Take a shot on this long-shot team to win ACC title

The conventional wisdom heading into the fall is that the ACC is a two-team race. Clemson (+145) and Florida State (+150) are co-favorites to win the conference. The nature of their schedules, and the ACC’s new divisionless conference model, present two different ways to play the Tigers and Seminoles if their short odds don’t appeal to you.

If you believe Clemson has what it takes to win the ACC, a safer play may be to take the over on their win total at 9.5 (-175). That way your wager doesn’t come down to the ACC title game. Clemson does draw Notre Dame and South Carolina in non-conference matchups, but it still remains likely that the Tigers will be favored in 11, if not 12, games this season.

Florida State has much to gain from its Sept. 23 trip to Death Valley, that you may as well play the Seminoles in the lookahead market at either +3 ATS or on the money line.

According to the KFord Ratings, a Seminoles victory at Clemson would increase their odds of making the ACC championship game from 59 percent to a whopping 78 percent. A loss would knock down their odds to 45 percent. Though it’s not a one-game season for Florida State by any stretch, that is one way to keep your bankroll liquid.

The divisionless model also opens the door for a long shot. Duke is sitting at 18/1 just to make the ACC title game and returns a compelling roster.

The Blue Devils went 9-4 (5-3) in 2022, with three of their four losses coming by three points or fewer. They were stout against the run (17th), protected the football (sixth in giveaways) and developed the nation’s best-kept secret at quarterback.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney

Riley Leonard finished 2022 with 33 total touchdowns and just a hair under 3,000 yards passing and 700 yards rushing. The only other quarterbacks in that neighborhood of dual-threat production were LSU’s Jayden Daniels and North Carolina’s Drake Maye. They’re both consensus top-five Heisman candidates.

Duke also has the third-highest net TARP (incoming transfer plus returning production) score on offense among Power Five teams.

The Blue Devils’ running backs room is loaded with experience — 1,927 career rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. Jalon Calhoun (third-team All-ACC) headlines a veteran receiving corp that returns all of its primary pass-catchers. The offensive line is replacing three starters, but they dove into the portal and retrieved four three-star talents.

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Speaking of the portal, the Blue Devils scored a pair of difference-makers at cornerback. Texas A&M’s Myles Jones and Miami’s Al Blades Jr. could help improve upon Duke’s defense, which finished 25th in scoring, but a troubling 107th against the pass.

Duke’s head coach, Mike Elko, is a defensive mastermind and has great pieces to work with on his defensive line and in the secondary.

This wager is heavily predicated on Duke pulling a program-defining upset in Week 1 against Clemson. Hosting the Tigers in Durham on Labor Day in offensive coordinator Garrett Riley’s debut is ideal.

No one questions Riley’s résumé (TCU national runner-up), but it could take Clemson’s offense time to jell. Elko has major experience calling plays against Clemson, limiting Trevor Lawrence to zero fourth-quarter points twice in 2018 and 2019 as Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator.

After that, Duke will catch four of its next five games at home. If a springboard to relevance, and a hefty potential payout, ever existed, it’s the opener against Dabo Swinney.