ACC Preview: How About an All-Sunshine State Conference Title Game?

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Matthew Jordan

Thursday, May 25, 2017 4:41 PM GMT

The ACC has not won back-to-back college football national championships since the start of the BCS era. Could it in 2017? And which school will represent the ACC in the 2017 College Football Playoff? This capper says one from Florida.

Breaking Down The ACC

If I were to ask you which conference was the best last year in college football, your first two thoughts likely would be either the SEC or Big Ten. You would be wrong. The SEC, frankly, was rather down in 2016 outside of Alabama. Yes, the Big Ten got a record four schools into New Year’s Six bowls, but three of those lost and the conference as a whole took a beating in the bowls.

Meanwhile, the ACC is the king of men’s college sports right now. North Carolina won the national championship in basketball back in April, and Clemson claimed the second football national title in school history with a January upset of Alabama in an epic game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. It was the ACC’s second title in four years as Florida State took the final BCS crown.

In addition, the ACC was a sterling 9-3 in bowls last season, easily the best mark in the country. Overall, the ACC finished 10-4 against the SEC and 6-2 vs. the Big Ten -- both league records for wins against those conferences. A whopping 11 teams finished with a winning overall record (only basketball schools Syracuse, Duke and Virginia didn’t), also a league best. The ACC was the only league with a winning record against Power 5 opponents in 2016 (17-9) and was 51-17 against all non-conference opponents, the best record of any conference.

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Atlantic Still Superior To Coastal

The ACC’s Atlantic Division has been significantly better at the top than the Coastal this decade with the rise of Clemson to join Florida State among the nation’s elite programs. That looks to be the case again in 2017 – especially when you add in also rising Louisville.

FSU is the +120 betting favorite at 5Dimes to win the ACC title and a +625 second-favorite to win the national championship. Yes, the Seminoles lost one of the best running backs in conference history in Dalvin Cook, but 16 starters return. That includes most likely the top returning quarterback in the ACC in Deondre Francois, who threw for 3,350 yards and 20 scores while rushing for 198 yards and five TDs as a freshman. He is +1800 on college football odds to win the Heisman.

The Noles probably open the season at No. 2 in the polls and play expected No. 1 Alabama in the non-conference game of the year on Sept. 2 from Atlanta. FSU is a 7-point dog there. No two-loss team has made the College Football Playoff yet, but I believe Florida State could if it hangs close with Bama and then has only one close loss to a good team in the ACC’s regular season. FSU would then certainly have to win the conference title game.

It might be a mini-rebuilding season for Clemson (+350 to win ACC) after losing quarterback Deshaun Watson, the greatest player in school history, as well as receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, tailback Wayne Gallman, and tight end Jordan Leggett from the offense. Junior Kelly Bryant is atop the current depth chart to replace Watson, who frankly is irreplaceable. Clemson does get FSU at home this season on Nov. 11.

Louisville (+400) is going to score plenty again led by reigning Heisman Trophy-winning QB Lamar Jackson, but the Cardinals faded in a big way last season and I don’t see them winning at Florida State on Oct. 21.

The Coastal Division has been a mess for a few years and could be again. Miami is the +700 favorite from that group to win the ACC title. Still hard to believe that the Hurricanes have yet to play in the ACC title game; it doesn't help that Miami has to play Florida State every year and no other Coastal team does that. The Canes are very much on the way back to prominence, however, under Coach Mark Richt after ending last season on a five-game winning streak – including a thumping of No. 16 West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl. UM would have been a clear-cut favorite to win the Coastal had QB Brad Kaaya returned, but he opted for the draft. Still, the Canes have 15 starters overall back and should be terrific defensively.

Virginia Tech (+900) and Pittsburgh (+2500) figure to be Miami’s top contenders in the Coastal. Both those schools must replace starting QBs, Jerod Evans for the Hokies and Nathan Peterman for the Panthers. Miami visits Virginia Tech on Oct. 20 and hosts Pitt on Nov. 5. I fully expect a two-loss (in conference) team to win the Coastal because it has happened four of the past five years.

Free ACC Title Pick: FSU Over MiamiBest Lines Offered: 5Dimes