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2014 ACC Predictions

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SEC · Pac-12 · Big-12 · ACC · Big Ten
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**Skinny**

Following 12 years of mediocrity for Florida State standards, the storied program returned to prominence in 2013 and won its first national title since 1999. The Seminoles played from behind all night in the BCS Championship Game, only to rally and beat Auburn 34-31 thanks to a late touchdown pass from Jameis Winston.

Winston is one of seven offensive starters, along with six starters on defense, returning from a team that went 14-0 straight up and 11-2-1 against the spread. As a redshirt freshman, Winston won the Heisman by throwing for 4,057 yards with a 40/10 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

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Winston will have a pair of All-American candidates to throw to in WR Rashad Greene and TE Nick O'Leary. Greene had 76 receptions for 1,128 yards and nine TDs, while O'Leary caught 33 balls for 557 yards and seven TDs.

FSU's defense lost its coordinator and five of its top six tacklers. Nevertheless, new DC Charles Kelly has plenty of talent on hand. The leaders of this unit will include DE Mario Edwards, CB PJ Williams and LB Terrance Smith.

FSU is an enormous -340 'chalk' to win a third consecutive ACC Championship. Jimbo Fisher's team is also the favorite to repeat as national champs with a +360 price tag (risk $100 to win $360). The Seminoles have a season win total of 11.5 ('under' -120, 'over' -110).

FSU's schedule sets up nicely for it to get to the first College Football Playoff. The season opener at Jerry World in Arlington comes against an Oklahoma St. squad that lost a ton of talent from last season's 10-win team. Then the 'Noles get their toughest games (vs. Clemson, vs. Notre Dame and vs. Florida) at home in Tallahassee.

If there's a spot that could present a lot of danger, it might be an Oct. 30 date at Louisville. For more than a decade, FSU has been notorious for finding a way to lose in Thursday night road assignments. In fact, the 'Noles last trip to Papa John's Stadium resulted in a 2002 loss on a Thursday night.

Clemson is going to have its best defense of the Dabo Swinney Era. Senior DE Vic Beasley garnered first-team All-American honors as a junior, producing 13 sacks, 10 tackles for loss and 12 QB hurries.

Brent Venables, in his third year since coming over from Oklahoma, has worked wonders on this side of the ball. The Tigers allowed just 24.8 and 22.2 points per game in 2012 and '13, respectively. Remember, he inherited a unit that gave up 70 points to Geno Smith and West Va. in the Orange Bowl before his arrival.

Swinney has one of the best combinations of coordinators in the nation, but OC Chad Morris won't have Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins at his disposal any longer. Boyd and Watkins are off to the NFL after shattering the school record books and leading Clemson to three straight double-digit win seasons.

Senior QB Cole Stoudt takes over at center, but he could get pushed by true freshman Deshaun Watson at some point during the season. Watson, the prize jewel of the team's 2014 recruiting haul, was considered by most as the second-best dual-threat QB coming out of high school. Stoudt hasn't seen much significant playing time, but he has an 8/1 career TD-INT ratio. He completed 47-of-59 throws (79.7%) for 415 yards and five TDs without an interception last year. Stoudt will definitely get the starting nod in Week 1 at Georgia.

Clemson will play three of its four toughest games in September. After opening in Athens, where UGA will seeking to avenge a heartbreaking loss in Death Valley last year, Clemson will get an open date ahead of its trip to FSU on Sept. 20. Then the Tigers get North Carolina at home the next week. They close the regular season at home against South Carolina, which has won five in a row over its in-state rival by double-digit margins.

Clemson has the third-shortest odds to win the ACC (+850, risk $100 to win $850) and 80/1 odds to win the national title. The Tigers have a win total of 8.5 ('under' -135, 'over' -105).

Louisville went 41-9 in Bobby Petrino's previous tenure at the school. After a disastrous 13-game tenure with the Atlanta Falcons, followed by a nice run at Arkansas that ended in turmoil, chaos and humiliation for him and his family, Petrino is back at U of L with a new lease on life and his career.

