offseason as their biggest offensive weapon in Jahmyr Gibbs transferred to Alabama. Gibbs was the team's leading rusher and second-leading receiver accounting for over 27 percent of the team's total yardage. The Yellow Jackets were able to land four-star running back and early enrollee Antonio Martin. They also brought in Hassan Hall a senior transfer from Louisville. Hall put up 1,299 rushing yards over four seasons with Louisville. Hall isn't a big splash but brings with him years of collegiate experience. In order to replace the production and talent of Gibbs one of the two new additions will need to step up.

Louisville

Point of Interest: Wide Receiver

It's no secret the Louisville offense revolves around the dynamic dual-threat quarterback Malik Cunningham, but with the transfer of last year's top wide receiver Jordan Watkins, the Cardinals will now look to fill the void at receiver. The top contenders are likely to be junior Tyler Harrell and sophomore Ahmari Huggins-Bruce. Huggins-Bruce led the duo in catches 29 to 18 last season but Harrell managed to put up a whopping 29.1 yards per reception with six touchdowns on his 19 catches.

Miami

Point of Interest: Wider Receiver

After an early end to the season for quarterback D'Eriq King, freshman Tyler Van Dyke burst onto the scene and gave the Hurricanes a lot of hope for the future.

Van Dyke isn't going to have it easy this year as he lost his top two receiving options in Charleston Rambo and Mike Harley. Rambo was far and away the top option for the Hurricanes as he accounted for 26.8 percent of receptions and 30.4 percent of the team's receiving yards.

It will be interesting to see how things shake out in the wide receiver room this summer, as third-year sophomores Xavier Restrepo and Key'Shawn Smith will battle alongside true sophomore and 2021 four-star wide receiver Romello Brinson for top option in the passing game. Clemson transfer and Miami native, Frank Ladson, is on campus and could be a significant part of the offense if he stays healthy.

North Carolina

Point of Interest: Quarterback

2022 should bring with it one of the most exciting offseasons in recent memory to Chapel Hill. With the departure of Sam Howell to the NFL, Mack Brown will have quite the battle on his hands between former four-star recruits in Jacolby Criswell and Drake Maye. Criswell, a rising junior, was the 11th ranked quarterback and 262nd overall recruit in the 2020 class. Maye, a rising sophomore, was the ninth-ranked quarterback and 56th overall recruit in the 2021 class. Maye was extremely highly touted coming out of high school and was a borderline five-star, so it wouldn't be a surprise if Maye comes out on top but it will be an interesting battle to watch.

North Carolina State

Point of Interest: Running Back

Both of North Carolina State's top running back options, Zonovan Knight and Ricky Persons Jr., have departed for the NFL draft leaving a gaping hole at the position. The only other running back to have double-digit carries last season was Jordan Houston. As a freshman in 2019, Houston had 101 carries for 526 yards and two touchdowns. Houston was unable to keep up with the NFL-bound duo his sophomore or junior year but his time may have finally come. Houston will look to establish himself as lead man above incoming four-star freshman and top overall recruit in the Wolfpack's 2022 class Michael Allen, along with returning backs Trent Pennix and Delbert Mimms.

Pittsburgh

Storyline: Replacing Kenny Pickett

Coming off their first-ever ACC Championship game win, the Panthers are losing their all-time leading passer and heart and soul in Kenny Pickett, but with the rest of their starting offense returning they hope to have a quick turnaround with the transfer of Kendon Slovis from USC.

With the loss of Pickett look for the Panthers to increase the usage of running back Israel Abanikanda. Some late-season injuries led to Abanikanda ceding carries to now-senior running back Vincent Davis, but Abanikanda was far more efficient and will likely see a higher share of the work in 2022.

Syracuse

Point of Interest: Wide Receiver

The Syracuse offense was dominated by freshman running back Sean Tucker and the ground game last season. With Tucker and quarterback Garrett Shrader both returning, the offensive system pretty much set and revolving around those two, the only question that remains is how the receiving corps will shake out?

With top wideout Taj Harris entering the transfer portal early in the 2021 season, the Orange had quite some time to figure things out. It looks as if Courtney Jackson established himself as the top receiver but had just 37 catches on the season.

Virginia

Point of Interest: Wide Receiver/Tight End

With Brennan Armstrong announcing he would return for a fifth season, the Cavaliers are in a great spot to start the offseason.

The biggest loss the Cavaliers suffered this offseason was in tight end Jelani Woods. Woods has been turning heads at the NFL Combine and was a key part of the offense last season as he finished second on the team in receiving touchdowns with eight. The Cavaliers currently have just one tight end on the roster to register a catch last season in Grant Misch. While Misch could step up and make an impact at the tight end spot it is more likely that the Cavaliers make up for the loss in touchdowns production across the receiving corps. A reliable and familiar target like wide receiver Keytaon Thompson is the most likely beneficiary of this loss. Thompson caught 78 passes last season and is a big body at 6'4" making him a solid option to get the bulk of the red zone looks that Woods had gotten last year. But, it will be interesting to watch over the course of the summer to see how the Cavaliers will try to make up for this loss.

The return of 2020 standout Lavel Davis could help lessen the impact of Woods' departure. Davis, who checks in at 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, averaged 25.8 yards per reception and 11.2 yards per target as a freshman before missing last season with a torn ACL. 

Virginia Tech

Point of Interest: Quarterback

It's no question that the Hokies struggled in the passing game last year. They had an extremely run-heavy offense finishing the year with 531 rushing attempts to 316 pass attempts.

The quarterback battle will be a fun one this spring as 2021 starter Braxton Burmeister transferred to San Diego State. Meanwhile, the Hokies brought in redshirt sophomore Grant Wells from Marshall and graduate transfer from South Carolina and previously St. Francis, Jason Brown. Wells comes into Virginia Tech having racked up 5,626 yards through the air in two seasons including 3,535 yards last season. Brown started one season at St. Francis where he threw for 3,084 yards and 28 touchdowns. While at South Carolina, Brown started four games where he completed 55.6 percent of his passes for 721 yards. In his time as a starter, Brown was able to lead the Gamecocks to wins over Auburn and Florida where he posted a combined five touchdowns to just one interception. Not only will Wells and Brown be battling it out between themselves they will also have competition with current Hokies in senior Connor Blumrick and redshirt freshman Tahj Bullock.

Wake Forest

Point of Interest: Wide Receiver

After a 2021 run that saw the Demon Deacons make the ACC Championship Game for the first time since 2006, Wake Forest returns the majority of its starting offense.

The Demon Deacons did lose Christian Beal-Smith, their top rusher in 2021 to the transfer portal, but they return two other backs that had over 100 carries last season in Christian Turner and Justice Ellison. Turner out carried Ellison 126 to 107 last season but then-freshman Ellison outpaced Turner averaging 5.1 yards per carry to Turner's 4.0.

Wake Forest will have leading receiver A.T. Perry coming back for his redshirt junior season but lost  Jaquarii Roberson to the NFL Draft. Roberson was the team's safety blanket and finished his career at Wake eighth all-time in receiving yards. Wake will look to Taylor Morin who had a solid season last year as the No.3 option to take a step forward as the No. 2 option. The Demon Deacons also bring in a talented four-star receiver in Wesley Grimes, who hopes to make an early impact.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jake Blanchard
Jake Blanchard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire
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