2021 College Football Preview: Over/unders for every ACC team

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VSiN’s 2021 College Football Betting Guide is now available for order. Get access to over 300 pages of information, including over/under picks for all 130 FBS teams and our experts’ favorite season win total bets right here.

Here is the 2021 CFB betting guide preview for the ACC.

FAVORITES: CLEMSON and NORTH CAROLINA

Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and Amari Rodgers are gone to the NFL, but there is no panic in Death Valley. Clemson is -900 to win the ACC for the seventh consecutive year (-2000 to win the Atlantic Division). Sophomore D.J. Uiagalelei was the nation's top quarterback out of high school in the Class of 2020. Like Mac Jones at Alabama the season before, Uiagalelei started two games in place of an injured star QB. While Clemson did lose his start at Notre Dame, the offense looks to be in very capable hands, and he more than showed his star potential. The defense could potentially be the team’s strength early as nine starters return. 

The Tigers will need to be ready immediately as they face Georgia in the season opener in Charlotte. After the opener, the schedule gets substantially easier as Clemson avoids the top three teams in the Coastal Division (North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech). In fact, the Tigers face just one team that had a winning conference record in 2020, NC State.

North Carolina (+ 850 to win ACC; + 130 Coastal Division) scored 41.7 PPG last year, but its top two running backs and wide receivers departed to the NFL. However, sophomore QB Sam Howell is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, and the entire offensive line returns. Mack Brown should have the best defense he has had in Chapel Hill, with 10 starters returning. North Carolina avoids Clemson in the regular season and gets its closest Coastal Division competitor, Miami, at home. Nevertheless, going to Blacksburg is never an easy game, and the Tar Heels must face Virginia Tech on the road in the opener. North Carolina also has a trip to South Bend in a revenge spot at Notre Dame. 

LIVE DOG: MIAMI

The Hurricanes (9-1 to win ACC; + 130 Coastal Division) are neck-and-neck with North Carolina to win the Coastal Division for the right to face Clemson in the ACC title game. Last season, the Tar Heels went to Miami and cruised 62-26. Then senior QB D’Eriq King tore his ACL in the Cheez-It Bowl against Oklahoma State.

King declared himself 100% and good to go for the opener against Alabama in Atlanta. Behind King and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, Miami’s offense improved by 8.3 PPG and 73 YPG last season. Assuming King is truthful about his health, this offense should show even more improvement with every skill-position player of note and all five starters on the offensive line returning. However, the defense slipped by 6.8 PPG and 98 YPG, and head coach Manny Diaz takes over the defensive play-calling duties for a unit that returns nine starters. 

“The U” is not backing down from tough competition, as it hosts Appalachian State and Michigan State after the opener. The big game for its ACC title hopes is a revenge trip to North Carolina. 

DEAD MONEY: SYRACUSE and DUKE

Syracuse is coming off a 1-10 season, the worst in Dino Babers’ five years as coach. The Orange have plummeted from 10 wins to one in just three years. In fact, Babers (24-36) has only one winning season at Syracuse (10-3 in 2018). The Orange were outgained by almost 200 yards in conference play last season. Syracuse couldn’t score points (17.8 PPG) or move the ball (265 YPG) largely because the offensive line couldn’t block or protect the QB, allowing 88 sacks over the last two seasons. The nonconference schedule is not all that daunting (three of the first four games at home) and the Orange bring back 19 starters, but almost every team in the conference brings back substantial experience -- and Syracuse will be a likely underdog in at least seven of its eight conference games.

Duke is coming off a 2-9 season, the worst in David Cutcliffe’s 20 seasons as a head coach. The Blue Devils have only 12 returning starters (six offense, six defense), the lowest for any team in the conference. They can only regress to the positive as far as turnovers are concerned because they were -19 in turnover margin in 2020. Duke committed the second-most turnovers of any FBS team in a decade with 39 giveaways. Cutcliffe has turned over the play calling to new co-offensive coordinator Jeff Faris. Former Clemson transfer Chase Brice has left for Appalachian State, so Duke will have a new QB. The Blue Devils should start 3-1, thanks to this nonconference slate: at Charlotte, vs. NC A&T, vs. Northwestern and vs. Kansas. However, they could be underdogs in all eight conference games. 