Following a year off to work on his marriage and an eight-win campaign at Western Ky., Petrino takes over for Charlie Strong as the Cardinals enter the ACC. They'll do so without three first-round picks from the recent NFL Draft, including three-year starting QB Teddy Bridgewater.

Louisville went 12-1 in 2013 with its only loss coming when it allowed a double-digit advantage to get away in a 38-35 home loss to Central Florida. The Cardinals return seven starters on offense but only four on defense.

Petrino hired Todd Grantham as his new DC after he spent four years at UGA in the same position. Grantham, who got a guaranteed five-year contract worth nearly $1 million per, is a feisty character who nearly came to blows with former Vandy coach James Franklin three years ago. According to an SI report earlier this week, Petrino and Grantham have been feuding frequently. (The more things change, the more BP stays the same, although he may have an equal jackass in Grantham.)

U of L has a nice tandem of RBs with Dominique Brown (825 rushing yards, eight TDs and a 5.1 YPC average in 2013) and Michael Dyer, the former star at Auburn who won MVP honors in the BCS Championship Game win over Oregon in January of 2011). Also, four of the top five pass catchers are back, including DaVante Parker, who had 12 TD receptions and earned first-team All-AAC honors.

The question mark is at QB, but reports out of Louisville indicate that third-year sophomore Will Gardner has looked sharp at camp. He's got good size (6'5"), nice talent around him and an outstanding QB tutor in Petrino. Another positive going for Gardner is that if U of L can win its opener over Miami, he can develop during a soft six-game stretch that follows. The Cardinals will probably be favored in their first six games and could be 6-0 going into an Oct. 11 showdown at Clemson.

U of L has 18/1 odds to win the ACC, 300/1 to win the national title. The Cards have a win total of eight ('over' -125, 'under' +105).

Syracuse went 7-6 SU and 8-5 ATS in its debut season in the ACC. The Orange finished in style with a 21-17 win over Minnesota as a 4.5-point underdog in the Texas Bowl.

Scott Shafer's squad returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense. Junior QB Terrel Hunt had a 6-4 record in his 10 starts, rushing for 500 yards and seven TDs. Hunt threw for 1,638 yards with a 10/8 TD-INT ratio.

North Carolina St. limped to a 3-9 SU record and a 3-8-1 ATS mark in Dave Doeren's first year at the helm. The Wolfpack bring back seven starters on each side of the ball, but the biggest thing going for it is new QB Jacoby Brissett.

The Florida transfer was thrown to the wolves as a true freshman, taking his first collegiate snaps at top-ranked LSU as a surprise starter when the two QBs ahead of him were injured. Brissett, who has good size and a strong arm, got beaten out by Jeff Driskel and transferred after his sophomore campaign at UF. He sat out 2013 and will have two years of eligibility.

N.C. St. has a win total of 5.5 ('over' -165, 'under' -135). If the Pack can prevail at South Fla. in Week 3, the rest of the non-conference slate leaves open the door to a potential 4-0 start going into a Sept. 27 home game vs. FSU.

Boston College enjoyed a surprisingly successful first season under Steve Addazio, who won more games than Frank Spaziani in the two previous years combined. Addazio rode the workhorse legs of RB Andre Williams to a 7-6 record both SU and ATS. Williams is off to the pros after rushing for 2,177 yards and 18 TDs (6.1 YPC average) to become the school's all-time leading rusher.

BC brings back only three starters on offense and six on defense. The Eagles have to replace four-year starting QB Chase Rettig, who had a 17/8 TD-INT ratio in 2013. Like N.C. St., BC will turn to a Florida transfer to become its starter under center.

That will be senior Tyler Murphy, who was recruited to UF by Addazio when he was on Urban Meyer's staff. Murphy never touched the field until Driskel broke his leg in Week 3 last season. Murphy took over and promptly led the Gators to wins over Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas. However, he sustained a shoulder injury in a 17-6 loss at LSU.

