The 2017 college football season is less than three months away with media days starting in mid-July to kick-start prediction season among college football writers and analysts. The sportsbooks, however, don't wait for expert picks or preseason previews to start setting the expectations for the fall, releasing title odds and win totals throughout the offseason.
We're going to be making individual team picks for all of the Power Five conferences using the full 130-team FBS list. Today, we turn our focus to the ACC.
Florida State -- 9.5 (Over): Where is your confidence with Deondre Francois? That is probably the key question when projecting Florida State's success in 2017, because the Seminoles should be favored in at least 10 games, in large part due to an elite defensive unit led by both established stars (Derwin James, Tarvarus McFadden) and soon-to-be household names like 6-foot-1, 312-pound nose guard Derrick Nnadi. It's a group that could win the ACC Atlantic with a game manager, but I'm of the mindset that Francois will show significant improvement and while beating Alabama seems unlikely right now, the idea FSU could win the next 11 isn't that far-fetched.
Clemson -- 9.5 (Under): The amount of breaks it takes to win 28-of-30 games requires some sort of return to the mean. Clemson will have the best defensive line in the country but the reboot of the offensive personnel and a schedule that includes Florida State, Louisville, Auburn and a road trip to NC State. And it's in that NC State game that I think we'll see one of a few breaks go the other way. Remember, it was last season when the Wolfpack had a 33-yard field goal centered up to beat Clemson in Death Valley before a stunning miss allowed the Tigers to continue their title run with an overtime win.
Louisville -- 9.5 (Under): Lamar Jackson, uniquely gifted in so many ways, was finally slowed by his own teammates as the Cardinals' offensive line was exploited by Houston and others later in the season. There are going to be games this season where the Heisman Trophy winner is going to be able to put up huge numbers -- circle late-September for "Can Jackson win the Heisman again?" conversations after he lights up Kent State and Murray State in back-to-back weeks -- but there's been enough turnover on the defensive side of the ball to be wary of going all-in on the Cards in 2017. I think 8.5 is a better number than 9.5, because 9 looks way more likely than 10 on a schedule with more than a few trap games.
Miami -- 9 (Over): This is it! I think Miami will finally get it done this year. I wish I was the only one who was on this island so I could take all the ridicule and then bask in all the glory when Miami finally shows up in the ACC Championship Game, but as we creep closer to ACC Media Days, I can sense the presence of Mark Richt and a rock-solid front seven on defense has the experts looking at the ACC Coastal like it's the SEC East. I've got Florida State picked as the winner for the steamy rivalry date in primetime on Sept. 16 and assume there will be one more loss in ACC play, but a 10-win season and Coastal Division title would make for the program's best finish since leaving the Big East.
What are best picks among odds for the country's best teams to win the national title in 2017? SportsLine's college football expert breaks down the top 20 and offers his best bets ahead of the season.
Virginia Tech -- 8.5 (Under): I've seen this number as high as 9 in other places and heard the Hokies mentioned as an ACC Coastal favorite. Justin Fuente will be back in the ACC title game soon, but the loss of quarterback Jerod Evans, wide receiver Isaiah Ford and matchup nightmare Bucky Hodges seems significant enough to question whether the offense won't take a step back in 2017. Virginia Tech is not lacking for options with Cam Phillips and Travon McMillan ready to lead the way, and I expect the Hokies to be in the mix for the ACC title, just a game or two off the pace.
North Carolina -- 7 (Push): In the last two years, Larry Fedora has checked a lot of the boxes for building a program that can sustain success through the turnover of talent. There was the 11-win season and ACC Coastal title in 2015, the success of Mitch Trubisky and other pro-bound Tar Heel teammates in 2016 and confidence-building wins like the one at Florida State last October. Pair that with solid work on the recruiting trail and it's hard to imagine a total free-fall, even after losing nearly all of the skill position talent. A 7-5 season seems about right for a reloading year, and I'll guess that includes at least two wins no one sees coming and one loss that will make fans furious.
