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Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 13:44 PM

2021 Atlantic Coast Conference Predictions

July 1, 2021
by Marc Lawrence
VegasInsider.com

2021 Atlantic Coast Conference Betting Odds, Predictions, Preview

Looking Fine At 69

The 2021 ACC football season marks the 69th season for the conference. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Duke’s David Cutcliffe are the loop’s longest-tenured coaches with 14 seasons each at their respective schools. Swinney’s career 140-33 record at Clemson stands out as the best mark.

And speaking of head coaches - ACC is the only one of the ten FBS conferences that bring each of last year’s head coaches intact in 2021.

On Verge Of Greatness

Dating back to 1980, the ACC owns a secret weapon of which not many are aware.

It’s the success of ACC teams as underdogs in conference games in which they sport a dead-even .500 win percentage, going 128-78-5 ATS in all games overall.

Better yet, these same teams shine at home when coming off a loss, going 36-14-1 ATS. That’s a greater than 70% winning situation

File that and don’t forget it.

Bowl Me Over

And speaking of dogs, according to my well-oiled machine, the ACC is at its best as an underdog in bowl games when coming off a loss and facing an opponent coming off a win, going 19-8-1 ATS since 2000. Better yet, when they 8-0-1 ATS in these games when they allow fewer than 23 points per game.

Note: A breakdown of the numbers includes the team’s national recruiting ranking, of 130 teams, by 247Sports as well as the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. The RPR represents each team’s overall, offensive, and defensive rankings in overall returning production experience among all Group of 5 programs.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

BOSTON COLLEGE

TEAM THEME: JUST REWARDS

2021 Recruit Rank: 37 • Ret Starters: Off - *9 / Def - 8

OMG. Imagine a Power Five conference team drawing three ultra-lightweight non-conference foes in season-opening games that were 1-12 combined last season. Perhaps it’s a just reward for a team that went 6-5 last season, yet was the first to decline a bowl bid due to COVID-19 concern when head coach Jeff Hafley elected to stay home for the holidays for the sake of the health of his team.

And you just know that Hafley wanted to go bowling for the second time in two seasons when nary one freshman on his squad would make any of a total of 241 total team starts, while seniors gobbled up the majority (102). An infusion of “super seniors” and transfers will help this year.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

The Eagles will face only two foes this season that owned a winning record in 2020.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:

PLAY AGAINST: at Louisville (10/23)

CLEMSON

TEAM THEME: TIGER PAUSE

2021 Recruit Rank: 5 • Ret Starters: Off - 5 / Def - 9

In this automatic world in which we live in today, sometimes forecasting the college football teams to make it to the CFB Playoff is as simple as reading the highest win totals for the season. The two teams leading the pack heading into this season are none other than Alabama and Clemson, each at 11.5 wins, followed by Oklahoma and Ohio State at 11 wins. Yawn. The Tigers had 26 players make their first-career start during the 2020 season, which tied for the most in the country with Mississippi State.

New QB D.J. Uiagalelei looked impressive in his starting debut against Notre Dame last season. The main question is will Clemson’s offense be as unstoppable as the Trevor Lawrence/Travis Etienne teams?

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

The Tigers have the nation’s longest current streak (127 games) without losing consecutive games.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:

PASS

FLORIDA STATE

TEAM THEME: NORVELL VIRUS

2021 Recruit Rank: 23 • Ret Starters: Off - *10 / Def - 7

If you think second-year head coach Mike Norvell’s collar is getting tighter with each passing game, you are correct, as last year’s 3-win effort was FSU’s fewest since 1975. Norvell was hired last year after the Seminoles suffered consecutive losing seasons after coming up winners the previous 42 years, but the plague continues. Meanwhile, former Miami head coach Randy Shannon was brought in to clean up the defense.

QB transfer McKenzie Milton was “fully cleared to play” after playing five seasons, and going 26-6 at UCF before suffering a gruesome right knee injury in which he spent five months in a wheel chair and on crutches. And 5-star recruit RB Demarkcus Bowman transfers in from Clemson after backing up Travis Etienne.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

Florida State underclassmen tallied the most player starts (52.3%) in the ACC last season.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:

PLAY AGAINST: at North Carolina (10/9)

LOUISVILLE

TEAM THEME: RED RUBBER BALL

2021 Recruit Rank: 39 • Ret Starters: Off - *8 / Def - 7

After finishing 2-10 in 2018, Louisville posted the top turnaround for a Power 5 team in 2019 – improving by a whopping 5.5 games. Then the Cardinals quickly reverted back to their losing ways last season. A lot of that can be directly attributed to the pandemic, as the Cardinals more resembled a rubber ball than a football team in 2020 behind a myriad of cancellations and rescheduled games.

