2017 ACC Title Odds: Clemson, FSU or Louisville?

Photo: Emily Baron (CC License)

Don’t tell your SEC friends, but we think this is the best conference in college football. It’s certainly the most fun, with a bunch of teams playing wildly different styles (Lamar Jackson and Boston College play in the same athletic organization) and more than one with a real shot to win.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

BOSTON COLLEGE

Boston College is at the very bottom of every offensive statistic you can find. That used to be fine, because they had a suffocating defense that would wrap you in a towel and beat you 9-3 in the rain. That doesn’t really work in the ACC anymore. Andre Williams is a distant memory, Scot Loeffler is out here talking about “tempo,” and even Matt Ryan is suffering crushing disappointment.

The 2017 schedule doesn’t look good for BC. They’ll be a comfortable favorite against Connecticut,  Central Michigan, and … that’s it. Even the Northern Illinois game is a toss-up. Getting to six wins will be an accomplishment. Getting to last year’s total of seven would be something of a miracle.

Win total O/U: 4.5

Odds to win the ACC: 150/1

CLEMSON

Clemson’s not getting the red-carpet treatment usually rolled out for defending national champions. They rank only fifth in the coaches poll, behind three teams they beat in 2016. It’s understandable — losing Deshaun Watson is huge for the Tigers — but don’t count them out too soon. They’re going to push FSU for the Atlantic Division crown. Their matchup against the Noles, which comes at home, isn’t much more than a coin flip: their defense (particularly the defensive line) is a nightmare scenario, and Dabo Swinney’s recruiting has been top notch.

Don’t underestimate the Tigers, while they’re set to come down a little from last season they’re coming down from the ultimate height. If they do better than 8-4, and they’ll be in good shape. Worse than that, and Swinney will have some uncomfortable questions to answer about Deshaun Watson’s championship.

Win total O/U: 8.5

Odds to win the ACC: 4/1

FLORIDA STATE

It feels like it’s been twenty years since Jameis Winston led the Seminoles to a 14-0 season and a national championship, but now the Noles are back in contention, Not just for an ACC title, but another national title. Sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois is the kind of certified baller Jimbo Fisher has always needed to win, and has almost always managed to find. The defense was terrifying in 2016 and returns nearly everybody, while adding now-healthy safety Derwin James, who thinks he’s the best player in college football and might be right.

Their national title chances are somewhat stifled by an early matchup with Alabama, but Alabama doesn’t play in the ACC. FSU’s November 11th game at Clemson may very well decide the fate of the ACC.

Win total O/U: 9.5

Odds to win the ACC: 3/2

LOUISVILLE

Louisville was the most fun team in the country last year, largely thanks to a mercurial quarterback and some unbelievable receivers. The team won no titles (other than than Lamar Jackson’s Heisman trophy), but came three yards away from beating national champion Clemson. (Hey James Quick, maybe try cutting inside??)

The team showed some weakness later in the year: strong defensive fronts can force Jackson to pass, which really isn’t his forte. Ed Oliver and the Houston defense sold out to stop the run and pressure Jackson, denying him the space he needs to work his magic. There’s no guarantee that the Louisville offensive line will be significantly better in 2017, and with all last year’s top receivers gone, Houston’s strategy will likely hold up. We might have seen Jackson’s star shine as bright as it’s ever going to.

Think of Louisville like an early Soviet space program project: incredibly powerful, but somewhat loosely put together. It’s not the safest bet, but safe bets didn’t get the first man in space.

Win total O/U: 8.5

Odds to win ACC: 7/1

NC STATE

The Wolfpack don’t have a great shot of winning the ACC, but they have a fantastic shot of ruining someone else’s season. Last year, they took national champion Clemson to overtime, lost a one-possession game to Florida State, and came second in the three-way game against Notre Dame and Hurricane Matthew. That game was hilarious, by the way, and you should go watch it.

On to 2017: NC State brings back one of the best defensive fronts in the country. That’s the highlight. Don’t ask too many questions about the offense, and if you do, make them about Ryan Finley on passing downs. Really don’t ask about the secondary, where the Pack have to replace their top four safeties and corner Jack Tocho. The pass defense can’t live up to the run defense, but hopefully it won’t matter. NC State went from a largely irrelevant program to one of the most interesting in the country, and 2017 is their chance to continue that upward movement. When people talk about the ACC’s renaissance, they’re thinking about Clemson winning a national title and NC State actually being good.

