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October 1, 2014

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College football by the Vegas odds: Sports book preview of the ACC

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AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Florida State’s Jameis Winston with The Coaches’ Trophy after the NCAA BCS National Championship college football game against Auburn Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. Florida State won 34-31.

Note: This is the final of a six-part series to preview the college football betting season. Here are links to the five previous installments — SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and Mountain West.

Odds to win the ACC

  • Florida State: 1-to-4
  • North Carolina: 7-to-1
  • Clemson: 8-to-2
  • Virginia Tech: 10-to-1
  • Louisville: 15-to-1
  • Miami 20-to-1
  • Georgia Tech: 30-to-1
  • Pittsburgh: 40-to-1
  • Duke: 50-to-1
  • Syracuse: 100-to-1
  • North Carolina State: 100-to-1
  • Virginia: 100-to-1
  • Boston College: 200-to-1
  • Wake Forest: 500-to-1
  • Numbers from the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook

ACC win totals

  • Florida State: 11.5 (over plus-110, under minus-130)
  • Clemson: 8.5 (over plus-105, under minus-125)
  • North Carolina: 8.5 (over plus-130, under minus-150)
  • Louisville: 8 (over Even, under minus-120)
  • Numbers from Westgate Superbook

Never in college football history has a group of 13 conference teams collectively looked so helpless.

In the ACC this season, Florida State is akin to a primordial beast. The other teams in the league are sand gnats.

A couple might manage a tame bite in a closer-than-expected game, but it’s hard to imagine them endangering the Seminoles even if they all combined their efforts.

The Seminoles’ stature is staggering. The defending national champions are a minus-400 (risking $4 to win $1) favorite to win their third straight conference title at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Since the creation of super conferences — an admittedly small window dating only three seasons — no team has ever seen a number that low attached to its name in the preseason futures. The closest comparison is 2012 Oregon, which was minus-250 to take the Pac-12 a year after advancing to its only BCS National Championship Game.

The Ducks failed to win the conference, getting snapped off by Stanford in the second-to-last week of the season. But Oregon’s trail in 2012 was fraught with far more formidable obstacles than Florida State’s in 2014.

The Ducks were favored by single digits in three games that year. For the Seminoles to have a single spread of less than minus-10, Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston would have to come down with an injury. Or the entire starting lineup would need to get suspended for a grocery-store raid on crab legs.

And, even then, reaching single digits might not be guaranteed depending on the week. The Golden Nugget opened lines on Florida State’s eight most challenging games — The Citadel, Syracuse, Boston College and Virginia were left off the board in the Games of the Year — and just one had a spread of less than minus-17.

That was the Nov. 15 trip to Miami, where Florida State was only a 14.5-point favorite. Football Outsiders’ metrics calculate the Seminoles’ probability of an undefeated regular season at 67 percent.

There’s a 95 percent chance, per Football Outsiders, that the Seminoles win at least 11 games. The odds might not go that far, but they aren’t wildly removed either.

Accounting for the house’s hold, conference future odds give Florida State a 60 percent chance to win the ACC. Moneylines to win games outright aren’t out for anything beyond the first week, but roughly projecting them yields somewhere around a 55 percent likelihood of the Seminoles going 12-0.

The potential for what Florida State, which enters the year as the 3-to-1 favorite to repeat as national champions, could do to opponents is truly devastating. The Seminoles return more starters in 2014 than they did in 2013, when despite an average line of minus-29 per game, they finished 11-3 against the spread and covered by an average of 17 points in the wins.

They could conceivably have nine players selected in the first two rounds of next year’s NFL Draft, including Winston, left tackle Cameron Erving and defensive end Mario Edwards as virtual first-round locks.

The annual discussions of the best college football team challenging the worst NFL squad are frivolous at best, but as many as half of Florida State’s opponents this year will get more points than the Seminoles would if they were to play the Jaguars.

That’s as much of a commentary on the state on the ACC as it is a testament to Florida State. The odds wouldn’t tower over the rest to that extent if the Seminoles played in the SEC or Pac-12.

It’s not all negative for the ACC. The league posted its first winning record against the spread versus nonconference opponents in five years last season at 34-28-1 despite another losing campaign in bowl games.

But this looks like a rebuilding year — if such thing can exist for an entire conference — with all but three teams breaking in new quarterbacks. Only one team other than Florida State — Clemson at 75-to-1 — is listed at less than 100-to-1 to win the national championship at the Superbook.