The good news is that behind dual-threat QB Malik Cunningham, Louisville is one of four programs to average at least 200 yards both rushing and passing in the last two seasons (Ohio State, UCF, ULL). In addition, the Cardinals return five starters on the offensive line that combined for 46 starts a year ago.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

In his seven seasons as a head coach, Scott Satterfield’s teams are 52-5 when scoring 30 or more points.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:

PLAY ON: vs. Virginia (10/9) - *Key as a dog

N.C. STATE

TEAM THEME: PACK IT UP

2021 Recruit Rank: 35 • Ret Starters: Off - *9 / Def - 10

The Wolfpack were a fully qualified “Mission Team” last season, and they delivered the bacon, going from 4-8 SU and 2-9 ATS in 2019 to 8-4 SUATS in 2020. It didn’t hurt, either, when they more than doubled their First Quarter Scoring from 2.6 points per game to 5.8 last season as well.

While the Pack is loaded with returning starters, the best news is WR Emeka Emezie will be another returning “super senior”, one who ranks as one of the ACC’s top returning receivers for 2021 after pacing the Wolfpack offense in catches (47) and yards (738) while also catching five passes for scores. They will need to overcome the label of owning the Most Penalties in FBS last season (96), though.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

The Wolfpack stands 47-9 SU and 32-18-1 ATS in games in which they outgain an opponent under Dave Doeren.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:

PLAY AGAINST: at Wake Forest (11/13)

SYRACUSE

TEAM THEME: REVENGE SERVED COLD

2021 Recruit Rank: 56 • Ret Starters: Off - *9 / Def - 10

Make no mistake about it. Dino Babers knew his job would be on the line this year when he awarded no less than 57 total starts to freshmen in 2020, tops in the land, in hopes of adding a heavy dose of youthful experience to this year’s roster. The problem is 16 players hopped on the transfer portal and boogied out of town, although they did reel in 4-star QB Garrett Shrader from Mississippi State.

The counter, though, is 11 ‘super seniors” are coming back for what they call a ‘revenge tour’. Babers has gone from a 10-win season to a 1-win season in three years. And with it, his fanny will be as warm as any FBS coach this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

Syracuse has been out-yarded in 17 of it last 18 conference games (1-10 last season).

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:

PASS

WAKE FOREST

TEAM THEME: ANXIETY NOTORIETY

2021 Recruit Rank: 65 • Ret Starters: Off - *11 / Def - 9

After being ranked in the AP Top 25 in 2019 for the first time since 2008 while sweeping in-state rivals Duke, NC State, and North Carolina for just the fourth time ever, the Deacons have been forced to live with their Demons, going 8-10 since then. It came last year after wrapping up a fourth consecutive winning season for the first time since World War II.

The good news is the Deacs managed to land a pair of bowl games over the same two-year period where they suffered their first losing season in five years. The better news is after breaking a school record in 2020 by scoring the most points per game in school history (36.0), all 11 starters from that offense are back for 2021.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

Wake Forest has lost 63 straight games versus AP Top 10 teams, the longest streak in the nation.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:

PASS

COASTAL DIVISION

DUKE

TEAM THEME: TRANSFER IN, TRANSFER OUT

2021 Recruit Rank: 57 • Ret Starters: Off - 6 / Def - 5

Not only was last year’s 2-9 effort the worst season in head coach David Cutcliffe’s career, it led to the lowering of his career record in conference games with the Blue Devils to 35-71, including 7-18-2 ATS as a favorite. Last year’s starting quarterback Chase Brice, a former transfer from Clemson, has opted out and transferred to Appalachian State.

Adding to the fallout is the fact that Duke must also replace two-year starting RB Deon Jackson, who finished his career as the program’s sixth-ranked all-time rushing yardage leader. Remember, though, Cutcliffe is a quarterback coach-whisperer. He has coached 11 QBs who either earned all-conference honors or directed their schools to bowl game victories, including Eli and Peyton Manning.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

The Blue Devils have won each of their last 18 games in which they have outgained their opponent. They are 1-17 in their last 18 games in which they been outgained.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Miami-Florida (11/27)

GEORGIA TECH

TEAM THEME: YELLOW MELLOW

2021 Recruit Rank: 47• Ret Starters: Off - *8 / Def - 10

When Geoff Collins took over the reins from Paul Johnson’s running machine in 2019, the Rambin’ Wreck were not only short of talent but also had to deal with an offense in transition looking for a new identity. The offense plummeted 122 yards and 17 points per game, while the defense worsened as well. Hence, it was no surprise that Tech finished No. 130 (last) in the nation in Red Zone Offense, No. 128 in First Down Offense, and No. 127 in Overall Offense.

