Clemson is two tiers above every other team in the ACC Atlantic. The Tigers are the biggest favorite of any team to win its division in college football this year at -600 or more, and their recent history has seen the program establish itself as one of the two best teams in the country.
Barring an injury to Trevor Lawrence, Clemson should have no trouble winning the ACC Atlantic once again, and a conference loss of any sort would be surprising.
The race to be the next best team in the division is wide open. Florida State traditionally is one of the top two teams in the division, but the Seminoles have collapsed over the last two seasons. They had to hurriedly reschedule a bowl game to keep their bowl streak intact in 2017 only to see it come to an end last year in Willie Taggart’s first season in charge in Tallahassee.
Syracuse and North Carolina State are seen as the next best teams in the conference with win totals of 7.5 this season, and you can’t count Boston College and Wake Forest totally out after both teams made bowls last season. The only team you can really count out is Louisville as Scott Satterfield has a massive rebuilding project on his hands.
ACC Atlantic Win Total Best Bet
Syracuse Under 7.5 (+110, 5Dimes/Bet Online) – The Orange had an incredible season in 2018, but they are going to come down hard after massively overachieving to get to 10 wins last season. Eric Dungey is no longer there to run the offense, and while Tommy DeVito had his moments as a freshman, he completed just over 50 percent of his passes.
That’s a death knell for an offense that operates at breakneck speed. Every incompletion gives defenders a chance to rest and substitute players, and that’s something Dino Babers and Syracuse don’t want as a team. Although Syracuse is finally recruiting quality players to the school, the talent as a whole isn’t there yet, so they rely on scheme and pace to move the chains.
According to Bill Connelly’s numbers, Syracuse was one of the most fortunate teams in the country last season in terms of turnover luck. The Orange should have been +5 or +6 in terms of turnover margin, but they were +13. Those bounces don’t hold from year to year, so expect some regression.
While Syracuse has a very easy non-conference schedule with probable wins over Liberty and Holy Cross, the ACC slate is full of toss-ups. The Orange are likely to be more than a one-possession favorite only twice this year, so I’ll take the under.
Interestingly enough, there is a great opportunity for a middle here if you bet this total early. 5 Dimes and some Vegas sportsbooks originally set the over/under for the Orange at 5.5, showing they are much more bearish on Syracuse than others.
Florida State Under 7.5 (-110, 5D/BOL) – As a Seminoles fan, this hurts me. Florida State’s offensive line was arguably the worst of any Power Five team in the country last season, and the Seminoles didn’t improve markedly in that area over the summer. Willie Taggart swung and missed on the offensive line recruits he was targeting, and he shied away from going the JUCO route to make things better.
Cam Akers is one of the most talented running backs in the country, but he was dead last in yards before contact in 2018. Akers averaged just 0.83 yards before contact, and with such terrible blocking, it’s a wonder that he averaged 4.4 YPC last season.
After a year in which the offense ranked outside the top 100 nationally, Willie Taggart brought in Kendal Briles to help run the offense. Briles is going to take some of the pressure off the offensive line by calling a lot of quick hitch routes and lining his receivers very wide, but opponents are going to pick up on that if the running game can’t at least be respectable.
Things could deteriorate quickly in Tallahassee. FSU is only seen as a slight favorite over Boise State in Jacksonville, and two weeks later they face ACC Coastal favorite Virginia in Charlottesville. This is a program that could fall apart if they have a rough start.
Boston College Over 6 (-120, Bet Online) – Steve Addazio has been Mr. Consistent at Boston College. The Eagles have won exactly 7 games in five of his six seasons at the helm, and they have the talent to get to seven again this season.
AJ Dillon is one of the top running backs in the country, and he will have some room to run behind a solid offensive line. Dillon has run for almost 2,700 yards in two seasons at BC, and Addazio loves giving his workhorse the ball.
The real catalyst this season will be the maturation of QB Anthony Brown. Brown had some major issues as a freshman, but he improved greatly throughout last season, and he ended the year with solid numbers. His continued progression will make this offense much better than most think.
This Eagles defense is a concern. Only three starters return, and they have performed progressively worse since Don Brown left for Michigan at the end of the 2015 season. Addazio replaced Jim Reid with linebackers coach Bill Sheridan, yet this unit is a major question mark.
