Marc Lawrence’s ACC Football Betting Preview

ACC Football Preview from Las Vegas

The 2020 ACC football season marks the 68th season for the conference. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Duke’s David Cutcliffe are the loop’s longest-tenured coaches with 13 seasons each at their respective schools. Swinney’s 130-31 career record at Clemson stands out as the best mark. College football handicapper Marc Lawrence offers his thoughts on how to bet the ACC during the 2020-21 season.

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Newbies

Speaking of head coaches, 2 new mentors will be on the sidelines in the ACC this season: Boston College’s Jeff Hadley and Florida State’s Mike Norvell. Hadley has never been an FBS head coach. With Florida State having purged Willie Taggart with the only losing record in the loop, the hope is the ACC can re-assert itself as a legitimate force among Power Five conferences.

Bowl Me Over

According to my well-oiled machine, the ACC is at its best as an underdog in bowl games when coming off a loss 28-14-1 ATS since 2000. Better yet, when they arrive off a double-digit loss they zoom to 18-6-1 ATS, including 11-0 ATS against foes arriving off a SUATS win. FYI: Both Louisville and Virginia cashed in this perfect role last season. Mark that down.

Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2020 PLAYBOOK Football Preview Guide magazine – on sale at newsstands nationwide. The numbers following each team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. The RPR represents each team’s overall, offensive, and defensive rankings in overall returning production experience.

ACC ATLANTIC

BOSTON COLLEGE
TEAM THEME: EIGHT WOULD BE GREAT

2020 Recruit Rank: 63 • Ret Starters: Off – 5 / Def – 9 • RPR: Total: 53 (88 O / 16 D)

Coming off a 6-7 season in which BC extended its bowl skein to four consecutive years, 1st-year head coach Jeff Hafley arrives looking to lead the Eagles to their first eight-win season since 2009. After seven seasons as a DB coach in the NFL, his first season in Columbus last year saw Ohio State jump from No. 72 in 2018 to first nationally in 2019 in yards per play. He inherits a team that has seen its offense improve, and its defense decline, each of the last three seasons. If elite, strong-armed 6-5 transfer QB Phil Jurkovec, who arrived at Notre Dame as a 4-star recruit in 2018, contributes and Hafley brings the defense around, 2009 will seem like yesterday.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
The Eagles are 14-2-1 ATS as conference road dogs since 2016.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:
PLAY ON: at Wake Forest (11/28))

CLEMSON
TEAM THEME: RIDING A TIGER

2020 Recruit Rank: 3 • Ret Starters: Off – *6 / Def – 5 • RPR: Total: 96 (79 O / 104 D)

After being leveled by LSU in the College Football Playoff Championship game last season, snapping its 29-game winning streak, it’s imperative Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence gets off to a strong start in 2020, his junior year. It didn’t happen last year when Lawrence tossed 8 INTs in his first seven games. Meanwhile, RB Travis Etitenne need not worry about an OL that returns just one starter – not when Dabo Swinney reeled in the 3rd-ranked recruiting class this offseason. The Tigers have been installed as double-digit favorites in each of their last 28 regular-season contests, and as per Chris Fallica of ESPN, they’ve also reeled of 22 straight conference wins by an average of nearly 33 PPG since 2017. Gulp.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
The Tigers have the nation’s longest current streak (115 games) without losing consecutive games.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:
PLAY AGAINST: at Notre Dame (11/7) – *Key if favored

FLORIDA STATE
TEAM THEME: TAG OUT

2020 Recruit Rank: 22 • Ret Starters: Off – *7 / Def – 10 • RPR: Total: 27 (69 O / 9 D)

To show how badly Florida State wanted to get out from under its ill-advised hire of former head coach Willie Taggart, the cash-strapped Seminoles owe a massive $18 million payout to Taggart just for departing. However, it didn’t stop them from showing Taggart the door and hiring Mike Norvell, whom we feel will prove to be a brilliant hire. The first sign of a poorly coached team is its recruiting classes, where FSU has regressed each of the past four seasons. That will change once Norvell begins to plant his roots. So now after 42 consecutive winning seasons, the Seminoles are suddenly coming off consecutive losing campaigns. With a boatload of Returning Production on hand, the long-suffering turnaround starts now.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
Seniors started in 15.0% of FSU games last season, the 4th fewest in the nation.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:
PLAY AGAINST: at NC State (10/3)

LOUISVILLE
TEAM THEME: STAGGER LEE

2020 Recruit Rank: 42 • Ret Starters: Off – *8 / Def – 8 • RPR: Total: 13 (21 O / 31 D)

It’s nice being Scott Satterfield these days. After guiding Appalachian State to a staggering 48-16 mark in the first five years of the program’s ingress into the FBS, he earned ACC Coach of the Year honors with Louisville last year. In the process, the Cardinals became only the 2nd team in ACC history to go from 0-8 to 5-3 the following season. Thus, after finishing 2-10 in 2018, Louisville posted the top turnaround for a Power 5 team – improving by a whopping 5.5 games. QB Mical Cunningham is back after he broke the school record for passing efficiency while topping the nation with six completions of 70 or more yards, and two of 80 or more yards.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
Satterfield has produced 1,000-yard rushers each of the last nine seasons.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Wake Forest (11/14)

