The best conference in college football last year looks to keep things going
I don't know if it's possible for a conference to have a better season then the ACC did in 2016. They had the national champion as well as the Orange Bowl champion in Florida State. Six other teams won their bowl games and Lamar Jackson took the Heisman. It'll be hard to match that in 2017, but there are plenty of chances for early momentum. We'll examine the conference win totals provided by the South Point casino.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of the South Point sports book
(Over 4 -120...Under 4 EVEN)
Offense has really never been a strength for Boston College in recent seasons, instead relying on defense and field position to win games. Anthony Brown and Darius Wade are competing for the quarterback job. Wade threw 19 passes last year while Brown is an intriguing redshirt freshman. Jon Hilliman is back at running back while Michael Walker and Charlie Callinan are out wide. The offensive line is pretty much intact so maybe there will be some improvement under coordinator Scot Loeffler. Harold Landry is one of the best defensive linemen in a conference that has a ton of them. Landry had 16.5 sacks last year. The Eagles get Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Florida State all at home. I think the over is very possible with five or six opportunities for wins.
(Over 9.5 -105...Under 9.5 -115)
Clemson's defense will be pretty strong especially up front where Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell will put constant pressure on the QB. The back end should benefit from the lack of time quarterbacks will have in the pocket. Kendall Joseph had 124 tackles in 2016 and he's patrolling the middle. The team's own quarterback position is a question mark as the competition continues between Kelly Bryant and Hunter Johnson. Whoever gets the call will have wide receivers Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud and Hunter Renfrow to throw to. The schedule has its tough points, including conference road games at Louisville and Virginia Tech. I think the over is worth a look here as I have the defending national champs down for 10 wins.
(Over 9.5 -125...Under 9.5 +105)
Deondre Francois garnered some votes for preseason ACC Player of the Year from the media, as many are expecting him to take that next step this fall. The mobile QB had 20 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions in 2016. There are several of options at wide receiver, but the group as a whole is pretty young. But the offense does have running backs Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers to carry the load. Much like Clemson, FSU is going to be relying on its defense early. Josh Sweat and Derrick Nnadi are very good along the defensive line. Tarvarus McFadden is one of the best cornerbacks in the conference, if not the nation. On the schedule, it doesn't get any bigger than an opener against Alabama in Atlanta. If Seminoles can get by that one unscathed, the next three are at home. Road trips to Clemson and Florida will be challenges. I'll take the chance with the under at this price and assume that the Noles will lose all three of their tough games.
(Over 9.5 +115...Under 9.5 -135)
It all starts with Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, who was responsible for 51 total touchdowns and more than 5,000 yards of offense last season. He's going to be hard-pressed to match those numbers, however, with only three other starters returning on that side of the ball. Reggie Bonnafon is a converted quarterback who now is the Cardinals’ most experienced wide receiver. The running back group also will need someone to step up. The back end of the defense will be strong with Jaire Alexander and Trumaine Washington at corner. This team will be highly motivated to start fast after losing its last three games in 2016. I agree with the public here on the under.
(Over 7 EVEN...Under 7 -120)
Any time we get hyped or excited for an NC State team, the Wolfpack end up falling short of expectations. Will this year be any different? Head coach Dave Doeren has eight starters returning on both sides of the ball, including the front six of his 4-2-5 defense. Defensive end Bradley Chubb would probably make all-conference almost anywhere else other than the ACC. He had 10.5 sacks in 2016 and is joined by Justin Jones, B.J. Hill and Kentavius Street up front. You'll be able to beat these guys through the air as the secondary has a few holes. Tight end Jaylen Samuels is the No. 1 weapon on offense as long as Ryan Finley gets him the ball. The offensive line is pretty good with Nyheim Hines the top running back. NC State has four road games over a five-game stretch. I think seven is a good number here.
(Over 4.5 -110...Under 4.5 -110)
The Orange's season hinges upon the health of Eric Dungey. He's an underrated quarterback, but has dealt with injuries, including concussions. Wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo flourished in this offense last year, which means Ervin Philips and Steve Ishmael have a chance to put up big numbers. The problems come with a defense that gave up 500 yards and nearly 40 points per game. Ten starters are back led by linebacker Zaire Franklin. The secondary is still a major weakness, but the hope is the front seven can get to the quarterback. Syracuse opens with three games at home before traveling to LSU. I like the over as I think the Orange have a shot at five wins. October figures to be tough, however, with Pittsburgh, Clemson and Miami on tap.
(Over 5.5 +105...Under 5.5 -125)
We'll see if the old adage that bowl victories carry over the next season is true with the Demon Deacons. They beat Temple in the Military Bowl using a rare offensive explosion of 34 points. Cam Serigne is back at tight end and he's a good option to have whether it's Kendall Hinton or John Wolford under center. Both quarterbacks have had their health issues in the past so they both need to be ready. Cade Carney is a bruising running back. The defense only has five starters back with some leadership on each level. Duke Ejiofor had 10.5 sacks while Jessie Bates had 100 tackles and five interceptions last season. I think the under is a good play here too. Wake Forest has a stretch of four road games over six weeks starting in October.
