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September 22, 2019

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Countdown to college football: Picking every ACC team’s win total

Lawrence

Richard Shiro / AP

In this Nov. 17, 2018, file photo, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence throws a pass under pressure during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Duke, in Clemson, S.C. For the first time, the defending national champion Tigers are No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason Top 25 presented by Regions Bank, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. Clemson won its second national title in three seasons behind freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence to claim equal standing with Alabama at the top of the sport.

First, it was Florida State and Ohio State bringing back the majority of their national-championship wining rosters in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Then it was Alabama heading into last year after having won two of the previous three titles.

Now it’s Clemson’s turn to command a historic set of future odds as defending national champions coming into the college football season. The Tigers are the betting favorite at plus-225 (risking $1 to win $2.25) to repeat at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

That’s not quite as low as Alabama reached last year — the Crimson Tide were plus-175 coming into the season — but Clemson is deflated to an unprecedented level in other future markets.

The Tigers are a minus-500 (risking $5 to win $1) favorite to advance to the College Football Playoff, and minus-400 to win the ACC for a fifth consecutive year.

Both those numbers speak to the perceived weakness of the ACC, in which Clemson has gone 34-2 straight-up, 20-15-1 against the spread during their current run. College football has never been a particularly parity-driven sport, but the gap between the best teams and everyone else — or at least the perceived gap — seems to be growing in the last decade.

It’s worth noting, however, that none of the three aforementioned teams that came before Clemson ended up living up to the odds and winning another championship. Most believe there’s not enough competition in the ACC to slow the Tigers at least in the regular season, but let’s take a look.

Read below for Talking Points’ continued countdown to college football series picking every teams’ win total with today’s ACC installment. Check out the first six parts here.

Boston College

Total: 6 (minus-110, minus-110)

Last Season: 7-5 straight-up, 7-5 against the spread

Boston College has won seven games in four of the past five seasons, but they’ve uniformly come behind a brick-wall defense. It’s hard to call for that type of impenetrableness this year with the Eagles losing the vast majority of last year’s defensive contributors. They have far more back on offense and enough pieces to be dangerous — led by running back A.J. Dillion and quarterback Anthony Brow — but that might require some more creativity. Boston College’s offense has been outmoded to a fault the last couple seasons.

Lean: Under 6 wins at minus-110

Clemson

Total: 11.5 (minus-120, Even)

Last Season: 15-0 straight-up, 9-6 straight-up

Clemson may fall short of being the best team in the nation as it’s perceived and still finish the regular season undefeated with nary a challenge. Such is reality with a team that will almost surely be favored by double digits, if not two touchdowns, in every game. Paying for perfection is a fraught strategy, though. And Clemson isn’t without concern, at least in one area. Beyond quarterbacks, defensive-line play has been the most important factor in Clemson’s current dynasty and it must overhaul the unit after losing a cadre of standouts to the NFL Draft.

Guess: Under 11.5 wins at Even money

Florida State

Total: 7.5 (minus-130, plus-110)

Last Season: 5-7 straight-up, 4-8 against the spread

This is the lowest Florida State win total in 10 years — since Bobby Bowden’s final season. And yes, that’s relevant. It’s usually a sign to buy low. The infrastructure is still there in Tallahassee, Fla., which means the roster remains stocked with more talent than most programs could dream about. Sophomore quarterback James Blackman was electric in one start a year ago and he’s equipped with a deep receiving corps and one of the nation’s most dangerous running backs in junior Cam Akers. Injuries wiped out the Seminoles last season, and in the likely event that they stay healthier this year, they’ll have a bounce-back season.

Lean: Over 7.5 wins at minus-130

Louisville

Total: 3.5 (minus-150, plus-130)

Last Season: 2-10 straight-up, 1-11 against the spread

No stars. No depth. No hope. The Cardinals are going to struggle for the second straight season. The only question is how much they struggle. Improvement isn’t a high bar considering they were outscored by 292 points last season. Former Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield was a strong hire, but he’s smart enough to realize that establishing the foundation and stripping down the roster are priorities in his first year. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Louisville stay competitive in some games; it would be a shock to see Louisville threaten for bowl eligibility.

Lean: Under 3.5 wins at plus-130

North Carolina State

Total: 7 (minus-130, plus-110)

Last Season: 9-4 straight-up, 6-7 against the spread

Offensive continuity is more valuable than defensive continuity, and that’s bad news for the Wolf Pack. They’re practically starting from scratch on offense after losing almost everyone to graduation. NC State easily eclipsed regular-season expectations before getting eviscerated by Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl. That’s pretty telling of the state of the Wolfpack. It may not be the case if NC State were in a different league, but in an Atlantic Division that’s thin behind Clemson, it has more than enough to stand out.

Guess: Over 7 wins at minus-130

Syracuse

Total: 8 (plus-120, minus-140)

Last Season: 10-3 straight-up, 9-3-1 against the spread

Don’t pay a premium on teams after a breakout year. This is a particularly extreme case considering oddsmakers haven’t tagged the Orange with this large of a win total in more than a decade. There are many reasons to believe last year’s gains are unsustainable, at least in the short term. Syracuse had uncommonly terrific turnover luck, including recovering 62 percent of fumbles, and were led by a highly experienced, since graduated quarterback in Eric Dungey. The one mitigating factor is coach Dino Babers, who’s among the ACC’s sharpest, but even he may need a relative rebuilding year before continuing his program’s climb.