BIG GAMES ON THE BOARD 

North Carolina at Virginia Tech, Sept. 3: Virginia Tech has had two losing seasons in three years, and the heat is on coach Justin Fuente. Meanwhile, North Carolina opens with an ACC road game for the first time since 2005. The last time the Tar Heels visited Blacksburg, the Hokies prevailed 43-41 in six overtimes. 

Clemson vs. Georgia in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 4: These teams kick off the season with a game that has immediate College Football Playoff implications. Clemson has been to the CFP in six consecutive seasons, while Georgia is seeking a return trip for the first time since the 2017-18 season. It’s a big-time pressure test for D.J. Uiagalelei, who takes over at QB for Clemson, replacing Trevor Lawrence.

Miami vs. Alabama in Atlanta, Sept. 4: Former Miami coach Mark Richt apologized to successor Manny Diaz on air during ACC media days for scheduling this game several years ago. Hurricanes QB D’Eriq King is coming back from an ACL injury to lead Miami against the defending national champions.

Miami at North Carolina, Oct. 16: With an Orange Bowl berth on the line last year, the Hurricanes were mauled at home by North Carolina 62-26. Miami allowed a school-record 778 yards, and UNC’s Michael Carter and Javonte Williams combined to rush for an FBS-record 544 yards. 

Clemson at Pittsburgh, Oct. 23: The Tigers make their first trip to Pittsburgh. Clemson had the top defense in the ACC in 2020. The second-best defense in the conference? Pitt. Clemson has only three true conference road games, and the Panthers likely will provide the toughest test among them. 

North Carolina at Notre Dame, Oct. 30: Last year in Chapel Hill, Notre Dame held North Carolina to 78 yards in the second half. The victory gave the Fighting Irish a spot in the ACC title game. 

Atlantic Division

CLEMSON

The Tigers have been to the College Football Playoff for six consecutive seasons with two national championships to show for it. Now Clemson must begin life without the winningest quarterback in program history (Trevor Lawrence), the ACC’s all-time leading rusher (Travis Etienne) and two of the Tigers’ top three 2020 wide receivers (Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell). The defense returns nine starters but must reconcile consecutive poor performances in playoff losses to Ohio State and LSU in which the Tigers fell by an average of 19 points. 

The march to a likely seventh straight year in the CFP starts with QB D.J. Uiagalelei, who made two starts as a true freshman, against Boston College and at Notre Dame. He threw for an opposing-quarterback record of 439 yards in the double-overtime loss to the Irish when Lawrence was out with COVID-19. Just five starters return on offense, so the Tigers could start slowly on that side of the ball. The defense gets its top 10 tacklers back plus 97% of its sack production. When you can coach this kind of talent, there’s a reason DC Brent Venables signed a contract extension through 2026 at $2.5 million per year. Clemson is not likely to be challenged in the ACC regular season, though North Carolina or Miami could give the Tigers a run in the ACC title game. 

Clemson’s biggest challenge will be the main event of the Week 1 slate against Georgia. Even if the favored Tigers lose, they would be far from finished in the CFP. After Georgia, other nonconference opponents are South Carolina State, UConn and South Carolina. The toughest game on the ACC schedule is probably NC State on the road. The Tigers face only one team in conference play that had a winning ACC record last season, but Georgia is a tough opener and Clemson has at least a decent chance to lose, so it is difficult to take the Over. 

Pick: Under 11.5

NC STATE

Dave Doeren, recently extended through 2025, and the Wolfpack returned to stability last season after a down 2019. NC State's 8-4 mark in 2020 was its sixth winning season in seven years. The Wolfpack found consistency last season despite not having sophomore starting QB Devin Leary for most of it due to COVID-19. Bailey Hockman took over before Leary came back to start three games, but then Leary broke his leg. Hockman started the final seven games but has transferred to Middle Tennessee, so the job is finally Leary's. 