(Over 4.5 -120...Under 4.5 EVEN)
There's not a ton of to like about Duke this season. Quarterback Daniel Jones had a solid freshman season with 16 touchdowns to nine interceptions. He's got Shaun Wilson at running back and T.J. Rahming out wide. The top two tacklers are back on defense, but the rest of the group is just ordinary. It's hard to count out a team coached by David Cutcliffe. Duke hosts Northwestern, Baylor, Miami and Florida State so there are opportunities for upset wins at home. Still, with the even price on the under, I'll take the value and go with four wins for the team.
(Over 6 -120...Under 6 EVEN)
The triple option is in good hands with Matthew Jordan, who led the Yellow Jackets to a road victory over Virginia Tech last November to spark a season-ending four-game winning streak. Dedrick Mills is back at B-back while Clinton Lynch and J.J. Green have the speed to break big plays on the ground. The defense has eight starters back with the secondary intact. Special teams will be relying on freshmen kickers, which could be an issue in close games. Their season starts fast with Tennessee in Atlanta and is the first of three games over a 12-day span. Six is a really good number for Georgia Tech so I have no opinion here. Paul Johnson's team should be heading to another bowl in 2017.
(Over 9 -120...Under 9 EVEN)
There are a lot of people who think Miami should win the ACC Coastal under Mark Richt. First, Richt and the coaching staff have to find their quarterback from the group of Malik Rosier, Evan Shirreffs and N'Kosi Perry. Mark Walton ran for more than 1,000 yards last year and should do the same behind an offensive line pretty that’s pretty much intact. I really like Ahmmon Richards too as a wide receiver. On defense, the front seven is in great shape while secondary has been completely rebuilt. Michael Badgley is a pretty good kicker and he's back as well. I like the under here. I'm not quite convinced that the Hurricanes are the best team in the Coastal and the schedule has some trap games.
(Over 7 EVEN...Under 7 -120)
Mitchell Trubisky going pro left a hole at quarterback that will apparently be filled by LSU graduate transfer Brandon Harris. Austin Proehl is a reliable wide receiver and is by far the top target. Transfers from USC and Florida will help the offensive line that already is pretty solid on the left side. The defense has gotten better, but was still one of the worst in the country against the run. M.J. Stewart is a fine cornerback. There are questions on special teams too. The Tar Heels do play five of their first seven games at home. I think seven is a very good number with the rivalry game against NC State being the deciding factor on the over or under.
(Over 6.5 -120...Under 6.5 EVEN)
Much like North Carolina, Pittsburgh's hole at quarterback was filled by a graduate transfer, former USC starter Max Browne who was eventually supplanted by Sam Darnold. James Conner is gone but Qadree Ollison ran for more than 1,100 yards as a freshman in 2015. Quadree Henderson is a game-breaker at wide receiver and will team with speedster Jester Weah. The defense needs to improve against the pass and hope that safety Jordan Whitehead, who is suspended for the first three games, can bounce back from a broken arm. Cornerback Avonte Maddox also needs to stay on the field. The Panthers lost four games by seven points or fewer last season. I think the under is a good play here especially at EVEN money. The defense has a lot of questions and Pitt will be tested early against Penn State and Oklahoma State.
(Over 5 -110...Under 5 -110)
Vegas has a lot more optimism for the Cavaliers this season than their fans do. Senior quarterback Kurt Benkert has to play better if the offense hopes to survive some big losses. Wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus also needs to get the ball more. He's one of the few guys who can break off a big play. The defense has studs on every level with DE Andrew Brown, LB Micah Kiser and S Quin Blanding. The problem is that the players around them aren't that great. Brown himself has yet to truly live up to his five-star recruiting ranking. Second-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall is saying all the right things, but will it translate on the field? Virginia has three straight at home to start things and can ill afford an opening loss to William & Mary after losing at home to Richmond last season. Five is a good number for the Cavaliers, especially if you believe they can beat both UConn and Indiana.
(Over 8.5 -125...Under 8.5 +105)
Bud Foster will have another strong defense in 2017. The Hokies may have one of the best secondaries in all of college football with Greg Stroman, Brandon Facyson and Terrell Edmunds. The front seven has a lot of talent so they'll be strong as usual. The offense could have used another year of Jerod Evans, but he made the head-scratching decision to go pro. Now, Virginia Tech has to find a quarterback who can get the ball to Cam Phillips. Tight end Bucky Hodges and wide receiver Isaiah Ford are both gone so the team will have to use fall camp to identify new weapons. Special teams should be solid once again. Virginia Tech has a stiff opening test against West Virginia at FedEx Field. The Hokies also welcome Clemson to Blacksburg to close out September. I think nine or 10 wins are pretty safe, so take the over.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.