(Side note: I love their matchup against Louisville. This front will challenge Lamar Jackson to throw, and the secondary might be good enough to hold up.)

Win total O/U: 6.5

Odds to win the ACC: 30/1

SYRACUSE

It’s Dino Babers’ second year on the job, and hopefully that means for Syracuse what it meant for Eastern Illinois (12 wins in Babers’ second year) and Bowling Green (2015 MAC championship).

Babers’ is trying to build an uptempo, RPO offense that scores a lot of points and gets some kind of attention in the New York media market. That’s a tough thing to build in one year, but with good returning receivers, a four-star freshman nipping at the heels of an experienced quarterback, and even a solid run game, it could be possible.

The schedule, however, is a nightmare. I don’t care who you are, LSU, Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, Miami, and NC State is a gauntlet. Syracuse plays all but one of them (Clemson) on the road. Getting to six wins with this schedule would be an achievement.

Win total O/U: 5.5

Odds to win the ACC: 150/1

Odds to make a bowl game: 4/1

WAKE FOREST

You’ve heard of bad schedules, but this, this is a bad schedule. Wake opens with three pretty favorable games (Presbyterian, Boston College, Utah State) and then plays a tough road game against Appalachian State. From there:  vs Florida State, at Clemson, at Georgia Tech, vs Louisville, at Notre Dame, at Syracuse, at N.C. State. Ouch.

Just when things were starting to look up for the Demon Deacons, too, coming off a 7-6 season and a win over Temple in the Military Bowl! Their defense was looking stout! All they needed to do was find some offensive consistency and maybe a defensive tackle or two, and they’d be rolling!

That’s not the way it turned out for Wake Forest. Finishing the year bowl-eligible will require some real discipline and an upset or two to boot.

Win total O/U: 4.5

Odds to win the ACC: 200/1

Odds to make a bowl game: 6/1


COASTAL DIVISION

DUKE

Duke’s another team that’s probably looking forward to 2018. After improving their recruiting markedly over the last three years, David Cutcliffe is hoping to survive 2017 and field a 2018 team that better compares to the increasingly competitive ACC.

In 2016, Duke allowed a freshman quarterback to throw the ball 430 times. It was all part of a dink-and-dunk offense that produced very few big plays and was designed to compensate for the lack of a run game. If the run game improves, the pass will too, as opponents cottoned on towards the end of the season and smothered Duke’s limited playbook.

Defensively, Duke is in the middle of a youth movement. You can count the senior starters on one hand, even if you’ve lost a couple fingers in a band-saw accident. There’s a lot of upside here: the freshman and sophomores are a mix of four-stars and high three-stars, and all could be huge contributors someday. Whether they reach that level in 2017 is a matter of development, not opportunity.

This schedule is loaded with toss-up games. Duke will be a slight underdog in half its games, a big underdog in the Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Miami games, and only a convincing favorite against NC Central and Army. Going to a bowl game while developing for 2018 is the goal, surely.

Win total O/U: 5.5

Odds to win the ACC: 75/1

Odds to make a bowl game: 1/1

GEORGIA TECH

You have to love Georgia Tech. With academic standards that approach that of a service academy, the Yellow Jackets have taken a logical approach to football, installing a triple-option offense that compensates for size and talent disadvantages with speed and sheer confusion. Paul Johnson is realistic about the resources at his disposal and focuses on building a fun team that can steal games from big opponents.

Georgia Tech is fielding its most experienced team in years, if you don’t think about the quarterback position. Three-year starter Justin Thomas is trying to work his way into the NFL, and backup Matthew Jordan is nursing a foot injury. Everyone else is back, trying to finish their valuable degrees in marketable skills before they go off and live happy lives. The end goal of Georgia Tech football is a middle aged man with a great credit score telling his children about the time he beat the Big Bad Noles, and that’s perfectly okay.

Trying to project GT’s success has always been a fool’s game. Maybe they’ll win three games. Maybe they’ll win ten. What’s for certain is that this team will be a blast to watch when they tear someone’s national title hopes to pieces.