Murphy played through the pain for three more weeks, but he wasn't the same and was eventually shut down for the season after a disastrous performance against Vanderbilt. Murphy will play with an inexperience group of WRs that's leading pass catcher had only nine receptions last year.

Wake Forest is beginning a complete rebuilding project with new head coach Dave Clawson, who replaces Jim Grobe after his tenure took a turn for the worse once the Riley Skinner Era ended. Clawson inherits a 4-8 squad that returns five starters on each side of the ball.

The Demon Deacons must replace four-year starter Tanner Price, who finished second in school history (behind only Skinner) in passing yards. Clawson declared his new starter early in camp, electing to go with true freshman John Wolford. If Clawson can get Wake to its first bowl game since 2011, he should be in the running for ACC Coach of the Year honors.

The ACC Coastal Division is wide open. North Carolina owns the second-shortest odds (8/1) to dethrone FSU as conference champs. Larry Fedora's team has 100/1 odds to win the national title and has a win total of 8.5 ('under' -160, 'over' +130).

UNC lost five of its first six games in 2013, only to win six of its last seven behind the stellar play of QB Marquise Williams. The only defeat during this stretch was a 27-25 heartbreaker at Duke in the regular-season finale. The Tar Heels blasted Cincinnati 39-17 at the Belk Bowl, hooking up their backers as 2.5-point 'chalk.'

Fedora has eight starters back on offense and seven on defense. Williams will try to build on his breakout campaign that saw him rush for a team-high 536 yards and six TDs. He threw for 1,698 yards with a 15/6 TD-INT ratio in nine games (six starts). Williams has four of his top five WRs returning along with top RB T.J. Logan, who averaged 5.7 YPC last year.

Va. Tech posted double-digit wins in its first eight seasons in the ACC. However, the Hokies are only 15-11 over the last two years. Even worse for our purposes, they have limped to an abysmal 12-27-1 spread record in their last 40 games.

Va. Tech returns nine starters on offense and five on defense. The Hokies have 10/1 odds to win the ACC, 200/1 odds to win the national title. Their win total is eight ('over' -135, 'under' +105).

Va. Tech is hoping to get a spark at QB from Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer, who has a nice set of skill players around him. Trey Edmunds rushed for 675 yards and 10 TDs as a redshirt freshman last season, while the Hokies have a trio of WRs (Willie Byrn, Demitri Knowles and Joshua Stanford), who combined to make 136 catches for nearly 2,000 yards.

Bud Foster's secondary is one of the country's best. Kendall Fuller was the ACC's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013 when he had six interceptions and 11 passes broken up. Luther Maddy is a dynamic pass rusher who tallied 6.5 sacks and 16 QB hurries.

Miami is still looking for its first Coastal title under Al Golden, who is going into his fourth season. The Hurricanes won their first seven games last year, only to then drop three in a row by 18 points or more. Injuries took their toll late in the season, especially the loss of star RB Duke Johnson, and they got smashed 36-9 by Louisville in the postseason.

UM has 20/1 odds to win the ACC, 200/1 odds to win the national championship. The 'Canes have a win total of 7.5 shaded to the 'over' at a -130 price.

Journeyman QB Jake Heaps, who has previous stops at BYU and Kansas and was one of the nation's top prep QBs several years ago, appears poised to get the first crack at the QB job -- at least in the opener at Louisville. That's because Ryan Williams remains injured (with hope of returning in October) and redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen is facing a one-game suspension.

The good news is that Johnson is back and healthy. He had 920 rushing yards for six TDs with a 6.1 YPC average before going down to a season-ending injury . The 'Canes fell apart without the first-team All-ACC performer, who is also a threat on special teams.

WR Phillip Dorsett was also bitten by the injury bag in 2013, but he's back healthy and ready to go. On the flip side, standout safety Rayshwan Jenkins has already been lost to a season-ending injury. Denzel Perryman will be the leader on defense after making a team-high 108 tackles.

