Don’t tell the diehard SEC fans, but the ACC was the best conference in football last year. The ACC produced the national champion in Clemson, and Florida State was better than any SEC school not named Alabama a season ago. The Heisman trophy winner came from the ACC (more on him later), and the coaching improved throughout the conference.
The bad news for the rest of the country is that last year wasn’t simply a flash in the pan. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson into a national power, and Jimbo Fisher recently led Florida State to a national title in 2013. Virginia Tech is on the rise under Justin Fuente, and Mark Richt has rejuvenated Miami as much as Miami has rejuvenated him.
While Alabama, Ohio State and USC are getting most of the attention this offseason, two ACC contenders are lurking in the shadows, and both are capable of bringing home another national title for the league in 2017.
The Bettor Take Cover staff made their predictions for the ACC this season, and if you missed yesterday’s SEC predictions you can find it here.
Editor’s Note: wagering on sports is illegal everywhere in the United States except Nevada, so these lines and picks are for entertainment purposes only.
ACC Championship Picks
Lance Barton: Jimbo Fisher and the ‘Noles are the favorites to win the ACC and contend for a national title for a plethora of reasons. They bring virtually everyone back from a defense that was ranked in the Top 25 last year, and preseason All-American safety Derwin James returns after missing the majority of last season due to injury. After passing for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman, quarterback Deondre Francois returns to anchor the Florida State offense. FSU’s conference schedule sets up nicely as they play Louisville, Miami and NC State in Tallahassee. Their biggest conference test will come Nov. 11 in Death Valley when they take on Clemson in a matchup that will likely decide the division. If the ‘Noles can beat Alabama in their season opener, they could potentially run the table in the toughest division in college football. The Pick: Florida State +110.
TJ Daugherty: I am picking the defending ACC and National Champions to be at the top of the conference standings once again this year. This team will be without the Deshaun Watson/Mike Williams combo that torched so many defenses a year ago, but they have a combination of veterans and talented newcomers ready to take over the offense. The old football cliche “games are won or lost in the trenches” will feel like it applies specifically to Clemson this year. I look for Clemson to dominate teams on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and I think the defensive line especially is going to be the best in country. Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins are absolute monsters who will be living in opponents’ backfield all year long. Clemson also gets Florida State at home, which will be a pivotal matchup in the ACC Atlantic division. The Pick: Clemson +300.
Sam Johnson: Florida State will be the most complete team in the ACC, and they have the combination of players with big game experience and a veteran coach. Of course, there is no real value in this pick, but this might be more of a lock than Alabama winning the SEC, and the Seminoles have better odds than the Tide. Deondre Francois will be talented enough with another year of experience to generate some points while the team relies on what should be the best defensive unit in the conference. The Pick: Florida State +110.
Cole Frederick: Florida State seems like the popular pick to win the ACC, but I’m taking my chances with Clemson again this year. Sure, the Tigers lost Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman and Mike Williams from an offense that was the best in the country a year ago, but this pick is based more on Dabo Swinney and his coaching staff more than anything else. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables might be the best coordinator in the country, and he has one of the best defensive lines in all of college football. The Tigers also have the luxury of playing Florida State in Death Valley, and if the can beat the ‘Noles again, they should win the division. The Pick: Clemson +300.
Dark Horse ACC Championship Picks
Sam Johnson: Miami is tied with Louisville at +600 as the teams with the third best odds to win the ACC, but there’s a catch: the other three teams are all in the opposite division. The best futures bet for the ACC is betting either Miami or Virginia Tech to win the conference and then waiting to hedge before the championship game. Miami and Virgina Tech are the only two teams with any shot of winning the Coastal Division, and I believe it will be Miami. So, I like taking the Hurricanes and letting them get to the championship game with a chance to hedge against the Atlantic division champion. The Pick: Miami +600.