Play: Under 8 wins at minus-140

Wake Forest

Total: 6 (Even, minus-120)

Last Season: 7-6 straight-up, 5-8 against the spread

In a strange way, Wake Forest might be the most proven commodity in the Atlantic Division behind Clemson. The Demon Deacons have won six or seven regular-season games in each of the last three years, and there’s not much reason to believe they’ll stray from the total this year. They’re well-coached with Dave Clawson entering his sixth season but not quite talented enough to break into the upper echelons of the division. Picking Wake Forest’s win total then comes down to a bettor’s thoughts on the rest of the ACC. It could take a step back if the league improves, or perhaps a slight step forward if the conference is as mediocre as it was last season.

Guess: Over 6 wins at Even money

Duke

Total: 5.5 (Even, minus-120)

Last Season: 8-5 straight-up, 7-6 against the spread

Duke returns the fewest players in the Coastal Division, a major handicap for a program that doesn’t have a wealth of talent to fall back on. Coach David Cutcliffe’s 11-year tenure has been relatively stable — and highly successful for Duke’s standards — but it’s marked by clear peaks and valleys as he takes a few more lumps while readying a new core of players roughly every three years. This season looks like a clear valley to set the stage for another future upswing.

Guess: Under 5.5 wins at minus-120

Georgia Tech

Total: 3.5 (Even, minus-120)

Last Season: 7-6 straight-up, 5-8 against the spread

Making the switch from the triple option to a more modernized offense effectively under new coach Geoff Collins is going to take some time. There will be growing pains, especially with bad news piling up since the start of practice. The Yellow Jackets saw the NCAA reject three transfer waivers that Collins expected to be approved, including to former Miami receiver Marquez Ezzard. They also have one of the toughest schedules in the ACC, drawing Clemson and NC State as their inter-division matchups and closing the year with the annual non-conference showdown with Georgia. Collins is full of energy, though, and the asking price is so low. The price on the over opened at minus-160, and the adjustment may have gone too far.

Guess: Over 3.5 wins at Even money

Miami

Total: 8.5 (minus-140, plus-120)

Last Season: 7-6 straight-up, 5-8 against the spread

Miami must improve an offense that drastically under-achieved last season, gaining 5.3 yards per play. The Hurricanes will attempt to do so under a surprise starter as Jarren Williams beat out Ohio State transfer, and Bishop Gorman grad, Tate Martell and incumbent N’Kosi Perry despite not many expecting him to rise to the top. New coach Manny Diaz had Miami’s defense delivering in each of the last three years as coordinator and the unit is again loaded with stars like linebackers Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney. Working in Miami’s favor is a light schedule that peaks with the toughest game, against Florida in Orlando, on Saturday.

Guess: Over 8.5 wins at minus-140

North Carolina

Total: 5 (Even, minus-120)

Last Season: 2-9 straight-up, 5-5-1 against the spread

In his last four seasons coaching at Texas — following the 2009 BCS Championship Game appearance against Alabama — Mack Brown went 30-22 straight-up, 22-29 against the spread. That’s at a school with a tad more resources and history than North Carolina. The Tar Heels are selling Brown’s hiring as a slam dunk when it feels more like a half-court heave likely to brick off the glass. Even in Brown’s first tenure in Chapel Hill, N.C. — which began in 1988, a decade before most of his current players were born — he went 1-10 straight-up the first two seasons. There could be similar challenges awaiting this year, as the players former coach Larry Fedora left don’t fit the schemes he wants to employ.

Play: Under 5 wins at minus-120

Pittsburgh

Total: 6 (minus-110, minus-110)

Last Season: 7-7 straight-up, 8-6 against the spread

Don’t expect this to be just another Pittsburgh season. Last year, the Panthers ran the ball as much as any Power Five conference team — throwing on only 38 percent of plays, the second-lowest in the ACC behind Georgia Tech. Almost everyone who spurred the rushing attack that led to a Coastal Division crown — including most of the offensive line — is gone. And indicators are that Pittsburgh will get more pass-heavy this season with new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple arriving. The Panthers’ win total has not moved a smidge, and it’s easy to see why. There’s no telling what exactly Pittsburgh will look like.

Guess: Under 6 wins at minus-110

Virginia

Total: 8 (plus-120, minus-140)

Last Season: 8-5 straight-up, 9-4 against the spread

Last season was considered Virginia’s breakthrough — and it could have been even better. The Cavaliers went 1-3 in games decided by a touchdown and were stricken by terrible turnover luck. The good news? Both of those detriments are likely to regress, and there are no other factors preventing Virginia from being even better this season. Few teams in the division return as much experience and even the ones who do — Virginia Tech and North Carolina — don’t have a quarterback as dependable as senior Bryce Perkins. Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s defense’s are dependably stingy. Everything is pointing up for another year, so much so that it’s worth taking a shot on the Cavaliers to win the Coastal at plus-250.

Play: Over 8 wins at minus-120

Virginia Tech

Total: 8 (minus-140, plus-120)

Last Season: 6-7 straight-up, 6-7 against the spread

The hope was that Virginia Tech could groom one of the nation’s youngest rosters to the point where it showed major progress at the end of the last season and could bring that experience into this year. Neither of those things really happened. Virginia Tech endured a four-game losing streak for the first time since 1992 to start the second half of the season. And though Virginia Tech does have a much more seasoned roster this year, it’s not exactly as coach Justin Fuente had planned after a handful of players transferred. Adding to the problems is a relatively tough schedule where the Hokies must travel to play the two fellow perceived Coastl division contenders, Virginia and Miami.

Lean: Under 8 wins at plus-120

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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