After a rough 2019, Leary showed improvement across the board in his shortened 2020 season, raising his completion percentage nearly 12 points from 48.1 to 60.0. He threw for the same number of touchdowns, eight, in four fewer games plus cut his interceptions from five to two. Turnovers have been a problem the last two seasons as the Wolfpack have given up the ball 40 times in their last 21 games, and that must be rectified. The offense returns nine starters, including its entire RB corps led by the 1-2 punch of sophomore Zonovan “Bam” Knight and junior Ricky Person, who combined for 1,400 yards and 14 TDs. Six of the top seven pass-catchers are also back. Coordinator Tim Beck improved the offense by over 8 PPG in his first season last year, and this group should improve even more. 

The defense returns 10 starters, led by sophomore LB Payton Wilson. He finished fourth nationally with 108 tackles while leading the team with 11.5 TFLs and two picks but did have two offseason shoulder surgeries and missed spring ball. Other than Clemson, Miami and North Carolina, NC State is more talented than every team on its schedule. 

The Wolfpack won three conference road games last year and will likely have to win at least one (and maybe two) from a group of Boston College, Miami, Florida State and Wake Forest to eclipse its win total. Talent and stability should win out. 

Pick: Over 6.5

BOSTON COLLEGE

Last season was not ideal for a new coach with two new coordinators to install new schemes. Boston College had only five spring practices, but Jeff Hafley and the Eagles put together a respectable 6-5 season. Four losses were to ranked teams, and BC was competitive against Clemson and North Carolina. Nevertheless, the Eagles suffered one-sided losses at Virginia Tech and Virginia. Though BC had zero positive COVID-19 tests last season, the Eagles opted out of postseason play. 

Hafley has changed the tenor of the program: The Eagles ran the ball much less in 2020, and Notre Dame transfer QB Phil Jurkovec showed glimpses of what made him a top-five QB out of high school. Leading rusher David Bailey transferred to reunite with former BC coach Steve Addazio at Colorado State. A new starter will need to be discovered, but the OL returns five starters, so the running game should be more productive than last year's 3.1 YPC. Junior WR Zay Flowers was first-team all-ACC last year and is the star of the offense. Flowers and sophomore Jaelen Gill, who followed Hafley from Ohio State, should be one of the best WR duos in the conference. FCS All-American tight end Trae Berry comes in from Jacksonville State. BC also brings back eight starters on defense for a unit that will likely look to blitz a bit more under second-year DC Tem Lukabu. 

The Eagles ease into the season with an FCS opponent in Colgate, a UMass team that was one of the worst in the FBS a year ago and a visit to Temple. Then BC gets Missouri at home and a trip to Death Valley to face Clemson. BC closes with seven games in seven weeks, including a few ACC opponents amid major rebuilds or coming off disappointing seasons. There could be a real opportunity to string together wins late. Hafley is building a culture in Chestnut Hill, and this is a sleeper team in the ACC.

Pick: Over 7 

LOUISVILLE

Scott Satterfield inherited a program in disarray from Bobby Petrino. In his first year coming from Appalachian State, Satterfield and the Cardinals were a surprise at 8-5; last season, the Cardinals took a step back at 4-7. Arguably the main reason was a minus-12 turnover margin that ranked second worst in the FBS. Louisville tossed 12 interceptions, lost 12 of 18 fumbles and forced just 12 takeaways over 11 games. Satterfield also flirted with the South Carolina job in the offseason, and that has called his commitment into question. 

Junior QB Malik Cunningham has put up 5,773 total yards and 55 touchdowns in two seasons. He ranked No. 2 among FBS QBs in rushes of 10-plus yards (37) and throws a great deep ball, but he threw 12 interceptions, lost three fumbles and tried to force the big play way too often. Louisville finished 18th nationally in yards per rush but ranked No. 3 in rushes of 20-plus yards. The Cardinals have enough depth to make up for the loss of Javian Hawkins to the NFL, but the returning receivers have only three career starts. Shai Werts, a four-year starting option QB at Georgia Southern, comes in to play receiver. Louisville returns 13 starters — seven on offense, six on defense — and is one of the least experienced teams in the ACC. 

