College Football: ACC Betting Preview

Clemson has won three straight ACC titles. Should you be betting on them to make it four, or could an underdog rise to the top of the conference in 2018?

As the season inches even closer now, we continue our conference preview series with the Atlantic Coast Conference. Two of the past five NCAA champions have also won the ACC, and there are a couple teams that could make a playoff run this year. Below are the current betting odds for each team to win the conference, courtesy of Bovada (as of 8/28/2018).

Florida State+750
Virginia Tech+1500
Georgia Tech+3500
N.C. State+3500
Boston College+5000
Wake Forest+8000
North Carolina+12500

The ACC has been ruled by Clemson and Florida State for the last nine seasons, but in 2017, the upstart Miami Hurricanes went 7-1 in the ACC and made it all the way to the championship game before losing to Clemson. The eighth-ranked Hurricanes are poised to make another run, but the best bet lies with the heavy favorite.

Best Value: Clemson Tigers -185

Sometimes, bettors just have to bite the bullet and back the heavy favorite. In this case, the Clemson Tigers are looking to defend their ACC Championship for the fourth straight season with arguably their best team yet. Clemson is ranked first in the country by both The Power Rank and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), despite only being ranked second in the preseason AP poll.

Clemson returns eight defensive starters, including all four defensive linemen -- Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell, and Austin Bryant. Last season, Clemson ranked second in defensive S&P+ behind only Alabama, and their defensive line was absolutely dominant, ranking first in adjusted sack rate. Networks should consider issuing a “viewer discretion is advised” warning prior to broadcasting the Tigers because their line will likely pulverize opposing quarterbacks this year.

Senior quarterback Kelly Bryant returns as the starter, and despite a 77.6 QBR, the Tigers occasionally struggled passing the ball behind a pass-blocking line that ranked 86th in adjusted sack rate and allowed 2.3 sacks per game last season. However, the Tigers return three linemen and two of those were voted to the All-ACC First Team last season (center Justin Falcinelli and tackle Mitch Hyatt). The added experience for that group should help the passing game, along with the addition of freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who was ranked second overall in ESPN’s 2018 recruiting class. Lawrence gives Clemson the depth to adapt when needed, as Alabama did with Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovoiloa last season.

FPI projects Clemson’s win probability to be at least 80% against every opponent save for road trips to Texas A&M (75.7%) and Florida State (76.3%). According to ESPN’s playoff predictor, the Tigers have the highest probability to win the College Football Playoff, at 24%, which is 10% higher than the next most likely contender (Alabama). Not only is Clemson the best bet to win the ACC, but at +400 odds, they’re the odds-on favorite to win the College Football Playoff, too.

Long Shot Value: Boston College Eagles +5000

The Boston College Eagles are the biggest longshot we’ve covered so far. The Eagles have a difficult four-week stretch in which they play Miami, Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Florida State. The key for an ACC Championship run will be running back A.J. Dillon and an offensive line that returns all five starters.

Dillon was impressive last season, as he averaged 5.3 yards per rush and made the All-ACC First Team as a freshman. This year, he was voted to the preseason AP All-American Second Team and is expected to improve behind an experienced offensive line that ranked 33rd in adjusted line yards last season. The Eagles’ main strength was pass defense as they ranked 10th in passing defense S&P+ last season, and they return both of their safeties. The Eagles don’t have the same level of talent as the top teams in the ACC, but their strengths make them a tough matchup for any of the conference favorites.

Boston College only ranks 34th in The Power Rank’s predictive rankings, but a couple upsets could put them in a good spot to contend. Clemson will probably win the ACC, but Boston College has the tools to crash the top 25 and is the best team of the ACC’s middle class.

Avoid: Florida State Seminoles +750

New coach Willie Taggert inherits a talented Florida State team from Jimbo Fisher, but at the current odds, bettors should look the other way. FPI ranks the Seminoles’ schedule as the second-toughest in the country, mainly due to their matchup with title-favorite Clemson and road games against Notre Dame, Miami, and Louisville. Florida State has an uphill battle to even qualify for the ACC Championship Game, let alone win the whole thing.

Florida State lost Deondre Francois for the season in last season’s opener against Alabama, and although he returns alongside running back Cam Akers -- who averaged 5.3 yards per rush last year -- the Seminoles must improve on their 76th ranked offense, per S&P+, to have even a remote chance to win the conference.

The Seminoles relied on their defense last season, but only return four starters this year. Florida State did have a crucial weakness on defense; they struggled to rush the passer. Their defensive line only ranked 81st in adjusted sack rate and a rotten 122nd in adjusted sack rate on obvious passing downs (defined by Football Outsiders as seconds downs with 8 or more yards to go or third downs with 5 or more yards to go).

Florida State will face off with some prolific quarterbacks on this year’s schedule, including the aforementioned Kelly Bryant, N.C. State’s Ryan Finley, and Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush, all of whom ranked among the top 20 quarterbacks in QBR last year. The Seminoles must greatly improve their pass rush if they plan on contending in the ACC.

The 'Noles open the season against Virginia Tech at home and lay 7.5 points to the Hokies. Currently, our model recommends betting Virginia Tech +7.5 with three stars. The key matchup to watch will be Akers against the front four for Virginia Tech, who ranked sixth in adjusted line yards last season. If the Hokies can limit Florida State’s running game and put the pressure on Francois to move the ball through the air, they’ll keep this game close and likely cover the spread on Monday night.