Duke has been hit hard by a pair of injuries in the last week. First, MLB Kelby Brown suffered a season-ending ACL tear, the third of his career. This time it was to his left knee after twice injuring the right knee. Brown was a first-team All-ACC selection in 2013 when he made 114 tackles (10 for loss), recorded one sack, produced two interceptions and registered eight QB hurries.

Another All-ACC performer, third-team TE Braxton Deaver, also tore his ACL and is out for the year. Deaver was second on the team in receptions (46) and receiving yards (600) and had four TD catches.

Due to those losses, Duke brings back seven starters on offense and five on defense. David Cutcliffe took his program to a second straight bowl game and the school's first appearance in the ACC Championship Game. The Blue Devils finished 10-4 SU and 10-3-1 ATS and two of their losses were heartbreakers, a 58-55 home loss to Pitt and a 52-48 setback to Texas A&M at the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Anthony Boone returns for his second full season as the starting QB. He had a 13/13 TD-INT ratio and five rushing TDs in 2013. His main playmaker Jamison Crowder is a two-time All-ACC selection who is off an 11-TD campaign. Crowder had eight TD receptions, two TDs on punt returns and a rushing score. He had 108 receptions for 1,360 yards.

Duke has 55/1 odds to win the ACC, 1,000/1 odds to win the national title and a win total of 8.5 ('under' -185).

Pittsburgh has gone to back-to-back bowl games in the first two seasons on Paul Chryst's watch, yet it is just .500 (13-13 SU) since he took over. The Panthers are off a 7-6 campaign that included a 30-27 win over Bowling Green as 6.5-point underdogs at the Little Caesar's Bowl.

Pitt brings back eight starters on offense and five on defense. Tom Savage (21/9 TD-INT) is gone, however, so Chad Voytik will have big shoes to replace. He will benefit from the return of the team's top RBs, though, and All-American candidate Tyler Boyd. As a freshman last season, Boyd garnered first-team Freshman All-American honors and was a second-team All-ACC selection. He hauled in 85 receptions for 1,174 yards and seven TDs.

The Panthers have 45/1 odds to win the ACC, 1,000/1 odds to win the national championship. They have a win total of 7.5 ('under' -150).

Paul Johnson enters his seventh season at Ga. Tech and it could be a crucial one. The Yellow Jackets won 20 games in his first two years, but they are only three games over .500 since then. Johnson has taken Ga. Tech to six consecutive bowl games, but they are 1-5 in those postseason appearances. I think Johnson is an outstanding coach, but Ga. Tech has a history of getting rid of coaches (think Chan Gailey) that don't show progress and consistently lose to Georgia.

Ga. Tech went 7-6 SU and 6-6-1 ATS in 2013, losing a 25-17 decision to Ole Miss at the Music City Bowl. The Yellow Jackets return six starters on offense and four on defense. Third-year sophomore QB Justin Thomas will inherit the QB job from the departed Vad Lee.

Ga. Tech has 30/1 odds to win the ACC and a win total of 6.5 ('over' -130).

Virginia has a head coach on a blazing hot seat. During Mike London's four-year tenure, UVA has posted records of 4-8, 8-5, 4-8 and 2-10. The Cavaliers won two of their first three games in 2013 (over BYU and VMI at home) but ended the season on a nine-game losing streak. Eight of those nine defeats came in double-digit fashion, including a 48-27 home loss to Ball St. and 59-10 home loss to Clemson.

Virginia brings back eight starters on offense and nine on defense. London probably needs to go bowling to see a fifth year in Charlottesville.

