For once, the ACC is likely to be defined by stability. For a league sporting a 2-13 record in BCS games and a reputation on par with that of the Big East in the minds of some, this is a good thing. 11 of 12 teams did not undergo a coaching change (only North Carolina did). And 10 of 12 teams return their starting quarterback, with Maryland joining Miami after C.J. Brown's recent ACL tear.
The ACC has always been known to gamblers as a league with a lot of parity. In Vegas, it carries a reputation for upsets and uncertainty. Could that change in 2012? We'll see.
One thing I do know for sure, however, is that making bets for a column published two months after these lines debuted is quite difficult.
Georgia Tech Over 8 Wins (+130), 5Dimes: Experience. Georgia Tech has a lot of it, and many don't realize it. The senior quarterback returns, as do the three leading rushers. And Tech also returns four of five offensive line starters and all four seasoned backups. This should be the best Georgia Tech offensive line in quite a while.
Replacing receiver Stephen Hill won't be easy. But I am confident that Tech can find a receiver to catch jump balls and be wide open when defenses bite on play action. Seriously, we've heard more this off-season about finding receivers than we have about all of the returning talent for a team that ran 717 times and passed only 167.
I'm not as confident defensively, as a few key pieces must be replaced, but this is a veteran unit in its third year under Al Groh's complicated scheme.
The schedule also stacks up well. Tech should complete the stretch of at Virginia Tech and vs. Presbyterian, Virginia, Miami, and Middle Tennessee at 4-1. Six of the final seven also offer plenty of opportunity for wins, including at Clemson, vs. Boston College, vs. BYU, at Maryland, at North Carolina and vs. Duke. At Georgia is tough, but I like the timing of the North Carolina game, as the Tar Heels' major weakness is a lack of defensive depth.
8-4 is also a very real possibility for this team, and having the potential for a push at that number helps here.
Boston College Over 5.5 Wins (+150), 5Dimes: [Editor's Note: with Friday's news that Boston College will be without its starting cornerback, tight end and now best receiver for the first 3-4 games, I can no longer recommend this play. I played it and published it, so it will count in my season-long record. But I no longer advise doing the same, particularly not after the odds decreased following the injury news.]
Boston College had bad injury luck and nearly everything go wrong in 2011. I project the Eagles will be better in 2012 simply by being more experienced and sustaining fewer injuries.
The schedule could also help the Eagles to build confidence. Opening with Miami, Maine, Northwestern, Clemson and at Army should yield three wins, which would get the Eagles half way to their goal of bowl eligibility. If they get four, they will be in great shape.
Finding the other three is a bit trickier, and it's the reason for these plus odds. Maryland, at Wake and at N.C. State offer the best chance. If BC can't sweep those, it will need an upset of at Florida State (very unlikely), at Georgia Tech (not as unlikely), Virginia Tech (doubtful), or Notre Dame (there's a chance).
With (+150) odds on something that I view as a little better than a coin flip, there is clear value in this play.
North Carolina over 7.5 Wins (-150), 5Dimes: A good quarterback, very good running back, perhaps the league's best offensive line and a friendly schedule. That, in a nutshell is the reason to play UNC over the number.
New coach Larry Fedora just has to hope that his defense stays healthy and that the offense blows out enough teams early on that he can rest his starters and avoid a late collapse, as the starters on that side of the ball are much better than the reserves.
A 5-0 or 4-1 start is very reasonable, given that the Tar Heels open with Elon, at Wake Forest, at Louisville, East Carolina and Idaho. If they can split with Virginia Tech and at Miami, they'll be sitting at 6-1 or 5-2, with a gimme at Duke the following week. At that point, our 7-1 or 6-2 Tar Heel team enters a tough stretch of N.C. State, Georgia Tech and at Virginia. They'll be favored in at least two of the three, and really only need one win to keep this bet alive, as they finish with an awful Maryland team. The schedule makes this a play.
For more on UNC football, visit North Carolina blog Carolina March.
N.C State Over 7.5 Wins (+115), 5Dimes: Another "over" play from a North Carolina team? Yep. An NFL quarterback, four returning starters on the offensive line plus two key reserves (all upperclassmen), an underrated defensive line and a very good secondary are the reasons for the play. Oh, and the schedule.
A few things do give me pause. State lost its top two receivers from 2011. They have some veteran, inexperienced players attempting to take over, and I'm really not sure how that will work out. And if there's uncertainty at receiver, linebacker would appear to be a black hole of nothingness. All three starters are gone from 2011, and they were good. Top backup D.J. Green, counted on to be the star of the 2012 group, is suspended for the year after testing positive for PEDs.