NC STATE
TEAM THEME: BACK THE PACK

2020 Recruit Rank: 41 • Ret Starters: Off – *10 / Def – 5 • RPR: Total: 23 (15 O / 56 D)

Last season the Wolfpack had a hard time getting kick-started, averaging just 2.6 points per game in the first quarter of their games. As a result, head coach Dave Doeren added five new coaches to his staff, including OC and QB coach Tim Beck, who was Texas’ offensive coordinator last year. He’ll work with 10 returning starters on offense, including all three leading rushers, on a team that ranks No. 23 in the nation in overall Returning Production Rankings. So the question begs: Is Doeren on the hot seat? To that we say, after five consecutive trips to a bowl game and a 4-8 season last year, the Wolfpack suddenly become a “Mission Team” in 2020. Enough said.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
The Wolfpack stands 42-9 SU and 29-16-1 ATS in games in which it outgains an opponent under Dave Doeren.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:
PLAY ON: at Louisville (9/3)

SYRACUSE
TEAM THEME: NOT SO LOUD HOUSE

2020 Recruit Rank: 59 • Ret Starters: Off – *7 / Def – 4 • RPR: Total: 106 (76 O / 121 D)

When a sleeper team turns comatose, pleasant dreams turn to nightmares. For head coach Dino Babers, the 2019 season was a fright show. On the heels of a 10-win season in 2018, the lights went out on the Orange when a 5-7 season kept them home for the holidays. The sizzle with how Babers’ teams usually play is suddenly the temperature of the seat he sits on these days. That will happen when you’ve delivered just one winning season in four years at the helm. It also led to a corrective staff overhaul, including new incoming coordinators brought in on each side of the ball. Meanwhile, starting QB Tommy DeVito will also be under the microscope. Welcome to Amityville.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
The Orange are allowing 32 points and 459 yards per game under Dino Babers.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:
PLAY AGAINST: at Western Michigan (9/26)

WAKE FOREST
TEAM THEME: FOUR SQUARED

2020 Recruit Rank: 60 • Ret Starters: Off – 3 / Def – 8 • RPR: Total: 111 (125 O / 53 D)

The Demon Deacons may have dropped four of their final five games last season but it didn’t matter. They swept in-state rivals Duke, NC State, and North Carolina for just the fourth time ever. They also played in a bowl game for the fourth consecutive year for the first time ever. And they wrapped up a fourth consecutive winning season for the first time since World War II. The challenge this year, though, will be adapting to life without star QB Jamie Newman, who left for Georgia as a graduate transfer. Enter Sam Hartman, who started nine games as a true freshman in 2018, to take over. He’ll need to spark the nation’s 125th-ranked team in offensive Returning Production.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
The Deacon Demons were ranked in the AP Top 25 last season for the first time since 2008.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Syracuse (11/7) – *KEY as a favorite

2020 ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE PREVIEW

ACC COASTAL

DUKE
TEAM THEME: BRICE IS NICE

2020 Recruit Rank: 61 • Ret Starters: Off – 7 / Def – 7 • RPR: Total: 65 (84 O / 41 D)

A 42-3 season-opening loss to Alabama last season signaled an ominous note for the Blue Devils. In the end, Duke suffered just its third losing season in eight years. With starting dual-threat QB Quentin Harris gone, QB Chase Brice lands via the transfer portal from Clemson. Brice rallied the Tigers to a come-from-behind win over Syracuse last season. Remember, David Cutcliffe is widely recognized as a quarterback whisperer who tutored both of the Manning’s (Peyton and Eli) in their college careers. Furthermore, in 12 seasons with Duke, Cutcliffe’s 72 victories are 53 more than the program’s total over the previous 12 years. With four OL starters back, last year’s 77-yard dip in the total offense should be old news.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
Duke ranked No. 127 in the nation in Fumbles-Lost last season.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:
PLAY AGAINST: at Georgia Tech (11/7)

GEORGIA TECH
TEAM THEME: JIBE TALKIN’

2020 Recruit Rank: 26 • Ret Starters: Off – *9 / Def – 10 • RPR: Total: 2 (39 O / 2 D)

As we cautioned last year, the Rambin’ Wreck lived up to its moniker under first-year head coach Geoff Collins. Bereft of talent to start, Collins inherited Paul Johnson’s run-the-ball-down-the-opponents-throat offense. It simply didn’t jibe with new OC David Patenaude’s spread system. As a result, the offensive numbers took a major dive, resulting in a three-win effort. Tech finished No. 130 (dead last) in the nation in Red Zone Offense, No. 128 in First Down Offense, and No. 127 in Overall Offense last season. Through it all, the Yellow Jackets started the 3rd most underclassmen in 2019 (58.2%). Behind the nation’s 2nd leading team in Returning Production this season, look for those numbers to improve dramatically in 2020.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
Georgia Tech will face teams who played in a bowl game in six of its first seven games of the season.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Miami Florida (11/21)