Cole Frederick: The ACC Atlantic will likely be the toughest division in football, and the depth of the division goes beyond headliners Florida State, Clemson, and Louisville. N.C. State has one of the best defensive lines in college football returning, and though the schedule is difficult, the Wolfpack have the talent to compete for the division title. SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic believes N.C. State is a potential sleeper for the College Football Playoffs.
Of course, there are reasons to be skeptical of the Wolfpack beyond the difficult schedule. Depth is still a concern, and coach Dave Doeren might actually be on the hot seat after going 25-26 in his first four seasons. But they are a talented team, and they’re an intriguing long shot to win the ACC title. The Pick: N.C. State +2500.
ACC Division Winners
Lance Barton: Virginia Tech was ahead of schedule in year one of the Justin Fuente era as they won 10 games and made an appearance in the ACC title game. I like the Hokies to repeat as Coastal Division champs thanks to Bud Foster’s attacking style defense. They bring back eight starters on that side of the ball, led by linebacker Tremaine Edmunds who had 18.5 tackles for a loss last season. Former 5-star recruit Tim Settle will anchor what should be a stout defensive line. The Hokies will have to replace Jerod Evans at quarterback after he made the decision to enter the NFL Draft, which turned out to be unwise since he was undrafted. Fuente’s offensive system has a “next man up” philosophy, and that next man is former 4-star recruit Josh Jackson. Jackson has been turning heads at fall camp, and he should put up big numbers in Fuente’s spread attack. The division will come down to the Hokies’ Nov. 4 showdown on the road against Miami. The Pick: Virginia Tech +175.
TJ Daugherty: Vegas is giving Boston College absolutely zero respect with this number. I thought about taking N.C. State over 7.5, but Boston College’s total should be set at 5 or 5.5. This is a team that won seven games last year, and they return eight starters on offense and seven on defense. I think the Eagles will have one of the better defenses in the ACC. Many of their winnable games—such as Syracuse, Northern Illinois and Virginia—are on the road, which is probably a key contributor to the low number. Regardless, Vegas leaving us without the hook makes me think a push is the worst case scenario. The Pick: Boston College over 4 (-125).
Sam Johnson: Florida State will win between 10-12 games this season. On the low side you cover by half a game, and on the high side you cover 9.5 easily. Either way, you get paid. The Seminoles will play Miami, Louisville, and NC State in Tallahassee, while they go on the road to take on Clemson and Florida. They are neutral site under dogs to Alabama week 1 in Atlanta. All games other than those three away from home are locks to me. If they take care of business at home—which they will—and steal one road game—and I think they can both—then Florida State can drop their week 1 matchup and still cover this with ease. IF they beat Alabama, they will have the confidence needed to run the table the rest of the season. The Pick: Florida State over 9.5 (-150).
Lance Barton: I agree with TJ that Vegas is showing Steve Addazio’s squad zero respect by setting their win total at four. They are coming off a seven-win season, and they have been to three bowl games in Addazio’s four-year tenure. The Eagles return seven starters off of a defense that was ranked 9th in the country last year. The defense was so good that they somehow managed to win seven games despite having the 127th ranked total offense. If the offense improves at all, the Eagles should get to six wins and a fourth bowl appearance for Adazzio. The Pick: Boston College over 4 (-125).
Cole Frederick: My favorite over in the ACC is Boston College over four wins, but TJ and Lance did a great job breaking down why the Eagles are good bet. So, I’m taking N.C. State over 7.5 wins for the same reason I picked them as a dark horse to win the league. If take care of business in they games they’ll be favored in, the season will come down to five games: at Florida State, vs. Louisville, at Pitt, at Notre Dame and vs. Clemson. They’d need just one win from that group, and they beat Notre Dame last year and nearly upset Clemson. The Pick: N.C. State over 7.5 (-105).
