With the 2021 regular season now in the books, let’s check in with where all ACC teams stand in our final Power Rankings of the year.
What a whirlwind year for the Pitt Panthers. After a huge victory in Knoxville, the pitchforks were out in Oakland after the Panthers dropped a home game vs Western Michigan. They finished the season 9-1 after that game, winning the ACC Championship game en route to the best season for the program since 1981. The Panthers will look to keep the momentum rolling in Atlanta when they take on Michigan State in the Peach Bowl. Kenny Pickett will be sitting this one out, but the defense matches up well with the Spartans. Look for some fireworks in this matchup.
2. Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons had an extremely successful season that culminated in a trip the ACC Championship game. The game didn’t go as they wanted it but the program rose to number 9 in the rankings and finished with double digit wins for the first time under Dave Clawson. The future is very bright for this team as they bring back several 5th and 6th year seniors in addition to Sam Hartman. Look for the Deacs to challenge their peers in the Atlantic next season. In the meantime, they have a very formidable matchup against Texas AM in the Gator Bowl. The Aggies will be without their starting QB as he elected to transfer, giving Wake an advantage.
Down year in Clemson, South Carolina? B###S###! Sure, it took the Tigers longer than anyone wanted for the offense to match the defense, but by the end of the season Dabo Swinney had this team rolling. They won nine games and only lost games to ranked teams, all away from Death Valley. It is Clemson’s fault that expectations are sky high for the program, but that kind of pressure is a privilege, one they obtain from being so successful.
This team will be lethal next year and the Atlantic will be as strong as ever. 2022 should be fun for Dabo Swinney and his peers.
4. NC State
The Wolfpack had a tremendous year and finally beat Clemson, something they hadn’t done since 2011. The Pack dropped winnable games against Miami, Miss. St., and Wake Forest, which put a damper on the season, but they defeated arch nemesis UNC in season finale in miraculous fashion. They return a ton of weapons next year on both sides of the ball and will be a force in the Atlantic.
What an offseason in Miami. After Manny Diaz was able guide the team to a 7-5 record despite losing to FSU, Mario Cristobal thought it was the right time to come home and replaced him as head coach. There is a lot to like about the Hurricanes football team for next year based off of their 2021 performance, but first and foremost it starts at QB. Tyler Van Dyke is a bonafide stud and should carry this team. But change is never easy and expectations have ever been higher after these moves in the offseason. The team played well this year and that is why they slot in at No. 5 in the power rankings.
It was an up and down year for Louisville, but I’m giving them the edge in the Power Rankings over the other 6-6 teams because when the Cardinals were up, they were really up. The Cardinals lost five games to ranked teams and lost the other by one to a high scoring Virginia team. This team was very close to being 9-3 but let some opportunities slip away. Look for them to learn to win in 2022 and contribute to the loaded Atlantic. Having Malik Cunningham returning will keep them in every game next season.
7. Virginia Tech
Not a lot to cheer about in Blacksburg this year, but they managed to defeat their rival Virginia to go bowling. A new coach will be manning the position in 2022, so ideally the boos from the home crowd should stop. But Justin Fuente left the roster in disarray and the rest of the division isn’t slowing down any time soon.
8. North Carolina
Not a great season for Mack Brown’s bunch, but they clawed their way to 6-6. Did they waste the talent of the best QB in recent program history? That is a question for people smarter than I. The recruiting has been better but it will take time to break in those players while the decision making this year has been questionable. But the Tarheels dismantled UVA, so they get to be above them in the rankings.
At one point the Cavaliers were 6-2 and heading to Provo for a nationally televised games against BYU. Nothing went right for this team after they boarded that flight. Virginia lost their next four games and then eventually their coach to end the season. A darkhorse for the Coastal prior to the aforementioned trip, UVA does not resemble that team at seasons end.
10. Boston College
Boston College had a reasonably decent year, but the best win they got came after the season when Phil Jurkovec announced he would be coming back in 2022. The Eagles struggled mightily without him but finished the season 6-2 with him at QB, including winning three of their last four. I still am not sold on this team being a contender next season but improving upon 6-6 is doable.
11. Florida State
Progress was made in Tallahassee this season. It was enough to get Mike Norvell a one-year contract extension, though that was done for recruiting purposes. If he does not get this team bowl-eligible in 2022 he won’t be the coach for the Seminoles in 2023. He has some talent but the QB position is a question mark. The current recruiting class has five highly regarded linemen that should shore up the future trenches, but it’s hard to see them having an impact in the short term.
I wrote back in October that this team was the most improved in the country, only to have them completely fall flat to end the season. They lost their last three games and none were all that close. The team has some solid pieces to work with in Sean Tucker and Garrett Shrader with a strong defense returning in 2022. The team should get over the hump with regards to bowl-eligibility but if you have been following my rankings up to this point you will see that I pointed out that the Atlantic is going to be loaded in 2022. If you skipped right to the Syracuse section then let me repeat: Wake, Clemson, NCST, BC, and Louisville are going to be very difficult to beat next year as the Atlantic is loaded. The Orange cannot drop a game against UConn, Wagner, Purdue, BC, UVA, and FSU if they want to make a bowl game and keep Dino Babers’ job.
13. Georgia Tech
It was a down year for the Yellow Jackets this year, which is concerning in year three of the Geoff Collins experiment. They cleaned house on the offensive side of the ball and removed a few defensive coaches but their star running back transferred out. Hopefully 2022 is better for this team.
David Cutcliffe is one of the best to ever do it. He took on this challenge at Duke and elevated the program from the dead. He will forever get credit for the job that he did for everyone involved. It was just too much to expect this team to be competitive with the roster he compiled, which is no shot at him. Recruiting football players to Duke is a very difficult task and Mike Elko has inherited no small task in regards to the rebuild he faces. The Blue Devils went 0-8 in conference play, and any improvement in that record in 2022 should be considered a small victory.