It’s amazing to think that sports books with Games of the Year lines had Clemson favored by 2.5 points against Florida State at this time last year. The number swung all the way to Florida State minus-5 by kickoff in Death Valley, with the 50-14 stomping proving there’s value to be found on the preseason lines.

Aside from that ignominious result and a handful of other notable letdowns, the departing tandem of quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins left a lofty legacy at Clemson. They presided over the best three-year stretch in school history by both traditional and betting measurements.

Boyd and Watkins covered in 60 percent of their games at Clemson and guided an explosive offensive to go over the total in 55 percent. Look for the latter to flip this season, as the Tigers transition to a defensive-minded identity.

Click to enlarge photo

Clemson's Garry Peters (26), Robert Smith (27) and Vic Beasley stop Boston College's Andre Williams in the backfield during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C. Clemson won 24-14.

Senior defensive end Vic Beasley surprised many by forgoing the draft to return. He was the deserved runner-up to Winston for the conference’s preseason Player of the Year.

Clemson’s challenge is its schedule, which is far and away the toughest in the ACC with nonconference tilts against Georgia and South Carolina. Combined with the Sept. 20 trip to Florida State where it’s currently a 17-point underdog, Clemson will likely take points on three occasions in a season for the first time since 2011.

The only other team oddsmakers have in the conference conversation at less than 100-to-1 odds from the Atlantic division — where Florida State is a minus-600 favorite — is newcomer Louisville.

The Cardinals are offered at 15-to-1 to win the ACC. The expectations are significantly lowered a year after they were favored in every game and responded by going 12-1 straight up and 5-7-1 against the spread.

Prodigal coach Bobby Petrino may not rate high on the moral scale after repeated episodes, but gamblers have always found him worthy of backing. Petrino has a lifetime 54-45-2 against-the-spread record with his most profitable years coming in his first go-around at Louisville from 2003 to 2006.

The Cardinals’ program starts the season 41-9 straight up and 30-19 against the spread under Petrino.

The mediocrity of the ACC really bubbles over in the Coastal Division, where odds give three teams between a 20 and 26 percent chance of reaching the conference championship game. And none of the other four teams is given below a 6 percent likelihood.

It feels like 2012 all over again, when North Carolina and Miami implemented self-imposed postseason bans over ritualistically sacrificing themselves to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. At minimum, it’s an encore of last year, when this same preview series described the toughness of determining the Coastal champion.

Little did anyone know. With a 10-4 straight-up and 11-3 against-the-spread record, Duke broke out of the pack and converted as a 30-to-1 shot to prevail in the division.

At 60-to-1 to win the ACC in the preseason, Duke nearly became the longest shot in recent memory to overtake a conference.

Click to enlarge photo

Bishop Gorman running back Shaquille Powell looks for running room in the Reed High School defensive line during the 4A championship football game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011 at Damonte Ranch High School in Reno. Gorman won their third consecutive title 72-28.

On second glance, maybe the Blue Devils weren’t that close. Sure, they reached the final game, but the Seminoles suffocated them with a 45-7 victory as 28-point favorites.

Duke brings back the bulk of its offense, including local breakout candidates Shaq Powell at running back and Ryan Smith at receiver, but doesn’t get the respect from books that some may think is entitled after last year’s performance. Duke is a plus-650 fourth choice to win the Coastal offshore.

The betting market comes off as indecisive on which Coastal team should be favored, though. Bovada.lv — no local shop is booking action on divisional futures — leans Virginia Tech as it’s a slight plus-260 favorite.

Excuse gamblers if they aren’t eager to let bets fly on the Hokies. Over the past three years, no major conference team has been worse to bet on, as Virginia Tech is 12-26-1 against the spread.

But, in an environment when everyone must be compared with the Seminoles, the Hokies might hold the edge as the most intriguing championship opponent. Virginia Tech has one of the best defenses in the country with a secondary featuring four returning starters in senior Kyoshen Jarrett, senior Detrick Bonner, sophomore Kendall Fuller and sophomore Brandon Facyson.

It’s also the only conference team to have beaten Florida State by more than a touchdown since coach Jimbo Fisher took over the program. Virginia Tech defeated Florida State 44-33 as a 3-point favorite in the 2010 ACC Championship Game.

Overall, the Hokies are 2-2 straight up and 3-1 against the spread versus the Seminoles since 2007.

Local shops aren’t ready to anoint Virginia Tech as the most likely team to come out of the Coastal. North Carolina, in fact, opened as a 10-point favorite for its Oct. 4 showdown with Virginia Tech at Golden Nugget but were bet down to minus-7.