Still, there is a lot to work with here. The opening game against Tennessee in the Georgia Dome will be tough, and the following trip to UConn will be tricky. But if the Pack can get through that at 1-1, I'll still feel confident. Back-to-back home games against South Alabama and the Citadel will give the team an opportunity to regroup before traveling to Miami. Florida State comes to town next week, and that is not an automatic loss, though the 'Pack will be underdogs. A road trip to Maryland the next week with UNC on deck would qualify as a huge hangover/look-ahead scenario game, but Maryland's team has been destroyed by preseason injuries to the extent that the casinos have removed the option to bet on them (not before I played them under the total, but that's a story for another day). The trip to North Carolina will have the 'Pack as an underdog, but N.C. State hasn't lost to Carolina since 2006. A home game against an overrated Virginia team and a thin Wake squad in back-to-back weeks offers a chance for victories and confidence before tripping to Clemson. If the Pack is at seven wins by that point, it should be in good shape with BC coming to town to end the year. Missing Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech from the Coastal division schedule rotation is a big deal.
This number can now be had at an even better price than the (+115) at which I played it. Shop around.
For more on Wolfpack football, visit N.C. State blog Backing The Pack.
Florida State Over/Under 10 Wins (-150/+110), 5Dimes: Sometimes, the timing of a column means that bets placed in real life (uh, theoretically, of course) can't be relayed in a column. That's the case with Florida State, as this is a definite "over" play at (+130) odds that existed a month ago. In 2011, the 'Noles were the only offense in the country to lose more than 40 starts to injury. Despite that, FSU rode an elite defense to a 9-4 record.
Florida State is loaded and has a very favorable schedule. The offensive line is the spot of greatest uncertainty, and will probably be the difference between a special and very good season.
Conservatively, Florida State projects to be favored by 60, 42, 31, 21, 20, 20, 13, 11, 9, 8, 6 and 3 points. You'll notice there are no games in which Vegas projects the 'Noles as an underdog. Vegas doesn't leave valuable lines up on public teams too often and certainly didn't here. If you bet the 'Noles over two months ago, congratulations.
For more on FSU football, visit Tomahawk Nation.
Miami Under 7 Wins (-200), 5Dimes: Sometimes, the timing of a column means that bets placed in real life (uh, theoretically, of course) can't be relayed in a column. This is another one of those times. This projects as the worst Miami team since 2007 (5-7 record). And at (-150) odds, it was a fine wager. Unfortunately, the sharps sucked all the value out of this with a quickness. At (-200) it's not a play I am willing to make and set aside my money for an entire season. A good bet isn't a good bet because it is likely to happen; it's a good bet because the odds present value. Here, I don't find enough.
For more on Canes football, visit Miami blog The 7th Floor.
Clemson Over/Under 8.5 Wins (-115/-105), 5Dimes: Clemson was not as good as its wins over Virginia Tech, nor was it as bad as its loss to West Virginia. Those games were extremes, and extremes seems to be a theme with this team. The losses on the offensive and defensive lines are enormous, but the skill positions are crazy loaded and return almost totally intact.
For more Tigers football, visit Clemson blog Shakin' The Southland.
Wake Forest Under 5.5 Wins (-155), 5Dimes: This was on track to be a play with mounting offensive line injuries (starting left tackle out for the year after blowing his ACL) compounding the existing problem of losing 107 career offensive line starts from 2011. But then Duke and Maryland suffered even worse injuries, and Wake's chances of winning those games increased to a level at which I was not comfortable betting against Jim Grobe. I also think this team will miss NFL receiver Chris Givens (83 catches, 1330 yards), but I love QB Tanner Price and a vintage, opportunistic Wake defense.
For more on Deacs football, visit Wake Forest blog Blogger So Dear.
Virginia Tech Over/Under 9.5 Wins (+135/-155), 5Dimes: This looks like a well-crafted line. Tech's losses on offense are major (both starting offensive tackles, both starters at guard, top-two receivers, NFL running back). But the defense should be the best since 2009 (maybe since 2007), and Logan Thomas is a freakish athlete at quarterback. Plus, the schedule doesn't offer too many chances for a slip.
For more on Hokies football, visit Virginia Tech blog Gobbler Country.
Duke Under 3.5 Wins (+180), 5Dimes: If the line was O/U 4 (+150), I'd be all over the under, but there is a significant chance the Blue Devils eek out four wins, and I need the protection of the push.
Virginia Under 7 Wins (-200), 5Dimes: Virginia was extremely lucky last season, particularly with health (only four starts lost to injury), and was not as good as its record. So why am I hesitant to pull the trigger? Penn State. The Cavaliers once projected as a rough tossup in hosting the Nittany Lions. Now? They'll be favorites of close to a touchdown over the PSU program that is less than a TD favorite hosting Ohio in its opening game.
For more on Hoos football, visit Virginia blog Streaking The Lawn.
No Longer Available
Maryland Under 4.5 Wins (-150), 5Dimes: I am not counting this as a play, just noting it to show what the line was when it was available. You know, before Maryland lost its starting QB, best young defensive end and a few other starters for the season to camp injuries.
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