The schedule is not easy with an opener in Atlanta vs. Ole Miss and its explosive offense. After a date with Eastern Kentucky, UCF comes to town. Satterfield will see what he has defensively by facing QBs Matt Corral of Ole Miss and Dillon Gabriel of UCF in the first three weeks. The conference slate is not bad: The Cardinals will play seven home games and stay home for five of their last seven. They get crossover games against Virginia and Duke, and they don’t have to play Notre Dame. They do, however, get Kentucky back on the schedule after the Governor’s Cup was canceled last fall. Louisville probably got lucky in 2019 and got very unlucky in 2020, so the Cardinals are probably right in between, about .500 or a game above.

Pick: Under 6.5

WAKE FOREST

Dave Clawson’s streak of winning seasons ended at four in 2020 with a 4-5 campaign that was full of early departures, opt-outs and injuries. Wake Forest had only nine returning starters in 2020 but still made a bowl game. This year 18 starters return — nine each on offense and defense — including QB Sam Hartman, in his third season as the starter and leading an offense that scored a school-record 36 PPG. Hartman threw a school-record 258 consecutive passes without an interception. 

Wake Forest lost Kenneth Walker III to Michigan State via the transfer portal after he rushed for a team-high 13 touchdowns, but the Demon Deacons’ top rusher Christian Beal-Smith is back after rushing for 732 yards and five touchdowns last year. Michigan transfer Christian Turner also should help fill the void left by Walker’s departure. Seven of the top eight tacklers return for a unit that needs to put more pressure on the passer. 

Wake Forest gets four of its first five games at home, and the first six are winnable. The Demon Deacons also avoid playing Miami, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh and get the bottom teams in the Coastal. The game vs. North Carolina, in a schedule oddity, is a nonconference game that will not count in the ACC standings. The schedule is tougher in the second half of the season, and Wake Forest tends to wear down late in the season due to a lack of depth. So a good start is paramount because a November stretch at North Carolina, vs. NC State, at Clemson and at Boston College could be brutal.

Pick: Under 7

FLORIDA STATE

Mike Norvell is in Year 2 of trying to get Florida State back to powerhouse status. The Seminoles posted their third straight losing season in 2020 with a 3-6 record, though they were down to 50 scholarship players by the end of the season due to opt-outs, injuries and transfers. Norvell must find a starting QB to provide a spark for one of the nation’s worst passing attacks, which averaged only 197 yards in 2020. 

Sophomore Jordan Travis started six games last season, and he was also FSU’s leading rusher. But Travis still has competition for the gig as he will have to hold off UCF graduate transfer McKenzie Milton. Milton led UCF to an undefeated season in 2017, and the Knights were 10-0 and headed for win No. 11 when he suffered a gruesome injury against USF that nearly cost him his leg. Despite what have become annual woes on the OL, Florida State’s running game improved dramatically last season. The OL returns all five starters and hopes for continuity. This group has had four position coaches in four years. Sophomore Jashaun Corbin and freshman Lawrance Toafili can provide a solid 1-2 punch at RB, and Auburn transfer D.J. Williams also arrives. 

The defense finished No. 87 in the nation in tackles for loss per game and No. 119 in sacks per game in 2020. Georgia transfer Jermaine Johnson should help in this area, having provided five sacks in just seven games for the Bulldogs last season. However, Johnson was just a rotation guy at Georgia and now he becomes FSU's best defensive player. 

Florida State opens with Notre Dame. The confidence-builder comes the next week with Jacksonville State, but then the Seminoles must go to Wake Forest to face one of the best-coached teams in the ACC. Then Louisville and Syracuse come to Tallahassee. Next FSU travels to face a North Carolina team looking for revenge. UMass will kick off the second half of the season. The closing stretch — at Clemson, NC State, Miami, at Boston College and at Florida — is one of the toughest any team will face this year. A .500 season is attainable if the Seminoles can win at Wake Forest or pull an upset in the final half of the season.

Pick: Over 5.5

SYRACUSE

The Orange are 38-59 since joining the ACC in 2013, but last season was their worst at 1-10. Syracuse’s offense averaged a paltry 18 PPG and 265 YPG in 2020. Tommy DeVito was supposed to be the blue-chip QB recruit who would take the Orange to the next level, but DeVito has been exposed by a poor unit up front. He is still there, but Mississippi State transfer Garrett Shrader seems the likely starter. Shrader was one of only three FBS freshman quarterbacks to account for 1,000 yards passing and 500 yards rushing in 2019. 