BC’s favorable schedule will make it hard for the Eagles not to get to six wins. The Eagles could start the year 5-1 or 6-0 as the only team that is projected to beat them in their first six games is a Virginia Tech squad that is rapidly coming unglued.
Wake Forest Over 6 (+105, Bet Online) – There are a lot of ‘middle class’ teams in the ACC, so I’ll jump at the opportunity to take the over on a team with a good coach and a manageable schedule that has a win total of 6 flat.
I believe in the Clawfense. Despite being at the school with the least resources in the conference, Dave Clawson has managed to continually find success at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have won at least seven games in each of the last three seasons, and they managed that feat last year despite having one of the worst defenses in the country.
Wake Forest has two quality quarterbacks in Jamie Newman and Sam Hartman. They put up identical passing stats in 2018, but Newman is the better running threat, so he is seen as the projected starter this year. Former quarterback Kendall Hinton will move out wide, and he and Sage Surratt will try to replace the production of Greg Dortch.
The Demon Deacons have a tricky non-conference test against Utah State, but Rice and Elon should pose no problem. In a weird twist, Wake Forest and North Carolina are set to play a ‘non-conference’ game, with the Demon Deacons likely to be favored. If they go 3-1 in those games, I like my chances of Wake Forest getting at least six wins, and seven is much more likely than five.
Clemson Under 11.5 (-110, 5Dimes) – It pains me to bet the under on Clemson, but there are enough potential landmines on this schedule, that I think they will drop at least one game.
Let’s start with the praise though. Trevor Lawrence is going to be one of the most hyped quarterbacks ever by the time he is eligible for the draft. As a freshman, Lawrence threw absolute dimes, and his ability to read the field was preternatural. Young quarterbacks almost always go through growing pains, but Lawrence through an interception on just 1 percent of his passes and averaged 8.3 yards per throw.
Travis Etienne should put up big numbers behind an experienced offensive line too. Etienne averaged an absurd 8.1 yards per carry in 2018, and his 24 touchdowns have him looking like a Heisman Trophy contender.
Now, let’s get to the question marks. Last year’s defensive line was one of the best in college football history, but it will have to be replaced entirely. All four starters and two key reserves are gone, and only one linebacker returns from last season. Teams could have success running the ball against Clemson, especially early in the season.
Although Clemson has won at least 10 games in every season since 2011, last year was its first undefeated campaign. Per Bill Connelly’s S&P+ Ratings, the Tigers have a 10 percent or greater chance of losing games against Texas A&M, Florida State, NC State, and South Carolina.
Louisville Over 3.5 (-125, BetOnline) – If you ever want to see an example of a team quitting on its coach, look what happened at Louisville last year. The Cardinals soured on Bobby Petrino (as we’ve seen at many of his other stops), and you couldn’t set the point spread high enough. Louisville went 1-11 ATS in 2018, and its one ATS win came by just one point.
Scott Satterfield is the new man in charge of Louisville. He has shown he can build a program from the ground up like he did at Appalachian State, but no one is expecting a bowl this year. Petrino left the cupboard bare, and this will be a learning season.
I have faith he will get them to at least four wins though. Louisville returns nine starters to a defense that will definitely improve now that Brian VanGorder is far removed from the equation, and the Cardinals should win two of their first three as they are set to be sizable favorites against the directional Kentucky schools. They will gradually improve throughout the year and pull off at least one upset.
North Carolina State Under 7.5 (-140, 5D/BOL) – It’s time for the Wolfpack to take a step back after consecutive 9-win seasons, but to me it’s close to a coinflip on whether they win 7 or 8 games. Ryan Finley and Eliah Drinkwitz both left Raleigh with the quarterback going to the NFL and the OC taking Satterfield’s old job at Appalachian State, and the most productive skill position players left too. A 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers are no longer on the roster, so this offense will see a decline in production.
Eight returning starters means the defense should be better than the middle of the pack unit it was last season though. A favorable non-conference schedule with either 3 or 4 wins will ensure another year in bowl eligibility, but with Adam Burke’s ratings calling for 7.15 wins for the Wolfpack, I’ll take the under.