It’s a new season, so you all know what that means!!! STAFF PICKS ARE BACK.
Grant Atkinson, Jeff Greenberg, Mike McDaniel, Justin Cates are back with their picks for another season. Joey Weaver of the Basketball Podcast has jumped on board as well to give his weekly picks.
It should be another fun ACC season, so without further ado, let’s get it going.
Thursday, August 30th
Wake Forest (-6.5) at Tulane, 8 PM ET on CBS Sports Network
Grant: This game kicks off a stretch of 5 days in a row of ACC Football Action. Wake Forest put on quite an offensive display in their final game of last season, winning the Belk Bowl 55-52 over Texas A&M. I expect them to come out with a win on the season’s first official night. Wake Forest wins.
Jeff: Clawson has built this team well and could have a sneaky good year. They’ll have to manage their starting QB being suspended to start the year, but this game shouldn’t be the problem. Wake wins.
Joey: After Mike Elko’s departure in the offseason, Wake’s defense got worse over the course of 2017 to the point that they were a liability by season’s end. The offense made up for it, but now has to replace senior QB John Wolford, with theoretical heir Kendall Hinton suspended. The Deacs have quite a few offensive weapons (lead by the returning Greg Dortch), but QB play will be a major point of contention in 2018. Meanwhile, Willie Fritz has quietly been building a program at Tulane (as he previously did at Sam Houston State and Georgia Southern), and the Green Wave should be somewhat dangerous this year. With the Week 1 contest in New Orleans, a perfect storm might be brewing for an upset here…but I’m guessing it’s a near-miss for Wake.
Justin: I think Wake will be pretty good this season and they should handle this opener. Tulane has some incredible gear featuring their old school logo. https://twitter.com/TulaneEquipment/status/1034492785829847040
Mike: This is an interesting line, and an interesting game for Wake Forest without starting quarterback Kendall Hinton. I have Wake winning, but Tulane will keep it close. I put actual money on Wake -6.5, but if Tulane covers, or even wins outright, I would not be shocked.
Friday, August 31st
Syracuse (-4.5) at Western Michigan, 6 PM ET on CBS Sports Network
Grant: I expect Syracuse to struggle a bit this year. Though they have a veteran QB in Eric Dungey, he’s had his problems staying healthy, and they are extremely young at a lot of offensive positions. In addition, they play in the much more difficult division of the ACC, meaning their schedule will be somewhat brutal. That said, I think their defense, along with a fresh Dungey, will be enough to carry them to a 1-0 start.
Jeff: When Dino Babers has a good QB his offense can be dynamic. He’s got a great returning QB in Dungy. Syracuse should win here.
Joey: The Orange have been at their best in September over the first two years of the Dino Babers era, likely related to their cleanest bills of health and fresh legs on defense. With QB Eric Dungey back and a new defensive scheme in place, they should be in good shape here. Meanwhile, this isn’t your marginally older brother’s Western Michigan team. 2018 is the Broncos’ second season in the post-PJ Fleck era, as the team has taken a steep dive since their January 2017 Cotton Bowl appearance. Syracuse rolls here.
Justin: Dino Babers needs wins and this is a prime spot to start the year off right. I think they pull it off and play multiple quarterbacks.
Mike: Healthy Eric Dungey? Check. This isn’t the same Western Michigan team as it was when P.J. Fleck roamed the sidelines. That was apparent a year ago, and I think it will be more apparent this season. I have Syracuse in this game with relative ease in covering the 4.5-point spread.
Army at Duke (-13.5), 7 PM ET on ESPNU
Grant: There’s a lot of hype around Duke once again this offseason. Most preseason magazines have slated them for third or even as high as second in the ACC Coastal Division. While Army is not a powerhouse by any means, they are a good enough opponent to at least give us an idea of how good Duke really is. Duke wins.
Jeff: Army disrupted some games last year. Can’t overlook them because they will play disciplined football. Daniel Jones looks to rebound this season and will start with a win in week 1 for Duke.
Joey: It feels like I’m missing something with this line. Army has pieces to replace, but that’s just par for the course as an academy. Meanwhile they beat Duke last year…and now they’re a two-score underdog??? Duke wins, but Army covers a shockingly large spread.
Duke 31, Army 24
Justin: This is a low key great game. Army is coming off one of its best seasons in years and the Blue Devils are coming off another solid campaign. Both programs won bowl games last season. Duke by a slim margin.