Nine starters are back for an offense that rated No. 123 in the country for third-down conversions, largely due to facing third-and-longs after allowing 38 sacks, third worst in FBS. Syracuse allowed 50 sacks the year before. Since Dino Babers took over at Syracuse, the Orange have allowed 195 sacks, an average of 39 per year. Ten starters are also back on defense, and 11 of the top 12 tacklers return. But the unit has averaged 460 YPG for the last five years and started six true freshmen in the last two games. 

Syracuse’s first four games are winnable. Rutgers comes in early September for an old Big East rematch. The most challenging games will be at Florida State, home against Clemson and at Virginia Tech. The Orange open their season with nine consecutive games without a week off, which is concerning for a young team that has not had much success. With a 24-36 record in five seasons, this is a crucial year for Babers. The Orange have an opportunity to earn a couple of nonconference wins, but they might be underdogs in every ACC game.

Pick: Under 3

Coastal Division

NORTH CAROLINA

Mack Brown is about to turn 70, but he has infused energy into the North Carolina program. The Tar Heels have gone to bowl games in consecutive seasons and earned statement wins last year over Miami and Virginia Tech. However, UNC is looking to take that next step and defeat the elite programs. The ACC Coastal Division has had a different winner each year since 2013, but the Tar Heels are the favorites along with Miami. 

Heisman candidate Sam Howell has thrown 68 touchdown passes (two more than Trevor Lawrence at Clemson) against 14 interceptions in his first two seasons. Howell’s top two RBs and WRs are gone to the NFL, but enough talent remains to take this offense to the next level. Tennessee transfer Ty Chandler rushed for over 2,000 yards in four years in Knoxville and will need to contribute immediately. Receivers Beau Corrales, Josh Downs and Khafre Brown look primed for breakout seasons. All five OL starters return, so OC Phil Longo’s up-tempo offense should be right there with the 41.7 PPG it put up in 2020. The Tar Heels should have the best defense they have had in Brown’s second act at UNC with 10 starters back. LB Tomon Fox came back for his “super senior” year and has 33 TFLs and 21 sacks. 

North Carolina gets an early test, visiting Virginia Tech opening week. Five of the next six are at home. The month to watch is October, when North Carolina hosts rival Duke, Florida State and Miami. A week off is next and will be greatly appreciated, considering a trip to Notre Dame -- likely UNC’s toughest regular-season game -- rounds out the month. North Carolina avoids Clemson during the regular season but will be hoping to face the Tigers for the ACC championship after taking them to the limit in 2019.

Pick: Over 9.5

MIAMI

It was a bounce-back season in Coral Gables last year, but being smacked around in the home finale by North Carolina with an Orange Bowl berth on the line and then losing to Oklahoma State in the Cheez-It Bowl should leave a sour taste for the Hurricanes. The 42-17 defeat at Clemson also showed a talent gap that Miami must overcome to be among the elite programs again. 

Miami showed some glimpses of an explosive offense behind QB D'Eriq King and OC Rhett Lashlee, averaging 440 YPG and 34 PPG. However, the run game disappointed. The top four runners (including King) return, but the RBs and the OL, which returns five starters, must step up because Lashlee and Manny Diaz may not want their QB to run as much as he comes back from a torn ACL. All but one receiver returns, and the best of the lot looks to be from outside the program as Charleston Rambo comes aboard from Oklahoma. Rambo started 24 games in three seasons at Oklahoma and led the Hurricanes in receptions during the spring game. Defensively, Miami brings back nine starters but must find new pass rushers after losing three to the NFL. The defense has a lot of talent but still has much to prove, considering it gave up 554 yards on the ground to North Carolina in the season finale. After seeing so many of his back seven out of position in the final two games, Diaz decided to call the defensive plays. 

After the opener in Atlanta against Alabama, it really becomes all about Miami getting back to the ACC Championship Game for the first time since 2017. The Tar Heels are the only other opponent on Miami’s schedule that will be favored against the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes beat the teams they were supposed to last season, but can they take that next step? 

