The ACC has come to define the soft middle of college football over the last decade, but is the arrow pointing up on the conference as a whole? With traditional powers Miami and Florida State seemingly on the rise, Clemson finally living up to its potential, Virginia Tech chugging along and new hope at UNC and Virginia, the conference has a chance to become relevant again. In the cyclical world we live in the ACC is due to take a step up and I can see it happening in the next few years, but as for 2012, don’t get overconfident. The programs aren’t there yet, so play this league at your own risk.
Miami (2011 Record ATS: 7-5)
Here’s what you need to know about the ‘Canes: on paper, they appear to be a middle of the pack team. The offense returns only 4 starters and is breaking in a new quarterback in Stephen Morris, so most are expecting some serious scoring droughts. The defense returns a little more experience (5 starters) but will be breaking in its share of players too, and the special teams appear to be in good shape with a seemingly solid kicker and punter. Now throw all that out and look at it from this perspective: Miami has three top-16 recruiting classes in the last 4 years (’09,’10,’12), cover machine (37-22-1 ATS in his last 5 years as a head coach) Al Golden calling the shots, and no Jacory Harris to mess things up. Golden is used to heading teams with little expectations and I expect nothing less than 7-9 covers from the ‘Canes this season.
North Carolina State (2011 Record ATS: 6-6-1)
If you’re looking for a sleeper, look no further than the Wolfpack, a team that started slow but finished with a bang (6-2 ATS last eight games). They return the lions share of starters from last season, QB Mike Glennon is a reliable senior, and you what you’re getting with head coach Tom O’Brien. At worst, NC State will be a near lock at home against the ACC’s soft middle, at best we could be looking at a top-15 team on pace for double-digit covers.
North Carolina (2011 Record ATS: 6-7)
I don’t think UNC ever figured out the type of team it wanted to be in 2011. One week they’re wining a 49-24 shootout and the next they’re slugging along and losing 0-13. We can mark it up as an abnormal year with the rushed elevation of Everett Withers to head coach, and now that Larry Fedora has come in and provided some stability I hope we can expect more consistency from the Tar Heels. My prediction is that UNC, if nothing else, will be interesting; the offense has a chance to be very good with blue-chippers Bryn Renner and Giovani Bernard holding down the backfield and 4 starters returning on the O-line. The defense, which was the calling card under Butch Jones, is mostly turned over, so don’t expect the same brand of pre-NFL prototypes in Chapel Hill. With Fedora at the helm I can see this team turning into a C-USA team on steroids – explosive offense and a winded D. In either event I’m expecting value with the spreads and I anticipate some early plays on the Heels.
Virginia Tech (2011 Record ATS: 4-9-1)
Out of 27 teams with 10 straight up wins or more on 2011, only 4 were below .500 ATS. Two (Boise State and TCU) were significant favorites almost every week; the other two were Northern Illinois and Virginia Tech. Tech also holds the distinction of having the largest difference between covers and straight up wins (-7) since Texas in 2009 (-8). The point is, last year was an anomaly and the normally reliable Hokies should be back in black this season, QB Logan Thomas is worth getting excited about, and the defense returns 8 starters from a unit that was 10th in the country in total yards in 2011.
Maryland (2011 Record ATS: 2-10)
Relative to expectations, I have a hard time thinking of a worse rookie season than Randy Edsall has in College Park. The Terps were absolutely awful a year ago and Edsall found a way to ruin a promising QB (Danny O’Brien) at the same time. Well, there’s nowhere to go but up I guess, though with the hiring cover doormat Mike Locksley, Edsall already appears to be looking for excuses.
Florida State (2011 Record ATS: 7-6)
I was too early for the ‘Noles Return-to-Glory train heading into last season, faltering early on bets I placed on them against Oklahoma and Wake Forest. Just as everyone on the national stage was writing them off, FSU rattled of 4 straight covers and finished strong by covering 6 of their remaining 8 overall. Will the momentum continue into this season? With 7 starters returning on offense and 6 returning on defense (sans the dismissed Greg Reid), the pieces are in place. But I still don’t trust EJ Manuel and the offense, a unit that looked clueless at times a year ago. Vegas is expecting big things from this big brand, so forget about value. I see them in the neighborhood of 5-7 covers.
Clemson (2011 Record ATS: 8-6)
Hopefully you bought Clemson early last season and sold them at their peak, as for 2/3 of the season they were arguably the country’s best bet (7-0 ATS against D-1 opponents to start) only to explode in-flight (1-5 ATS to finish). On paper, Clemson should be even better this season, with 15 starters returning and a sick set of skill players (Tahj Boyd, Andre Ellington, and Sammy Watkins) to run Chad Morris’s spread offense. At the end of the day, if you bet on Clemson, you’re betting on their offense, which averaged 35.9 ppg in wins and only 19 ppg in losses. If you’ve got any reason to believe it will falter, give the Tigers the week off.
Virginia (2011 Record ATS: 6-7)
The product on the field improved, but unfortunately Mike London took his program into the “Pat Fitzgerald’s Northwestern” of college football betting in 2011: capable of remarkable road wins (at Florida State, at Miami) but take nothing for granted (beating D-1 cellar-dwellers Indiana and Idaho by a combined 4 points and losing to Southern Miss at home). Is the no-fly zone a final destination for London or just a stop to refuel? The arrow seems pointed up in Charlottesville, but the talent level might not be there just yet for a major jump. This team could be for real come 2013 but this season I’m playing it conservative with Virginia.
Duke (2011 Record ATS: 6-6)
David Cutcliffe is bad for the gambling scene. In 4 years he’s square in the middle ATS (23-21-2) and always seems to sport the same team – an average offense is putrid defense. I guess we can expect more of the same from Duke, which in my case means laying off games involving them.
Boston College (2011 Record ATS: 6-6)
Is there a likelier program to have the bottom fall out than Frank Spaziani’s Eagles? Currently listed as the #1 coach on the hot seat, BC has regressed under his watch and in a conference looking for a doormat this could be the end of Spaz. The offense has been among the country’s worst the last 3 seasons (ranked 112th in 2011) and the defense, which has kept the program afloat, took a major step back last season (giving up 394 yards/game). I have to think it will get worse before it gets better for BC fans, and this could be a season to make a lot of money betting against them.
Georgia Tech (2011 Record ATS: 5-7-1)
On paper, Georgia Tech should improve on its 8-5 season with 16 starters returning and stability at the head coach and quarterback positions. But something just doesn’t sit well with me with Paul Johnson’s antiquated offense, which has produced a below-average 10-14-1 ATS mark over the last two seasons. Has the ACC caught up to the gimic? By all accounts, the conference is improving and there’s a reason no one runs the triple-option anymore. I think they’re too talented and experienced to completely drop the ball, but I’m bearish on the Jackets and expect 5-6 covers max.
Wake Forest (2011 Record ATS: 8-5)
And we thought Jim Grobe was dead. Just when we thought Wake Forest was down for the count, Grobe sprang up from the floor and knocked us with an 8-5 uppercut. Still, at the end of the day the Deacons were a mirage and in an improved ACC Vegas won’t get fooled again.