Win total O/U: 6.5

Odds to win the ACC: 50/1

MIAMI

The Canes have almost everything they need to win the Coastal Division. The things they’re missing are a quarterback (Brad Kaaya was selected by Detroit with the 215th pick of the NFL Draft) and anything resembling a competitive rushing attack. For the latter: they’ve got real star power at running back, but the best attribute you can ascribe to the offensive line is “experienced.” “Experience” blocking for one of the worst Power Five ground games this side of UCLA isn’t exactly a harbinger of dominance.

The QB situation is less doom-and-gloom. Mark Richt always seems to find quarterbacks, and he’s got a good shelf of young talent to pick from.

Defensively, the 2016 Hurricanes were a lot of fun and very effective. They were one of the best in the country against the pass, improved remarkably against the run, and return almost everyone. Their only real question mark is in the secondary, where some of their leaders graduated, meaning young players and transfers will have to fill the gap.

If the Canes can answer those few questions, their schedule is very favorable. They avoid Clemson, Louisville and NC State, play Virginia Tech at home, and could be (at least slight) favorites in all their games except at Florida State.

Win total O/U: 7.5

Odds to win the ACC: 8/1

NORTH CAROLINA

UNC loses the NFL’s latest sell-the-farm-to-draft-him quarterback (Mitchell Trubisky), as well as pretty much everything else on offense (linemen Jon Heck, Lucas Crowley, and Caleb Peterson; running backs TJ Logan and Elijah Hood; and receivers Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard and Mack Hollins). It’ll be a rebuilding year, for sure, and LSU transfer Brandon Harris, who steps into Trubisky’s shoes, won’t change that.

The defensive front returns a lot, and new coordinator John Papuchis is looking for ways to get a sense of stability. All in all, this is a program very aware that it’s about to regress. It’s trying manage that process positively, as opposed to competing outright for division and conference titles.

Win total O/U: 6.5

Odds to win the ACC: 30/1

PITT

Pitt had my vote for the playoff last year, as they beat both Penn State and Clemson. They also came one play away from beating Oklahoma State, two seconds from beating UNC, and a turnover or two away from beating Virginia Tech. Though they lost five games, 2016 was a great year for Pitt, one that got their offensive coordinator hired away and inspired some lovely Penn State trash talk.

What’s in store for 2017? Pitt would rather look forward to 2018. They have to replace quarterback Nathan Peterman, running back James Conner, an All-American guard, an All-ACC tackle, almost their entire defensive line, three of their linebackers, and three of their DB’s. Also, the offensive coordinator that built their super-cool RPO offense is now off to LSU. Whew. They have a lot of young talent on the two-deep, but are probably replacing too much to make a serious run at a division title.

In the future, though, Pitt’s going to be a perennial ACC Coastal contender.

Win total O/U: 6.5

Odds to win the ACC: 50/1

VIRGINIA

Virginia won two games last year, so they don’t have the highest of expectations, especially with an offensive line that will need a lot of work. They’re more interested in developing young talent than challenging for a Coastal crown. But the Wahoos have some sun in their forecast: with a couple extra pieces, this front seven could be fantastic, and Jordan Ellis still hasn’t delivered on this potential.

The schedule isn’t what you’d call favorable, but it isn’t a nightmare either. If they can take care of William & Mary, UConn and Boston College, sneak past Indiana and Duke, and get an upset elsewhere, they’ll be bowl bound. But that’s a tough road.

Win total O/U: 4.5

Odds to win the ACC: 150/1

Odds to make a bowl game: 6/1

VIRGINIA TECH

Winning ten games in your first year as head coach is a great way to stir up hype and raise expectations. Justin Fuente inherited a good amount of talent, reasonable expectations, and a workable schedule, and he turned it into a great season for VT. Now he’s looking to manage a bit of a regression.

In 2017, the Hokies are looking a little thin in the skill positions, totally green under centre, and stacked in the secondary. At quarterback, they’ll either be starting redshirt freshman Josh Jackson, true freshman Herndon Hooker, or JUCO transfer A.J. Bush. Jackson was impressive in practice last year, if that means anything, but not one of the candidates has ever completed a pass as a Hokie. The bulk of the ACC has quarterback issues, it seems like, but it’s more pronounced here than anywhere.

Virginia Tech has about as good a shot to win the Coastal as any team, maybe outside of Miami. Quarterbacking and injuries are going to make or break their season. Don’t miss their early non-conference game versus West Virginia.

Win total O/U: 7.5

Odds to win the ACC: 10/1

Odds to win the division: 4/1