Sportsbooks expect complete dominance of the ACC this season by defending national champion Florida State as the Seminoles are -300 favorites on NCAA football odds to win the conference title again and +540 favorites to repeat as national champs.
FSU A Dynasty In The Making?
Of all the schools in the five power conferences -- ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC -- the Noles are the biggest favorites to win their conference title game. They won it for the second year in a row in 2013, taking every ACC game by at least two touchdowns. It really was one of the most dominant regular seasons in college football history. Just look at how FSU destroyed its ranked opponents: 63-0 vs. then-No. 25 Maryland; 51-14 against No. 3 Clemson (which would beat a very good Ohio State team in the Orange Bowl); 41-14 vs. No. 7 Miami (Fla.); and 45-7 over No. 20 Duke in the ACC title game. Only No. 2 Auburn in the BCS title game gave FSU a scare.
Florida State is -250 to make the new four-team College Football Playoff, the only school at Bovada with odds shorter than even money. It is +170 to miss it. With Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston among 14 returning starters, the Seminoles will not be an underdog once during the 2014 regular season. They open Aug. 30 in Arlington, Texas, site of the national title game, against Oklahoma State as 19-point favorites at sportsbooks. The Pokes were a good club last year at 10-3 but are rebuilding with only nine starters back, one of the lowest numbers in the nation. All of Florida State's toughest games -- Clemson, Notre Dame, Florida -- appear to be at home. Perhaps NC State, Louisville or Miami (Fla.) has an outside shot of an upset as they all host the Seminoles. No North Carolina or Virginia Tech on the regular-season schedule, but the Heels or Hokies could see FSU in the ACC title game.
Currently there are not yet odds posted for the rest of the ACC teams, but the field is +220 to win the conference title game. Clemson probably has the second-most talent. However, the Tigers have to go to Tallahassee and it's unlikely they win there as they are breaking in a new quarterback with the departure of Tajh Boyd. So that would essentially give Florida State a two-game edge over Clemson in the Atlantic Division. Louisville also looks to be rebuilding a bit after losing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, among others, and head coach Charlie Strong.
The Coastal Division is likely to be a three-team race between UNC, Virginia Tech and Miami. It's still hard to fathom that the Hurricanes have never played in the ACC title game, but this should be Coach Al Golden's most talented club, led by Heisman contender Duke Johnson (33/1 at sportsbooks to win Heisman Trophy). He's going to carry a huge load this season because Miami has so much uncertainty at quarterback. Ryan Williams was the backup to Stephen Morris last year and set to be the 2014 starter before tearing his ACL in the spring. He's still holding out hope of being ready in September, but that is unlikely. Thus the QB for the opener at Louisville, with the Cards as 3-point favorites on NCAA football odds, on Labor Day Night is expected to either be freshman Kevin Olsen, who struggled badly in the spring game, or Kansas transfer Jake Heaps, the No. 1 recruit in the nation in 2010. Obviously the one big drawback for UM is it has to play FSU, while UNC and Virginia Tech don't. The Canes visit the Hokies on Oct. 23 and then host UNC on Nov. 1.
North Carolina welcomes 15 starters back from last year's 7-6 team that closed by winning six of its final seven games, beating Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. The good news is that Carolina hosts Virginia Tech. The bad: It has to go to Clemson, Miami (Fla.) and Duke, the reigning Coastal Division winner. UNC still doesn't know who its starting QB will be and has to replace arguably the best tight end in the nation, Eric Ebron, a first-round pick of the Detroit Lions.
Virginia Tech brings back 12 starters but lost quarterback Logan Thomas and one of the nation's best cornerbacks in Kyle Fuller, a first-round pick of the Chicago Bears. Coach Frank Beamer's team has missed out on the ACC title game two years in a row -- it has never gone three straight without playing in it. The Hokies' ACC schedule is about as easy as you could want with FSU no or Clemson on it.
I suppose I need to mention Duke because it is the defending Coastal champion, and the Blue Devils do bring back eight starters on offense. That includes both QBs, Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette, who combined for 45 total touchdowns rushing and throwing last season. The Dukies should be embarrassed by their non-conference schedule of Elon, Troy, Kansas and Tulane, but they certainly will be 4-0 when they open ACC play at Miami. Duke also gets UNC and Virginia Tech at home and doesn't face Florida State or Clemson. If Coach David Cutcliffe gets this team back to the ACC title game, he's going to be snapped up by a college powerhouse or an NFL team.
NCAA Football Free Picks
Florida State wins the Atlantic and Miami wins the Coastal, but the Canes must beat Louisville in the opener to do so, because one has to presume that they lose to Florida State. Two ACC losses might be too many to win the division. FSU beats UM again for the ACC championship, and indeed plays in the national semifinals.