Lance Barton: Clemson is a top 10 team talent wise, and Dabo Swinney has recruited at a top 5 level for many years. But their schedule is absolutely brutal, and I just don’t see this team getting 10 wins in the toughest division in college football. I know what you’re thinking… The defending national champions won’t get to 10 wins??? But with what they’re having to replace, it’s hard to imagine them navigating through based on their schedule. They have road games at Virginia Tech, Louisville and N.C. State. They get Florida State at home, but they have two tough non conference opponents in Auburn and South Carolina. The defense will be top 5 caliber, but no Deshaun Watson makes 10 wins look daunting, and I have them at 9-3. The Pick: Clemson under 9.5 (-125).
Sam Johnson: Clemson will experience the thrills of defending a national championship for the first time since 1981. Their non conference schedule includes two SEC opponents, and they have sneaky road games in ACC play against Virginia Tech and N.C. State. Inexperience at the quarterback position combined with the proverbial target on their back will prove to be too much for Clemson to repeat as national, conference or even division champions. I think Clemson only wins eight games this season, which gives you a 1.5 game cushion to take this bet confidently. The Pick: Clemson under 9.5 (-125).
TJ Daugherty: Florida State is one of the most hyped up teams entering the 2017 season. They return starting QB Deondre Francois, who has great poise and playmaking ability. They also have the best defensive player in the nation in safety Derwin James. I can’t say enough about James. His versatility makes him such a great player. James can line up deep at safety, cover the slot man-man, play inside linebacker, or rush the passer off the edge. Last year, Florida State’s Achilles’ heal was the offensive line. Francois was forced to run for his life almost every Saturday, and he took many punishing hits that left you wondering how he kept getting back up. I think the OL will be improved, but I still think they are going to be a weak link and will be exposed at some point this season. The Seminoles have one of the toughest schedules in football this year. They open up with powerhouse Alabama on a neutral field, and then they play Miami and N.C. State back-to-back two weeks later. They also play Louisville, and have to go to Clemson and Florida at the end of the season. If—or should I say when—they lose to Alabama week 1, their margin for error becomes slim. I think they lose to either Miami or N.C. State at home before losing at Death Valley to Clemson on Nov. 11. The Pick: Florida State under 9.5 (+120).
Cole Frederick: Bronco Mendenhall is a great coach, and his BYU Cougars made a five-win leap from six wins to 11 during his second season in Provo. But this Virginia team isn’t very talented, and it’s hard to imagine Mendenhall squeezing six wins out of this bunch. The non conference schedule isn’t exactly difficult, but they will be underdogs at home to Indiana and on the road at Boise State. The Cavaliers have a winnable home slate in ACC play with matchups against Duke, Boston College and Georgia Tech, but they’ll likely have to sweep all three of those games to even sniff bowl eligibility. The best case scenario for Virginia this year is five wins, which would be a push. I’m thinking Mendenhall doubles the Hoos’ win total from a year ago, and a 4-8 season cashes in the under for Virginia. The Pick: Virginia under 5 (-115).
ACC Heisman Picks
Cole Frederick: A few weeks ago, FOX Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt released his top five quarterbacks in the sport entering the 2017 season.
Notice anyone missing?
While all five on the list are deserving, the absence of Louisville quarterback and defending Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson is astonishing. And it’s not just Klatt neglecting to mention Jackson among the best quarterbacks in college football. Draft analysts are fawning over USC QB Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and UCLA’s Josh Rosen. And for good reason. All three should transition well to the NFL, and they are very talented. But Jackson’s playmaking abilities are unparalleled in college football.
Look, I don’t think Jackson should be the favorite to win the Heisman for the second straight season. He somehow managed to go injury-free despite playing behind an abysmal offensive line, and it’s unlikely he duplicates last season’s gaudy numbers when he threw for 3,543 yards and 30 touchdowns while also running for 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns. No one is expecting that. Only one college football player has ever won back-to-back Heisman trophies, and Ohio State’s Archie Griffin accomplished that over 20 years before Jackson was born. Still, Jackson is one of the most electric players in recent college football history, and he will produce impressive numbers again in Bobby Petrino’s offense. I’ll take a flyer on him to repeat. The Pick: Lamar Jackson +800.