Pick: Under 9

VIRGINIA TECH

Justin Fuente has two losing seasons in his last three years at Virginia Tech, and in 2020 the nation’s longest streak of bowl appearances ended at 27. The seat has certainly warmed in Blacksburg. 

A logjam at QB has developed over the last couple of seasons, but the transfer portal has cleared that out as Quincy Patterson is now at North Dakota State and Hendon Hooker at Tennessee. Junior Braxton Burmeister is now officially the guy. He has a strong arm and is an elusive runner, but can he stay healthy? He had three injuries last season that forced him to miss time. Eight starters return for an offense that averaged 441 YPG and 31.1 PPG and led the ACC in rushing. A strong stable of running backs is led by juniors Raheem Blackshear and Jalen Holston. Six of the seven top pass catchers are also back. The OL must replace first-rounder Christian Darrishaw, but four returners combine for 92 career starts. The defense, which returns seven starters, allowed 447 YPG (266 passing) and 32.1 PPG. 

Drawing North Carolina is a tough opener, but that may be the best time to play the Tar Heels, who are replacing their top skill-position players. The schedule is tough but very front-loaded, with six of the first seven at home. Virginia Tech has a road date with West Virginia and Notre Dame comes to Lane Stadium, but there is still an opportunity for at least a solid start. Four of the last five are on the road, with trips to Georgia Tech, Boston College, Miami and Virginia. At 7, this would be an Over play; at 7.5, it looks like a big ask. 

Pick: Under 7.5

PITTSBURGH

Pat Narduzzi is always a defensive-minded coach. However, his offense has just not reached the level needed for the Panthers to take the next step. Pitt’s offense ranked third to last in the ACC with just 379.6 YPG, ahead of only Duke and Syracuse. The Panthers ranked 111th in the FBS in rushing offense (111.9 YPC), converted just 36.4% of their third downs (No. 98 in the FBS) and finished 90th in red zone touchdown rate, scoring from inside the opponent’s 20-yard line just 57.5% of the time. 

Senior QB Kenny Pickett is back and has made 36 starts in four seasons. Pickett is tough and steady, but Panthers fans have always been left wanting more. He has also thrown too many interceptions (25 in 39 games), and he could improve his accuracy. Eight of the nine top pass-catchers are back, including Jordan Addison (60 receptions as a freshman). So is 95% of the rushing yards, but the running game needs a lift. The defense lost 16.5 sacks from a group that has led the nation in sacks for two straight seasons. The 14 returning starters -- eight on offense, six on defense -- is one of the lower marks in the conference. 

Pitt has three easy nonconference home games with UMass, Western Michigan and New Hampshire. The Panthers then visit rebuilding Tennessee and play their ACC opener at Georgia Tech; Pitt has a very good chance to start 5-0. The Panthers’ three toughest ACC games -- against Clemson, Miami and UNC -- are at home. Pitt might also be favored in three of its four conference road games -- at Georgia Tech, at Duke and at Syracuse. With the toughest games at home, Pitt will likely have to win at least five of six games on the road to eclipse the season win total.

Pick: Under 7.5

VIRGINIA

Fourth-year coach Bronco Mendenhall admitted that his Cavaliers were not as ready to play as they should have been in 2020. However, Virginia closed the season 4-1 after a 1-4 start, beginning life without QB Bryce Perkins. Brennan Armstrong led an offense that averaged the most yards in the Mendenhall era with 423, as well as 30.7 PPG. Junior WR/QB Keytaon Thompson will be used a bit like Taysom Hill, whom Mendenhall coached at BYU. Freshman TE Lavel Davis led the ACC with 25.8 YPC but tore his ACL in the spring, and November might be the earliest he can return. On the OL, the top six returners have combined for 122 career starts. But on defense, four of the top six tacklers have departed. The Cavaliers need immediate improvement in the secondary as well, as they allowed an ACC-worst 304.4 passing yards per game last season, 123rd of 127 FBS teams. Opponents averaged 9.4 yards per attempt and had 29 passing plays of 30 or more yards against the Cavs, the third most nationally. 