Mike: Duke better be careful here. The Blue Devils are coming into the season with heightened expectations and a veteran group, but this is the same Army team that beat them last year. I think Duke ins this game, but I expect Army to cover the near-two touchdown spread.
Saturday, September 1st
James Madison at NC State (NL), 12 PM ET on ESPNU
Grant: Let me start off by saying that I’m not sure what NC State was thinking when the scheduled JMU to open the season. As one of the best FCS teams in the nation for a few years now, it would not surprise me to see the Dukes hang around for at least 3 quarters. Eventually, though, I expect the Wolfpack’s experience and talent to carry them to a win.
Jeff: Interesting opener. James Madison has been on a year the last two seasons. NC State will win this game, but not before JMU makes it interesting in the first half against a rebuilt Wolfpack defense.
Joey: The Wolfpack has no business losing to an FCS team…but James Madison is about as dangerous as FCS teams come. (Let’s say this: if they were a G5 team, they’d be in the top half of G5 programs.) NC State has a lot of high-caliber pieces to replace on defense in 2018, but ultimately should win comfortably here — just don’t be shocked if you see a notification about this being a one-score game midway through the third quarter. (Even if it is, NC State pulls away late.)
Justin: State should be solid again. I don’t know much about James Madison this year, but they’re generally solid to quite good. I expect they hang around but the Wolfpack win.
Mike: James Madison is rebuilding. NC State is as well, especially on defense, but they have senior quarterback Ryan Finley, which should be more than enough of a difference in this football game. NC State wins.
Furman at #2 Clemson (NL), 12:20 PM ET on ACC Network Extra
Grant: Clemson virtually has a starting NFL defensive line at their disposal. At defensive tackle, Clemson has two starters in Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence that weigh in at 305 and 340 lbs, respectively. On offense, they have a returning QB in Kelly Bryant as well as another extremely highly touted freshman in Trevor Lawrence. I’d pretty much put money on Clemson against anyone right now.
Jeff: Ok. Clemson.
Joey: There’s a scenario on the table here where Clemson loans out its scout team to Furman for the fourth quarter. HOT TAKE: The Furman University Christian Knights (legendary team acronym, by the way) find a way to not get shut out.
Justin: The Tigers don’t even break a sweat here.
Mike: Clemson. Come on now.
Alcorn State at Georgia Tech (NL), 12:30 PM ET on ACC Network Extra
Grant: The Yellow Jackets will run their infamous option offense once again, and they will have a capable runner at the helm in TaQuon Marshall. The deciding factor in how far the Yellow Jackets can go this season will most likely be whether or not Marshall can complete more passes than he did last year. Even in a run oriented offense, less than 40 percent accuracy in the air (which is what he had last season) isn’t going to cut it. Georgia Tech wins.
Jeff: Paul Johnson was very relaxed at ACC Media Days. That tells me he likes his team right now. Easy win here for the Yellow Jackets.
Joey: The Yellow Jackets spent the offseason thinking about what could have been in 2017, and come in with a new defensive scheme that will undoubtedly be more effective. They take on one of the worse FCS programs and won by over 50 points when they played a few years ago.
Justin: Georgia Tech will run for 600 yards in their shiny, new, and highly respectable uniforms.
Mike: The bigger question is how many yards will Georgia Tech rush for in this game? GT, big.
UMass at Boston College (-18), 1 PM ET on ACC Network Extra
Grant: Similar to Duke, Boston College is another sleeper pick to have at least a pretty good season in the ACC. Their defense will be stout as always, but whether or not they can create more explosive plays on offense remains to be seen. Boston College wins.
Jeff: Boston College is primes for their best season in years. If the QB breaks out like he can this season, it could be a special season. They start by winning this opener.
Joey: We’ve spent a lot of time over the last 6 months talking about how Boston College could be the ACC’s surprise team of 2018, to the point that we should probably start reconsidering what it means to be a “surprise”. It’s a “rivalry” game and a sizeable spread, and I’m a bit wary of Boston College reading its own press clippings…as odd as that sounds. Still, Dudes take care of business.
Justin: The best UMass team the Eagles have ever faced according to Steve Addazio still won’t have enough firepower.
