Winning 10 games and a bowl usually counts as a solid year for most college football programs, but for Clemson that’s an about face from recent seasons.
Under the direction of Dabo Swinney, the Tigers made the College Football Playoff six straight times until 2021, and won two national championships, both against Alabama, the dynasty of the 21st century, including what remains Nick Saban’s worst loss.
But injuries on an otherwise elite defensive unit and subpar play from 5-star quarterback DJ Uiagalelei added up to a down year for this team.
What does the 2022 football season hold in store? Recently, the ESPN college football power index prediction machine crunched the numbers for each game on this slate.
Game 1 vs. Georgia Tech. The Wreck lost lead back Jahmyr Gibbs to Alabama as a transfer, throwing this offense almost completely off track. Jeff Sims returns at quarterback after passing for 12 TDs and seven picks, but there isn’t a ton to work with around him moving the ball on the ACC’s third-worst scoring unit. FPI win chance: 94.3%
Game 2 vs. Furman. Not much to worry about here for Clemson in Week 2 against a team that finished fifth in the Southern Conference a year ago behind a 6-5 mark and was handled by NC State in its single foray into the ACC last fall. FPI win chance: 99.4%
Game 3 vs. Louisiana Tech. No worries for Week 3 against a Bulldogs team working in a new coach after firing Skip Holtz and coming off a three-win season in Conference USA. But which last season also played Mississippi State close in an eventual one-point loss on the road, and lost by just seven on the road against NC State. FPI win chance: 97.7%
Game 4 at Wake Forest. Nine starters on college football’s 11th ranked offense are back, including quarterback Sam Hartman, a 4,200-yard passer with 39 touchdowns in 2021. Clemson handed the Deacs their worst loss a year ago, and should do some work against a Wake D that placed 91st overall last season. FPI win chance: 79.2%
Game 5 vs. NC State. Four points kept the Wolfpack from an undefeated mark in ACC play, including a win over No. 9 Clemson with losses at Miami and at Wake. Ten starters on defense that ranked No. 3 in the ACC last fall come back for a reunion in 2022, as does quarterback Devin Leary, a 3,400-yard passer in 2021 with 35 touchdowns against three picks. FPI win chance: 87.4%
Game 6 at Boston College. BC gets more than a half-dozen starters back on defense, a unit that ranked No. 4 in the ACC in 2021, and crucially returns quarterback Phil Jurkovec after the Eagles’ offense ranked worst in the conference in yards and fourth-worst in points. FPI win chance: 90.0%
Game 7 at Florida State. Watch how quarterback Jordan Travis develops this season after a 5-game stretch in which he didn’t have a pick: the Noles went 4-1 in those games and Travis scored 13 all-purpose TDs. Now he’s playing behind an improved offensive line, too. FPI win chance: 80.1%
Game 8 vs. Syracuse. This was the ACC’s fourth-worst total offense and mustered under 150 yards per game in conference, a trend that has resulted in the Orange winning just 15 games in 50 league matchups under Dino Babers. FPI win chance: 95.2%
Game 9 at Notre Dame. Last time Clemson ventured up north, it lost as the No. 1 team in the country (before avenging that loss in the ACC title game). D.J. Uiagalelei accounted for three total TDs and 439 yards passing in that game, his only loss in 2020. How well the QB plays coming into this one will help determine if the rematch has any College Football Playoff impact. FPI win chance: 60.0%
Game 10 vs. Louisville. Getting quarterback Malik Cunningham back on the field in 2022 is a major positive for the Cardinals. He was a 62% passer a year ago, passing for 2,734 yards and 18 touchdowns to only six interceptions, while also rushing for 968 yards and 19 touchdowns, currently the sixth-most nationally. FPI win chance: 90.3%
Game 11 vs. Miami. Just eight combined points kept the Hurricanes from a perfect record in ACC games and, though the school brings on a new coaching staff, returns a potential star in quarterback Tyler Van Dyke and had some real speed on the back end defensively. FPI win chance: 80.0%
Game 12 vs. South Carolina. Oklahoma transfer quarterback Spencer Rattler — a Heisman favorite going into 2021 — is leading this group now and he’ll have fellow Sooner transfer Austin Stogner at tight end. But Clemson’s front line group should still have a decided advantage lining up against a Gamecocks offensive protection that coughed up 31 sacks last fall. FPI win chance: 92.2%