Fearless Predictions

2014 Win-Loss Projections
School Record Win Total (5Dimes) Bowl Projection
Atlantic Division
Florida State 13-0 11.5 #1 vs. #4 Alabama in College Football Playoff
Clemson 8-4 8.5 Belk Bowl vs. Auburn
Louisville 8-4 8 Sun Bowl vs. Pac-12
Syracuse 5-7 6.5 -
N.C. State 5-7 5.5 -
Boston College 4-8 4.5 -
Wake Forest 3-9 4.5 -
Coastal Division
North Carolina 9-4 8.5 Russell Athletic vs. Big 12
Virgina Tech 8-4 8 Independence vs. LSU
Pittsburgh 8-4 7.5 St. Petersburg vs. American
Georgia Tech 8-4 6.5 Military Bowl vs. American
Duke 8-4 8.5 Music City vs. Tennessee
Miami 7-5 7.5 Pinstripe vs. Big Ten
Virginia 3-9 3.5 -


**Games to Watch**

1. Clemson at FSU - Both teams get an open date to prepare for this crucial showdown that will likely decide the Atlantic. The 'Noles embarrassed Clemson in a 51-14 blowout last year.

2. FSU at Louisville - This is FSU's most dangerous game outside of Tallahassee. U of L's new starting QB Will Gardner will have plenty of experience and 11 days to prepare for this Oct. 30 matchup. Can DC Todd Grantham come up with a scheme to contain Jameis Winston and FSU's high-octane offense?

3. Va. Tech at North Carolina - This Oct. 4 tussle could go a long way toward determining the Coastal loop. The Hokies will be playing their sixth game in six weeks, while UNC will be returning home following a pair of tough road games at East Carolina and at Clemson.

4. North Carolina at Miami - The 'Canes will have a few extra days to prepare because they play at Va. Tech the previous Thursday. If this is an a noon Eastern game, heat could play a factor because South Florida often has mid-September-like temperatures on Nov. 1. The Tar Heels will be playing their seventh game in seven weeks and their third road contest in a four-week span.

5. Florida at FSU - I haven't been including non-conference games in this section, but I'll make an exception here. After going nearly two decades without a win in Tallahassee, Florida has won at Doak Campbell in four of its last five trips up I-75 (until you smell it) and down I-10 (until you step in it). There's a good chance that FSU will be undefeated, and there's a slight chance that its (lack of) schedule strength could leave it in trouble for a College Football Playoff bid if there are handful of contenders with unbeaten records or with one loss. There are many "ifs" in play here but if Jeff Driskel has a big year, if UF stays healthy and if Florida's defense turns into one of the nation's top units, this will be the most physical game the 'Noles play all year. I think Will Muschamp's job will be secure at this point but if it isn't and is on the line, you know the Gators will bring an incredible amount of intensity to this one.

**Players to Watch**

1. Jameis Winston (FSU QB) - If he stays healthy and out of trouble and is the same player we saw last year, it's hard to envision the Seminoles not making the College Football Playoff, especially with their hardest games coming at home. This kid handled the scrutiny well last season. Can he do it again?

2. Vic Beasley (Clemson QB) -- If Clemson is going to pull a stunner in Tallahassee to shake up the conference, it will need a monster performance from Beasley against FSU. And I'm not talking about one sack and several pressures on Winston. I'm talking about drawing the opposing offensive tackle into several false starts, sacking and forcing Winston to fumble twice and basically just dominating the football game (think Florida's Alex Brown making five sacks against Tennessee's Tee Martin in a 23-21 Gator win in 1999).

3. Duke Johnson (Miami RB) - The Coastal is wide open and a dynamic playmaker like Johnson could be the difference in who wins this division. If he's healthy and UM develops an adequate passing attack to prevent defenses from focusing on him too much, Johnson could be in the Heisman conversation. The 'Canes will go as far as Johnson takes them.

4. Marquise Williams (North Carolina QB) - This dual-threat QB enjoyed a breakout 2013 and should be even better in 2014. Williams will need to thrive on the road with five difficult games at East Carolina, at Clemson, at Notre Dame, at Miami and at Duke.

5. Jamison Crowder (Duke WR) - With Duke losing its stud tight end, QB Anthony Boone will lean on Crowder even more. The Blue Devils will need explosive players from their dynamic wideout and a few TDs on special-teams would also help. He's certainly capable as he's proved throughout his stellar career for the Blue Devils.

  
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