Mike: UMass already has a game under their belt, blowing the doors off of Duquesne in Week Zero. Virginia Tech transfer quarterback Andrew Ford provides the Minutemen a threat through the air, but their defense is where they will likely have issues. A.J. Dillon is a man on a mission for Boston College, and I think he will be the difference in this football game. Don’t be surprised if UMass covers the spread though.
Albany at Pittsburgh (NL), 3:30 PM ET on ACC Network Extra
Grant: Pitt has had some serious trouble with FCS opponents in the past couple of seasons. In last year’s opener, Youngstown State took them all the way to OT. So, while I’m picking Pitt here, all I’m saying is they aren’t a shoe in. Pitt wins.
Jeff: Pitt has the experience coming back to make some noise this year. But will they? They will in week one and win this game.
Joey: This is another ACC-FCS matchup that might find a way to go sideways (for a little while), so just mentally prepare yourself for some weirdness. I don’t say that out of my opinions of Pitt or Albany — I say it based on history, which tells us that Pat Narduzzi’s Panther teams will find a way to damn near lose to FCS opponents, and it is in no way indicative of what they’ll be the rest of the season. This is a weird one for a bit but Pitt pulls away in the second half.
Justin: Albany? Really? If you’re going to play a cupcake from New York go all in and make it a SUNY school.
Mike: I’m very interested to see what we get with this Pittsburgh squad in 2018. They should cruise in this one on Saturday to get things rolling with a 1-0 start.
North Carolina at California (-7), 4:00 PM ET on Fox
Grant: UNC is in some trouble this year, which sadly has become a statement that is much too commonplace. They only managed three wins last year, and nothing this offseason has made me think that this year will be much better. In fact, it seems they have spent more time being entrepreneurs than football players, if you know what I mean.
Jeff: Every week I like an upset pick. This will be the one. UNC is flying under the radar and folks aren’t paying them any attention. But they should. A RB nobody is talking about could shine in week 1. If the QB manages the offense and protects the ball the Heels will win. UNC gets revenge from 2017 and wins in Berkeley.
Joey: Chapel Hill is starting to become more and more of a circus under Larry Fedora over the past 18 months, the most recent installation of which saw several key players suspended for this game. A rough road trip against a decent Power-5 opponent looked more winnable until that news dropped. The Heels are going to miss some key players in this one. Golden Bears cover.
Justin: The road trip aspect of this gives me pause. I don’t trust this Carolina team until I see them a bit. They’ve peaked under Larry Fedora until they prove otherwise.
Mike: I don’t have any reason to trust North Carolina. I’ll go with that mantra until they prove otherwise. This isn’t the easiest spot heading out west for the opener, but they should keep things interesting. I have no idea if they’ll cover, but it should be a competitive game in the 7-10 point range. Cal wins.
Richmond at Virginia (NL), 6 PM ET on ACC Network Extra
Grant: Two seasons ago, Richmond beat UVA by three scores, so the Hoos will aim to avoid a repeat of that nightmare. The Cavaliers enjoyed some moderate success last year and returned to the postseason, albeit getting crushed in their bowl game. We will see if they can carry that momentum into this year.
Jeff: UVA is an enigma and like UNC is flying under the radar. Bronco Mendenhall has some pieces that could make for a good season if they all come together. UVA wins the opener.
Joey: The Cavaliers started hot but needed some late luck to make a bowl game in 2017. Bronco Mendenhall’s program is legit now…right? (I’m not so sure.) Another ACC-FCS game that could find a way to go sideways, but I don’t think this is the same caliber of Richmond program that beat Virginia earlier this decade. Cavs manage just fine here, and the Bryce Perkins hype train gets off to a fast start.
Justin: Don’t laugh, Virginia is going to be good this year. I’m excited to see Bryce Perkins in live action. UVA wins.
Mike: The Bryce Perkins Hype Train is alive and well, as the junior college transfer takes his first snaps at the FBS level as Virginia’s new starting quarterback. I’m excited to see how he performs in his first start. Virginia wins here, this isn’t going to be a repeat of 2016.
Louisville at #1 Alabama (-24.5), 8 PM ET on ABC **Neutral site match-up in Orlando, FL**
Grant: ESPN is trying to hype this game up as some sort of marquee matchup, but it just isn’t going to be pretty. Louisville lost their most important player in Lamar Jackson, and Alabama is even more loaded than last season. Frankly, I think 24.5 is a little low for the spread.
Jeff: Too much to ask for a new starting QB at Louisville. Bama wins easy.