Through it all, the Yellow Jackets started the 3rd most underclassmen in 2019. While the numbers appreciated substantially in 2020, the results did not as they endured a second-consecutive 3-win season. Look for Collins to cash in on those building blocks this year.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

The Yellow Jackets are 4-0-1 ATS as dogs between 10 and 20 points under Collins.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:

PLAY ON: at Clemson (9/18)

MIAMI-FLORIDA

TEAM THEME: SIGNS, SIGNS, EVERYWHERE A SIGN

2021 Recruit Rank: 11 • Ret Starters: Off - *10 / Def - 9

The Hurricanes showed a few noteworthy signs last season. For openers, Miami was 7-0 during the regular season last year in games in which it outgained its opponents. They were just 3-5 in the same games in Manny Diaz’s first season with the Canes in 2019. Another sign is under QB D’Eriq King and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, Miami improved its scoring to 34 PPG, up from 25.7 before their arrival.

King is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the bowl win over Oklahoma State, but he’s on track to return for his “super senior” season. In addition, WR Charleston Rambo transferred in from Oklahoma, part of a huge transfer haul for the Canes, and could be King’s go-to target.


D'Eriq King returns under center for Miami this season looking for a strong senior campaign after tearing his ACL. (AP)

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

The Canes have lost 11 games SU as favorites the past three seasons. The next closest is Purdue with 10.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:

PLAY ON: at North Carolina (10/16)

NORTH CAROLINA

TEAM THEME: RARIFIED AIR

2021 Recruit Rank: 14 • Ret Starters: Off - *8 / Def - 10

The impact Mack Brown has made on the football program at UNC is startling. While operating behind 33 (of a possible 44) returning starters in his first two seasons, Brown has lifted the Tar Heels from the depths of despair to higher air. To top it off, Ol’ Mackie welcomes 18 more starters back in 2021, headlined by big-time playmaker Sam Howell, who could be the first quarterback selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.

North Carolina’s pass rush and the defensive front got great news when LB Tomon Fox decided to return for an extra year. He’s accumulated 33 tackles for a loss and 21 sacks since 2016. Note, though: 21 players have transferred out, with only four-star Tennessee RB Ty Chandler coming in.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

Eight of the nine regular-season losses under Mack Brown losses have been one-possession games.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:

PLAY ON: vs. Virginia (9/18)

PITTSBURGH

TEAM THEME: PICKETT FENCE PERFECT

2021 Recruit Rank: 27 • Ret Starters: Off - *8 / Def - 6

Despite winning three of its final four games, the 6-win Pittsburgh players declined a bowl bid last season. And head coach Pat Narduzzi was fully in their corner saying, “These young men never wavered – not in the face of rigorous health protocols, multiple rounds of COVID testing each week, or while handling the mental and physical challenges of playing 11 games in a pandemic. They have my eternal gratitude and respect."

Narduzzi was thrilled to learn that QB Kenny Pickett, (36 starts) was returning as a “super senior”. With another prolific season, Pickett could end up as Pitt’s all-time leader in passing yardage and total offense as he has passed for 7,984 yards and 39 touchdowns during his career with the Panthers.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

Pitt had defeated a Top 25 team in four consecutive seasons until last year.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:

PASS

VIRGINIA

TEAM THEME: HOOS YOUR DADDY

2021 Recruit Rank: 32 • Ret Starters: Off - *8 / Def - 6

The Cavaliers enjoyed a decided home-field advantage at Scott Stadium in 2019, when they won their first Coastal Division title and advanced to the ACC championship game for the first time. In 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic raging, the ACC scrapped divisional play, added Notre Dame as a temporary football member, and grouped all 15 teams together, with the top two advancing to the conference championship game.

Hence, Bronco Mendenhall reminded fans that the Cavs are indeed the defending Coastal Division champs. After five years with the Wahoos, Bronco Mendenhall’s recruiting numbers are climbing – up 15 spots from last season. By taking care of business at home (one winning foe), Bronco will look to hold up his end of the deal.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

The Cavaliers are 5-21 SU in their final two games of the regular season since 2008.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:

PASS

VIRGINIA TECH

TEAM THEME: MISSION POSITION

2020 Recruit Rank: 43 • Ret Starters: Off - *8 / Def - 7

Despite 18 starters back, Justin Fuente’s troops regressed clear across the board in the stats, against the spread, and on the scoreboard. Not even a season-ending win over archrival Virginia was enough to sustain a 27-year bowl streak. With it, the question begs: After losing 12 times straight-up as a favorite in five seasons under Fuente, is he on the hot seat in 2021? To which we say, if he’s not, there is no such thing as a hot seat, as they do not take staying home during the holidays in Blacksburg.

The good news is Fuente’s recruiting numbers zoomed 27 slots in the rankings this offseason. That, and the fact they are the epitome of a “mission team” this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

The Hokies are 34-4 when leading at the half under Fuente.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:

PLAY ON: at Miami Florida (11/20)

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