On the Packer and Durham show on ACC Network this week, Mark Packer and Wes Durham discussed which ACC teams they believe have the most reason for optimism heading into the 2022 season.
Durham posed the following question to Packer — if he had to pick a winner for the Atlantic and Coastal divisions, right now, who would he pick?
“I would go Clemson in the Atlantic,” Packer said. “I’m going to go Miami in the Coastal.”
Durham then asked Packer if it’s fair to say that while the Tigers showed enough in their Cheez-It Bowl win over Iowa State to get excited about where they are defensively entering next season, they still have “this outlier there with the quarterback spot.”
“Yeah, but I will tell you this — I think at the end of the year, I think Clemson was playing better than anybody in the league,” Packer said.
Durham agreed with Packer’s pick of Clemson as the 2022 Atlantic Division champion to a certain extent, but added, “I’m going to hold just a couple of edges on the Clemson pick here for a spot with Wake and for a spot with potentially NC State.”
“Because I think NC State is bringing back a lot, a whole lot,” Durham explained. “But I want to see what it looks like on paper before I commit fully to the Wolfpack here.”
Still, Durham is high on NC State, which went 9-3 (6-2 ACC) in 2021 and finished second in the Atlantic behind Wake Forest (11-3, 7-1).
“Wake’s going to lose some people in the offensive line, they’re going to lose some pieces on defense,” Durham said. “But this crowd (at NC State) right here, now… (Running back) Bam Knight’s going to go to the NFL. Got it. (Wide receiver) Thayer Thomas is back, (quarterback) Devin Leary’s back. I know they lost (Ikem) Ekwonu on the offensive line, but (Grant) Gibson I think is coming back. Defensively, they’re bringing back all the tacklers.
“I mean, it just seems like there’s a lot more on the table in Raleigh right now than people realize. And as you said — and I believe you’re exactly right on this — the biggest loss for NC State not playing the Holiday Bowl is that people nationally didn’t get to see just how talented they were this year, because I think a lot of that talent carries over to ’22. So, I’m going to give you Clemson, yes. But I’m going to hold edges for both NC State and possibly Wake Forest.”
Packer pointed out that NC State, which edged Clemson in double-overtime in Raleigh in September, has to play at Death Valley in 2022.
The Wolfpack haven’t beaten Clemson at Death Valley since 2002.
“Number one, NC State’s at Clemson next year in The Valley. That’s a problem. That’s been a problem,” Packer said.
Packer also believes Boston College should be mentioned as a contender for the Atlantic crown in 2022.
“If you don’t put Boston College in the conversation in the Atlantic, I think you’re making a mistake,” he said. “I think the fact that (quarterback Phil) Jurkovec is back, (wide receiver) Zay Flowers is back, Jeff Hafley’s recruiting extremely well, he’s a defensive-minded coach… Again, we don’t know what the schedules look like and when you play. But anybody that’s got to go to Boston late October, November, that’ll be a nice chilly road trip.”
Packer is excited to see how the Atlantic Division unfolds next season with what he believes will be a four-team race between Clemson, NC State, Wake Forest and Boston College.
But Packer is bullish on the Tigers heading into 2022.
“Clemson, again, I think that quarterback competition’s going to be real,” he said. “People don’t have any idea what they went through injury wise, and they still won 10 games. They’re going to get rebooted and healthy and they’re going to be a joke, how good they’re going to be.
“I think the Atlantic race is going to be a blast… I think the top half of the Atlantic next year with Boston College, Wake Forest, NC State, Clemson will be thoroughly, thoroughly entertaining.”
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