NC State -- 6.5 (Over): Big year ahead for the Wolfpack. What was once the most inexperienced roster in the ACC has grown up, and those freshman and redshirt freshman who got so much action early in their college careers enter 2017 with the highest expectations since Dave Doeren was hired. They've got all the boxes checked: returning quarterback (Ryan Finley) and offensive coordinator (Eli Drinkwitz), game-breaking playmaker (Jalyn Samuels) and a solid defensive line, led by Bradley Chubb, who turned down the NFL Draft to pursue ACC title contention in 2017.
Pittsburgh -- 6.5 (Over): The team that beat both the ACC champion and Big Ten champion has lost many of its key contributors, but Pat Narduzzi can point to those wins as proof that Pitt is ready to win at the highest levels in college football. The defense has to be better (something we never thought we'd say about the Panthers under Narduzzi) with another year of changeover offensively, but there's enough playmakers left to think they can still put points on the board. I think Pitt and Miami are contending for the ACC Coastal in November, making their meeting on Friday, Nov. 24 at Heinz Field a potential division title game.
Georgia Tech -- 6 (Over): You're just not going to find many coaches as saucy as Paul Johnson, who has now become one of the longest-tenured coaches in the league. CPJ has been taking aim at the SEC for years, which has to be a result of being surrounded by the league and its alumni in Atlanta. I think the Yellow Jackets will beat Tennessee, win at least four of their next five games but then fall from the ACC title picture in October after road trips to Miami and Clemson.
Virginia -- 5.5 (Under): This is a big season for Bronco Mendenhall and his Wahoos staff, and the 5.5 win total suggests that the oddsmakers have Virginia pegged as a potential bowl team. I think that's spot-on, but to maintain the integrity of this exercise there have to be some Unders to balance out the Overs. Virginia will be right near the cut line for bowl eligibility in November, but it might take snapping the losing streak to Virginia Tech or an APR-boosted bid at 5-7 to make the postseason.
Wake Forest -- 5.5 (Over): What will happen when Wake Forest travels up Highway 421 to Boone, North Carolina, to take on Appalachian State at The Rock? That's where the Demon Deacons' season hinges in my mind. If Wake, like Miami a year ago, can step into a rowdy stadium, quickly establish an advantage and get out with a win then I like Dave Clawson's chances of reaching a bowl game for the second straight season. A loss to the Mountaineers makes the math a little tougher, but the Demon Deacons will have a chance to punch their postseason ticket at home against in-state rivals with NC State and Duke visiting BB&T Field in the last two weeks of the season.
Duke -- 5.5 (Over): Daniel Jones is the most proven quarterback in the ACC Coastal, a talent that broke out last year as a freshman and played well enough for Duke to feel comfortable going all-in on him moving forward even after Thomas Sirk (now at ECU) received another year of eligibility. There are questions regarding what we'll see in the trenches on both sides of the ball, but the boost in team speed across the board has made Duke as dangerous a team as you'll find when it comes to exploiting weaknesses and matchup advantages. The key for the win total is how the Blue Devils play out of conference against a sneaky-tough slate that includes Northwestern, Baylor and a road trip to play Army, who should not be taken lightly in 2017. I think Duke gets two of those three games and just enough ACC wins to put them back in a bowl game.
Boston College -- 4 (Over): I just think Boston College is further along than Syracuse, a team they'll play on the final week of the regular season that could determine either the over/under (since both teams are set at 4) or bowl eligibility if things have gone better than the oddsmakers expected. Harold Landry is a dark horse All-American pick on the defensive front, and that unit as a whole should be good enough to keep Boston College within striking distance of most opponents. The key offensively seems to be whether running back Jon Hilliman can repeat his 13-touchdown performance from 2015.
Syracuse -- 4 (Push): After a projected 3-0 start, someone with an "Over" ticket could spend the next two months ripping their hair out watching teams put up basketball scores in the Carrier Dome. Up-tempo offense and uncertainty does not make for much confidence on either side of this bet, so I'd advise we all give Dino Babers some space before hurling hot takes regarding what to expect from the Orange in 2017.