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NC State, Clemson headline 4 teams ready to challenge Pitt for 2022 ACC crown

Pitt football, ACC, Kedon Slovis, Dabo Swinney, Devin Leary

Kenny Pickett is gone. Kedon Slovis is in. It’s a new era for Pitt for the first time in a long time. However, the era just gone did produce something for the Panthers that had only happened twice before, and that’s a conference title. Their last was the 2010 Big East crown, but enough about the past. Let’s look to the future. They now face the challenge of defending that ACC championship, and it certainly won’t be easy.

However, as mentioned, Kedon Slovis transferred in from USC to make the transition at quarterback a bit smoother, and even with a tough out-of-conference slate that includes Tennessee and West Virginia, the Panthers seem up to the task.

But other ACC teams are also up to the task and will be looking to knock Pat Narduzzi’s squad off their pedestal to claim it as their own. Here are the four ACC teams with the best shot of challenging Pitt’s ACC crown in 2022.

4. Wake Forest

There are three teams from the ACC Atlantic division on this list, and the first among them is the one that came closest to keeping Pitt from the title: last year’s Atlantic champion Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Sam Hartman returns for his redshirt junior year to lead Dave Clawson’s squad that finished 7-1 in conference and 11-3 overall last year, equaling their best season since 2006.

With a navigable non-conference schedule featuring the likes of Vanderbilt, Liberty, Army, and VMI, Wake seems poised to be in the conversation for the division title once again in 2022. With so many pieces returning from last year, they certainly have the squad to challenge for it once again.

3. Miami (FL)

It’s also a new era in Miami, but it’s definitely a starker change for the Hurricanes than in Pittsburgh. Mario Cristobal was brought in to replace Manny Diaz, and the former Oregon head coach will be looking to bring that winning attitude to South Beach. They face one giant challenge out of conference, a road trip to Texas A&M, along with a cross-division trip to Clemson in November. But if they can survive long enough, a Nov. 26 clash with Pitt at home could decide the division.

Miami will certainly be a figure in the national conversation in years to come, but they have to get there first, and before all of that they have to learn how to navigate the ACC. That starts in 2022.

2. Clemson

Whichever QB out of DJ Uiagalelei or Cade Klubnik wins the starting job for Dabo Swinney and company, they’ll face the task of putting Clemson back in the national spotlight after a rough 2021. The Tigers have what can only be described as a very middling non-conference schedule, with the hardest game (not including away at Notre Dame) being against a weaker, though much improved South Carolina at home.

Of course they also have to get through their divisional foes, as well as Miami, so it’s not a shoo-in. But you’d think Clemson is definitely in a good position to find themselves back in Charlotte for the conference championship again in 2022.

1. NC State

Since hiring Dave Doeren in 2013, NC State has seemingly been right on the doorstep of a trip to the conference championship every year, without actually getting over the hump. Pitt and NC State actually have quite a bit in common when you think about it, with both schools struggling to get past that final barrier into the conference championship under a longtime head coach, and with both schools seemingly being the thorn in Clemson’s side year in and year out.

Devin Leary returns as one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, and he also returns with most of his offensive line. This is a team poised for their first 10-win season since 2002, and if they can knock off Clemson once again in Death Valley on Oct. 1, you’d have to say the Atlantic is theirs to lose. Ranking Clemson and NC State here was really difficult, as everything comes down to that Oct. 1 matchup. Think of them less as first and second, and more as 1A and 1B.