Joey: As a Louisville fan, I’m wary of picking Alabama to cover such a massive spread given the amount of potential for a back door cover here. I don’t expect Louisville to do anything in this game that might pass for a threat, but Bobby Petrino’s offenses have always been able to score points, and late scores could impact the spread here. Still, we’re only 2 years removed from Alabama beating USC 52-6 to open the year. So…
Justin: Louisville won’t be as bad this season as they’ll likely look in this game. Alabama wins but I doubt they cover if you’re into that sort of thing.
Mike: I know Louisville is losing Lamar Jackson, but I’m of the opinion that they will still have a good year in 2018. They will not enjoy themselves in this game though. Alabama wins AND covers a huge spread.
Sunday, September 2nd
#8 Miami (-3.5) at #25 LSU, 7:30 PM ET on ABC **Neutral site game in Arlington, TX**
Grant: For as much talent as LSU has, they really have struggled lately. I frankly don’t think Ed Orgeron is a great coach, and if he isn’t careful, I think he may turn LSU into the new school where 5 stars go to die. I expect Miami to win this game, and I would caution everyone to not start proclaiming that “The U is Back” once it happens, because I don’t think LSU is a top-25 caliber team.
Jeff: If LSU had an established QB this game would be more interesting. Miami’s defense will carry the day and the Hurricanes will get their first Top 25 win of the season.
Joey: With nothing but skill talent, solid offensive lines, dominant defenses, and considerable QB questions, this game feels like the college football equivalent of that Spiderman meme. I don’t think this will be a particularly fun game to watch, unless that 2011 LSU @ Alabama game was your brand of vodka. It’s a low-scoring slugfest as the offenses struggle with QB play and the defenses feast. I’m purely taking the points, and would do so regardless of who was favored. (I’m especially fond of this game to go UNDER the 48-point total.)
Justin: Miami looks like a solid bet in this one. I really like Ed Orgeron despite his failings as a head coach. He’s one of the great characters in college football and him being the head coach of LSU is wonderfully hilarious. I don’t think there’s enough Tony’s in all of Louisiana to make this opening loss palatable for that fanbase though.
Mike: This will be a slugfest battle between two outstanding defenses. I trust Miami’s offense a little bit more in this football game, and it should be the difference for the Hurricanes. LSU could over that +3.5 though, so keep an eye on that. Enjoy this one–may be one of the best games of the weekend.
Monday, September 3rd
#20 Virginia Tech at #19 Florida State (-7), 8 PM ET on ESPN
Grant: The Hokies had maybe the worst offseason of any ACC team. From losing two members of their secondary for disciplinary reasons to the firing of Galen Scott for his extramarital affair, Virginia Tech is ready for the season to start and the horrible offseason to end. I expect the Hokies to get better as the season progresses, but a hostile environment on a Monday Night is not the ideal way for a young team to open.
Jeff: This shapes up to be one of the best games of opening weekend. So many questions for both teams. Toss up for me so I will go with FSU at home as Walt Bell’s offense might cause issues for VT’s inexperienced defense. FSU in a back and forth struggle.
Joey: I don’t feel great about the Seminoles outside of a touchdown here, but I do think there’s a lot of upside in Tallahassee in Year 1 of the Willie Taggart era. This team is still loaded with talent and a lot more motivated under the new coaching staff. Meanwhile, the Hokies have yet to show consistency on offense under Justin Fuente (but bring back sophomore QB Josh Jackson), and are replacing effectively the entire defense from last year. This could end up being a closer game, but I’m betting on the Seminoles coming out fired up and controlling this game from start to finish.
Justin: Here’s a nice way to close out the opening weekend. This is a real toss up for me, and I think that betting line is “out of whack” to quote Fancy Gap Frank Beamer. 7.5 should be the over/under on times dadgum is uttered on the broadcast. FSU wins close being at home.
Mike: There are so many question marks for both teams in this game that I don’t even know where to start. Virginia Tech is replacing essentially their entire defense outside of their front four, while Florida State is replacing a handful of offensive linemen and is starting Deondre Francois in his first game action in a year. In addition, it’s a whole new coaching staff and set of schemes with Willie Taggart. With all of that being said, I think the home crowd and the optimism of the players in that environment will be enough for Florida State to capture the victory. I do not think it will be a blowout though, expect the Hokies to stay within a touchdown and cover the spread.