The Atlantic Coast Conference changed dramatically last season with Pitt winning the league title, Wake Forest taking the Atlantic Division and conference powerhouse Clemson largely out of the mix in mid-October.
Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi and Demon Deacons coach Dave Clawson think their teams have worked hard this spring to stay on top. Pitt defeated Wake Forest 45-21 in the ACC title game, ending Clemson’s six-game championship streak.
Narduzzi spent the spring looking for a successor to Kenny Pickett, who was to be one of the first quarterbacks taken in the NFL Draft.
“I was happy that we did a lot of work,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve seen enough in 14 training sessions to know who we are and I’m happy.”
The Panthers saw Nick Patti compete with Southern Cal transfer Kedon Slovis for the starting spot. Slovis, who threw for 30 touchdowns as a rookie for the Trojans, called him a “no-brainer” to join his new team.
Wake Forest, the first team other than Clemson to win the Atlantic since Florida State in 2014, won a program-record 11 games last year. Clawson took some offseason steps to improve a defense that was 10th in the ACC in points (28.9) and yards (413.2) allowed last season.
Clawson hired Brad Lambert as defensive coordinator. Lambert was the linebackers coach at Wake Forest under Jim Grobe in 2006, the only other time the Deacons were 11-3.
“I get heartened about some things, and I have a hole in my stomach about others,” Clawson said. “Were we better in defense because we are better in defense? Or because we didn’t play so well in attack.”
He will know for sure in about five months.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney was pleased with what he’s seen this spring, especially starting quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, who struggled early with injuries and off-target shots.
Uiagalelei went 17 of 36 for 175 yards in the Tigers’ spring game earlier this month. Still, his work was more than enough to keep him the starter over rookie Cade Klubnik.
Uiagalelei “had a great spring,” Swinney said. “He hasn’t done anything to not start. Cade is a really talented player. We have two guys I think who can win at a high level, just like when Trevor (Lawrence) and DJ were coming out of the spring” 2020.
It helps that receiver Joseph Ngata had an injury-free spring. He finished with four catches for 50 yards in the spring game.
The four new ACC coaching recruits after last season arrived in the Coastal, highlighted by Miami bringing in Mario Cristobal from Oregon for Manny Diaz. Cristobal was a former Miami offensive tackle who was part of two national title teams. He is responsible for bringing “The U” back to center stage.
The first spring under Cristobal ended on April 16 with a pledge on the small details the new coach regularly preached will determine how far the Hurricanes go this fall.
“There are no more excuses,” quarterback Tyler Van Dyke said.
The other first-year coaches are former Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko, who succeeds longtime Duke coach Dave Cutcliffe; former Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry, taking over from Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech; and Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott moves to Virginia after Bronco Mendenhall’s surprising decision to walk away.
The Cavaliers played the ACC’s final spring game last Saturday and Elliott saw what he expected four months later.
“I thought the majority of guys were going to buy, but I was still going to have a few skeptics and a bit of a toe-to-toe,” Elliott said. “And I have a few.”
In the Atlantic Division, Boston College, Louisville and North Carolina State all have experienced, playing quarterbacks.
The Eagles are hoping for a healthy Phil Jurkovec, the transfer from Notre Dame who only played six games last year due to a broken throwing hand. He completed 8 of 17 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown in Boston College’s spring game.
Malik Cunningham of Louisville threw for 2,941 yards and rushed for 1,034 yards last season. The Cardinals have had losing seasons in three of the previous four years and are hoping Cunningham can lead a turnaround.
The Wolfpack stars Devin Leary, who threw 35 touchdowns last season to break Philip Rivers’ school record. Besides finding receivers, Leary has just five picks on 431 attempts.
AP Sports Writers Charles Odum in Atlanta and Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 Sign up for the AP college football newsletter: https://apnews.com /cfbtop25