MIAMI FLORIDA
TEAM THEME: WELCOME TO THE TWILIGHT ZONE

2020 Recruit Rank: 13 • Ret Starters: Off – 7 / Def – 4 • RPR: Total: 97 (82 O / 106 D)

It’s not often you’ll find a college football team lose five games over the course of a season in which it outgained its opponents and also lose three games in the same season in which it won the stats. Such was life for the inside-out Hurricanes in 2019. And to cap it off, in Rod Serling style, Louisiana Tech’s 14-0 win over Miami in the Independence Bowl was the first bowl shutout win by a Group of Five squad against a Power Five team in bowl history. Meanwhile, former UM and NFL great Ed Reed has joined the staff as an advisor, bringing the right look to the Hurricanes, while ex-Houston star QB D’Eriq King arrives via the transfer portal.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
The Canes have lost 11 games SU as favorites the past two seasons, including 6 times under Manny Diaz. The next closest is Purdue with 8.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:
PLAY ON: at Virginia Tech (11/14) – *KEY

NORTH CAROLINA
TEAM THEME: MACK IS BACK

2020 Recruit Rank: 19 • Ret Starters: Off – *10 / Def – 7 • RPR: Total: 18 (9 O / 63 D)

Mack Brown’s return to Chapel Hill resulted in a 7-6 record in 2019, more wins than the previous two years combined. After tossing 38 TD passes last season, first-year QB Sam Howell is on the Heisman Trophy watch list for 2020. In addition, junior Chazz Stuart made an unprecedented transition from quarterback and became a first-team All-ACC linebacker. With it, Kenan Stadium is selling out and Brown’s post-game dance routines are improving. With 10 starters back on offense and 7 on defense, they take the field this year knowing that their numbers were up across the board on both sides of the ball. Behind an incoming Top 20 recruiting class, they’re a dangerous squad no one will want to play.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
All six of the Tar Heels’ losses last season were one-possession games.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:
Play Against: at Miami Fla (10/24)

PITTSBURGH
TEAM THEME: TOUGH AS NAILS

2020 Recruit Rank: 44 • Ret Starters: Off – *8 / Def – 7 • RPR: Total: 48 (24 O / 79 D)

Since taking over as Pitt’s head coach in 2015, Pat Narduzzi has guided the Panthers to 24 victories in ACC play, trailing only Clemson (38) and Miami-FL (25). The good news for “Nails” is that a total of 19 players made their first career starts last season. Meanwhile, the Panthers ranked in the nation’s top 35 in no fewer than eight defensive categories. Paving the way offensively in 2020 is QB Kenny Pickett, whose 3,098 passing yards in 2019 marked the most at Pitt since 2012. While the Panthers recruiting class ranked No. 44 overall this year, Narduzzi didn’t panic when they failed to sign a QB. That’s because they inked 4-star Arizona State QB Joey Yellen in the transfer portal.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
Pitt has defeated a Top 25 team in four consecutive seasons.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:
PLAY ON: at Miami Florida (10/3) – *KEY as a dog

VIRGINIA
TEAM THEME: WASH, SPIN, REPEAT

2020 Recruit Rank: 48 • Ret Starters: Off – 7 / Def – 8 • RPR: Total: 56 (95 O / 15 D)

It was reported the defending ACC Coastal Division champion Cavaliers missed more tackles in 2019 than any year in the Bronco Mendenhall era. That was the bad news. The good news is the defense returning in 2020 ranks No. 15 in Returning Starter Production. The bad news on offense is that dual-threat QB Bryce Perkins has graduated after setting a school-record 3,528 passing yards last year. The good news is the entire OL returns this season, paving the way for UVa’s leading running back Wayne Taulapapa. So what does a team missing Perkins – its all-time total offense leader in a mere two seasons – do for an encore? Prepare for a fourth straight bowl game under Mendenhall, we’d say.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
Virginia is 4-20 SU in its final two games of the regular season since 2008.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:
PLAY AGAINST: vs. North Carolina (10/3)

VIRGINIA TECH
TEAM THEME: EN FUENTE

2020 Recruit Rank: 72 • Ret Starters: Off – *8 / Def – 10 • RPR: Total: 6 (36 O / 5 D)

It was reported that head coach Justin Fuente met with Baylor in the offseason. After starting 19-8 the first two years with the Hokies, he dipped to 14-12 the past two seasons. We would have bet even money that he’d be living on the banks of the Brazos River in Waco, yet he’s still on board in Blacksburg. Our best guess is Fuente realized full well that he had a stacked hand coming back and didn’t want to miss out on the benefits of the terrific recruiting job he’s done before the classes reached its apex. Tech started the 2nd most underclassmen in 2019 (59.5%) with seniors starting only 5.6% of their games, the lowest percentage in the nation. Beware.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
The Hokies are 30-2 when leading at the half under Fuente.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY:
PLAY ON: at North Carolina (10/10)

College Football experts Ralph Michaels, Rob Veno, and Drew Martin take a look at the ACC’s Coastal Division from a Vegas perspective and go over betting angles and handicapping tips for the upcoming season.

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