Three of the Cavaliers’ first four games are in Scott Stadium, where they went 5-1 last season. The lone road game is a tough one at North Carolina, though Virginia has won four in a row against the Tar Heels. However, the Cavaliers were 0-4 on the road last season, making midseason trips to Miami and Louisville uphill battles. The schedule ramps up considerably with a closing stretch against BYU, Notre Dame, Pitt and Virginia Tech. Mendenhall returns to BYU, where he coached for 13 years, on Oct. 30. The Cavaliers play nine straight games before having a week off, so there is concern of being burned out before the closing stretch. The Panthers also play three games in 12 days: Sept. 18 at North Carolina, Sept. 24 vs. Wake Forest and Sept. 30 at Miami. 

Mendenhall is building a strong culture in Charlottesville, but this schedule might be too daunting.

Pick: Under 6.5

GEORGIA TECH

Geoff Collins is in the third year of transitioning Georgia Tech from the triple option it ran for years under Paul Johnson. The Yellow Jackets showed improvement last year, especially on offense, as scoring increased by seven points per game and generated over 100 yards more per game than in 2019. However, 2020 featured humbling experiences, like being Syracuse’s only victory during a 1-10 season and allowing 73 points to Clemson. The offensive numbers would have been a lot better had Georgia Tech not had 25 turnovers, second most in the nation. In addition, penalties really held this group back. 

QB Jeff Sims appears to be a keeper, though he looked every bit the freshman at times in 2020 with only a 54.9% completion rate and as many interceptions as touchdowns (13). The receivers are not overwhelmingly talented, and it will take a while to upgrade after years of the triple option, but they did show big-play capability with 13 YPC. RB Jahmyr Gibbs (5.2 YPC) is back and could be a 1,000-yard back if he can stay healthy, having missed almost four games last season. The defense is more of a concern, having allowed 36.8 PPG and 459 YPG. The Yellow Jackets were 12th against the run in the ACC and dead last in sacks per game, while also allowing the second-most TD passes. 

Georgia Tech’s schedule is arduous, with four likely Top 10 teams (at Clemson, vs. North Carolina, at Notre Dame, vs. Georgia). Northern Illinois and Kennesaw State should be two early wins to get some confidence, but then the Jackets get Clemson and North Carolina back to back. Bowl eligibility probably hinges on winning at least three games in the middle of the schedule (against Pittsburgh, Duke, Virginia and Virginia Tech), because three of the final four games will be at Miami, at Notre Dame and home against Georgia.

Pick: Over 4.5

DUKE

David Cutcliffe comes off his worst season in 20 years as a head coach. The 2-9 mark encouraged Cutcliffe, 66 and with two years left on his contract, to delegate more. So he’s turning over play-calling duties to Jeff Faris, 31, who has spent seven seasons on staff as the WR/TE coach and now becomes the co-OC and QB coach. The first order of business is to get the offense to stop giving the ball away. Duke committed 39 turnovers last season and ended up minus-19 in turnover margin. The Blue Devils have given the ball away two or more times in 14 of the last 17 games and 20 of the last 25. 

Sophomore Gunnar Holmberg takes over at QB for former Clemson transfer Chase Brice, who left for Appalachian State. Duke will look to run more play-action and zone-read to take advantage of Holmberg’s speed. The Blue Devils also want to get the ball more to senior RB Mataeo Durant, the leading returning rusher in the ACC. But Duke finished last in the ACC with 11 pass plays of more than 30 yards. It would help the passing game if the line could protect the QB. The Blue Devils gave up 3.36 sacks per game (114th nationally) and 7.46 tackles for loss per game (110th). Duke allowed 445 yards and 38 points per game, was awful against the run and struggled to get off the field. The Blue Devils also have the fewest returning starters in the ACC with 12, six on both sides of the ball. 

Duke, which will leave the state of North Carolina just twice, could be 3-1 coming out of the gate but will need to pick up a conference win to surpass the season win total. They should be able to win one in league play, and Georgia Tech or Wake Forest look like the most likely candidates. Four wins looks like the exact right number.

Pick: Push 4

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