The Tar Heels have a conference-high 15 returning starters, including quarterback Marquise Williams, who switched their fortunes a year ago. Williams went 5-1 straight up and against the spread as a starter after North Carolina started the season 2-5 straight up and 2-4-1 against the spread.

Click to enlarge photo

Miami running back Duke Johnson is consoled as he is taken off the field after injuring his foot during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game against Florida State on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, in Tallahassee, Fla.

Bovada’s future odds list North Carolina equal with Miami at 3-to-1 in the Coastal, though Las Vegas casinos posted the Tar Heels as a just a 1-point underdog at the Hurricanes on Nov. 1.

Behind Winston and Beasley, Miami’s roster includes the ACC’s third-best player in junior running back Duke Johnson. He averaged better than six yards per carry in eight games last year before missing the rest of the season with a broken ankle.

Miami went 1-4 both straight up and against the spread in Johnson’s absence, starting 7-1 straight up and 4-4 against the spread when he played. The Hurricanes’ issue is quarterback play.

True freshman Brad Kaaya was probably the fifth most-likely opening day starter a couple of months ago but has gotten thrust into the role after injuries, suspensions and general inefficiency.

Books aren’t calling for much out of the other three Coastal teams — Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Virginia — but none of them is as improbable as Duke’s run in 2013.

Florida State should terrorize whichever team gets through regardless. The Seminoles’ intention is to begin a ruthless march towards a dynasty, an objective that looks all the more attainable in the ACC.

Golden Nugget Games of the Year

Aug. 30: Clemson plus-9 at Georgia

Aug. 30: Florida State minus-17 vs. Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas

Aug. 30: UCLA minus-21.5 at Virginia

Sept. 1: Miami plus-3.5 at Louisville

Sept. 5: Pittsburgh minus-9 at Boston College

Sept. 6: North Carolina minus-21 vs. San Diego State

Sept. 6: Virginia Tech plus-18 at Ohio State

Sept. 13: Louisville minus plus-7.5 at Virginia

Sept. 13: Boston College plus-23 vs. USC

Sept. 20: Clemson plus-17 at Florida State

Sept. 20: Miami plus-3 at Nebraska

Sept. 20: Virginia plus-17 at BYU

Sept. 20: Georgia Tech plus-7 at Virginia Tech

Sept. 27: Florida State minus-30 at North Carolina State

Sept. 27: North Carolina plus-4 at Clemson

Sept. 27: Syracuse plus-5.5 vs. Notre Dame in East Rutherford, N.J.

Oct. 3: Louisville minus-1 at Syracuse

Oct. 4: North Carolina State plus-23 at Clemson

Oct. 4: Virginia Tech plus-10 at North Carolina

Oct. 4: Miami minus-4 at Georgia Tech

Oct. 11: Florida State minus-21 at Syracuse

Oct. 11: Louisville plus-10 at Clemson

Oct. 11: North Carolina plus-2.5 at Notre Dame

Oct. 11: Miami minus-11 vs. Cincinnati

Oct. 16: Virginia Tech plus-1 at Pittsburgh

Oct. 18: Florida State minus-24 vs. Notre Dame

Oct. 18: Clemson minus-18 at Boston College

Oct. 23: Miami plus-1 at Virginia Tech

Oct. 25: North Carolina minus-14 at Virginia

Oct. 30: Florida State plus-17 at Louisville

Nov. 1: North Carolina plus-1 at Miami

Nov. 1: Boston College plus-16 at Virginia Tech

Nov. 6: Clemson minus-20 at Wake Forest

Nov. 8: Louisville minus-15 at Boston College

Nov. 15: Florida State minus-14.5 at Miami

Nov. 15: Clemson minus-6 at Georgia Tech

Nov. 15: Pittsburgh plus-10 at North Carolina

Nov. 20: North Carolina minus-3 at Duke

Nov. 22: Miami minus-10 at Virginia

Nov. 22: Louisville plus-8 at Notre Dame

Nov. 28: Virginia plus-14 at Virginia Tech

Nov. 29: Florida plus-17 at Florida State

Nov. 29: North Carolina State plus-20 at North Carolina

Nov. 29: Pittsburgh plus-7 at Miami

Nov. 29: Louisville minus-15 vs. Kentucky

Nov. 29: Georgia Tech plus-14 at Georgia

Nov. 29: Clemson plus-3 vs. South Carolina

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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