Last season was one of the toughest I can remember to handicap ACC win totals. With COVID causing schedule changes, teams not playing at full strength, and an inability to gauge how prepared teams would be week-in and week-out; guessing team win totals in September proved challenging. But we’re back for another go around in 2021. Here’s how I look at the ACC heading into the year.
6.5 Wins: Over +105; Under -125
I’m bullish on this Virginia team as I’m looking at last season as more of an aberration vice a sign that progress has stalled under Bronco Mendenhall. The COVID season was just weird, and by November I got the feeling this team was exhausted, and not from football. Brennan Armstrong showed he was more than capable and I expect a big leap from him this year. The secondary doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be better. The schedule is no cake-walk however. I think six wins is Virginia’s floor, but with a couple breaks they could win a couple more.
Pick: Over 6.5
Boston College Eagles
7 Wins: Over -150; Under +130
Boston College’s 2020 season was much like Virginia’s in that a lot of their energy went into making sure they were ready to play each week amidst the COVID pandemic. That has to take away from a team’s ability to bring it on the field every Saturday. Still, Phil Jurkovec is a ton of fun to watch and their transformation from a ground and pound juggernaut to an air-it-out offense is complete. The Eagles are one of my favorite teams to go over, even if seven is steep and there’s a lot of juice.
Pick: Over 7
11.5 Wins: Over +110; Under -130
Clemson is always tough to peg. They have to go undefeated to hit this over and given their dominance over the ACC, that’s likely to happen again. However this season they open against the Georgia Bulldogs. Given that game should be close and all it would take is one game to trip up the Tigers, I think the Under is the play.
Pick: Under 11.5
Duke Blue Devils
3.5 Wins: Over -135; Under +115
This line is about spot on. Given Duke’s schedule I think there are three games they should win. Whether or not they can pick up one more win is the question. Duke’s defense, despite being outmanned for the most part, has been their strength in recent years, but this year’s squad won’t be as solid. Gunnar Holmberg takes over for Chase Brice at quarterback, but he is in his third year under David Cutcliffe. I think that’s enough just to get them one additional W.
Pick: Over 3.5
Florida State Seminoles
5.5 Wins: Over -130; Under +110
There is too much talent in Tallahassee for this program to be this bad. Their offensive line has been the major culprit and there’s no way it can be as bad as it’s been in recent years. Jordan Travis is...fine. But, overall the schedule is brutal. They have to play Notre Dame and Florida in the non-conference then they draw North Carolina in addition to their rival Miami from the Coastal. The majority of their “winnable” games all come on the road, so getting to bowl eligibility looks tough unless the talent finally translates to wins.
Pick: Under 5.5
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
4.5 Wins: Over -130; Under +110
In year three of the transition from a triple option offense, Georgia Tech will be better, but looking at their schedule it’s hard to find five wins. With Notre Dame and Georgia on the non-conference slate, I’d expect they go no better than 2-2. Then when looking at the conference slate, some of the more winnable games against Duke and Virginia come back-to-back on the road. The Yellow Jackets will eventually be back under Geoff Collins, but it won’t be this year.
Pick: Under 4.5
6.5 Wins: Over -105; Under -115
I struggle with Louisville. They have all the makings of a team that should be good each and every year, but for some reason they haven’t been able to put it together week in and week out since Lamar Jackson was there. Malik Cunningham is a play-maker at quarterback but he turned it over way too much last season. Fortunately for the Cardinals, their defense a season ago was able to make up for those shortcomings. That won’t be the case this season as their defense lost key pieces in the middle of field at Linebacker and Safety. Cunningham will have to be spectacular to outscore opponents and if the offense can’t hold onto the football it’s going to be a long year in the ‘Ville.
Pick: Under 6.5
9 Wins: Over -120; Under +100
I wish this line gave us a half game either way. I have Miami at exactly nine wins so it all comes down to whether I think it’s more likely they go 10-2 or 8-4. Their opener against Alabama is likely a loss and they have to travel to UNC and Pitt. They do get Virginia, Florida State, and NC State in Coral Gables. However, given the opener with Alabama, I find it difficult to project them to lose just one more game. Also, given the plus money on the under, I think that is where the value lies.
Pick: Under 9
North Carolina Tar Heels
9.5 Wins: Over -125; Under +105
Can the North Carolina Tar Heels really win ten games? I’m hesitant to say yes, but this will be one of the best teams they’ve had in years. The schedule is manageable with Miami coming to Chapel Hill and they dodge Clemson from the Atlantic. Sam Howell saw his two leading backs off to the NFL, but there is still plenty of firepower in this offense. They’ll have to play all four quarters of games (they tended to have one quarter per game where they struggled), but ten wins is in the cards.
Pick: Over 9.5
N.C. State Wolfpack
6.5 Wins: Over +100; Under -120
I’m really high on this Wolfpack team and the value is actually on the over. After a disappointing 2019, NC State bounced back last year to rack up eight wins. Devin Leary is back after an early season injury and should be able to keep the ‘Pack in shootouts that their defense will inevitably put them in.
Pick: Over 6.5
7.5 Wins: Over -120; Under +100
Another team I like a bit more than their total are the Pitt Panthers. Back in his seventeenth year at the helm of the Panthers is quarterback Kenny Pickett. Pickett will bring loads of experience and can be effective with both his arm and his legs. He doesn’t have to be great though, because the Pitt defense is still very good. They won’t have the devastating pass rush they’ve had in recent years, but they’ll still be one of the better units in the league. Their non-conference is manageable with a trip to Tennessee the toughest test. If they can win that one, they should be 5-0 before their matchup at VaTech and even with a loss there they’d still be in great shape to win eight games.
Pick: Over 7.5
3.5 Wins: Over +100; Under -120
I don't think the Orange were nearly as bad as they looked last season. Like Virginia and Boston College, COVID didn’t affect all teams in the same manner and I think the energy Syracuse expended to get ready to play each took a toll on the product on the field. That being said, I’m having a hard time finding even three wins. The Atlantic is a solid division and the Orange draw VaTech (in Blacksburg) and Pitt from the Coastal so ACC wins won’t be easy to come by. Tommy DeVito is pressing Kenny Pickett for ACC elder statesman and is very good, but the pieces around him might not have what it takes to get to four wins.
Pick: Under 3.5
Virginia Tech Hokies
7.5 Wins: Over +130; Under -150
It still amazes that Bronco Mendenhall and Justin Fuente have been at their respective schools the same amount of time. And it’s further intriguing that despite having a winning record and a 4-1 record against the other it’s Fuente that is squarely on the coaching hot seat and Mendenhall that has his fan base excited about the future. I guess that’s what happens when one wins 10 games out of the gate and falls while the other starts with two and steadily climbs. I don’t think the Hokies approach seven wins much less surpass it, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Fuente doesn’t make it to the Commonwealth Cup this year.
Pick: Under 7.5
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
7 Wins: Over -110; Under -110
With five of their last seven games on the road, the Demon Deacons had better get off to a strong start. That is possible however with early games abasing Old Dominion, Norfolk State, and Florida State all at home. However, even with a strong start, I see them only getting to six wins. Most of the games against their peers are on the road, and while they do host the Wolfpack, I like this NC State team a little more than I like Wake.
Pick: Under 7