Every offseason, we break down the ACC championship odds and make some picks. And while there is always some glimmer of excitement at the idea that we will see something new in the fall, the ACC has been fairly consistent in delivering predictable results.
That is, until the 2021 season.
Pittsburgh defeating Wake Forest in the ACC Championship Game marked the end of several long runs of dominance for the league's premier football brands. Clemson's run of six straight ACC titles came to an end, and it was the first season since 2010 the conference was not won by either Clemson (2011, 2015-20) or Florida State (2012-14).
Since divisions may be on their way out the door soon, it's worth noting that Pitt's win snapped a nine-game losing streak for the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game (the ACC played without divisions in 2020), and Wake Forest was the first non-Clemson, non-Florida State representative from the Atlantic Division since 2008.
Was 2021 an anomaly or a turning point in the balance of power in the ACC?
Clemson enters 2022 focused on reclaiming its spot at the top of the conference and oddsmakers believe the Tigers can do it, making them the favorites to win the ACC with better than even odds. That's not all that different from the pre-2021 standard, but what is changing is the gap between the Tigers and the rest of the league. There are four teams with odds of 10-1 or better and six teams with odds of 20-1 or better. For comparison, the fourth team on the board in the SEC (Ole Miss) has 30-1 odds to win the conference.
So how will the chase pack fare after a season of disruption in the ACC? We will get into our picks to win, value options, long shots and bets to avoid below, but first let's look at the entire odds board, via Caesars Sportsbook.
Best Bet -- Clemson (-140): It is extremely unlikely that the Tigers will rank dead last in the ACC in passing efficiency like they did in 2021, a season that still saw Dabo Swinney's team finish 10-3 thanks to one of the nation's best defenses. That defensive front should still be among the best in the country, and even league-average passing from D.J. Uiagalelei (or freshman phenom Cade Klubnik) should be the difference in flipping at least a couple of those losses in the other direction. Clemson's "down year" had no bad losses, so the bounce-back season absolutely should include an ACC Championship.
Worst Wager -- Pittsburgh (+550): There is an extremely high floor for Pitt under Pat Narduzzi. He's got a .589 winning percentage across seven seasons, won two divisions titles, one ACC championship and only finished with a losing record once, going 5-7 in 2017. But these odds aren't for Pitt to make a bowl (it will), or even win eight or nine games (definitely a possibility).
Winning the ACC for a second straight season requires continuity in results despite plenty or turnover and uncertainty. The Panthers are replacing Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett at quarterback, Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison at wide receiver and the offensive coordinator who helped craft that dangerous passing attack. Throw in some key defensive losses (though I expect the Panthers to still be solid on that side of the ball) and there's too much unknown to trust Pitt at a price that suggests it is the second-best option on the board.
Value Pick -- NC State (+900): Our next two selections are coming from the Atlantic Division, with part of the thinking being that it's the stronger side of the conference. If the ACC winner isn't going to be Clemson, then it will be whichever team beats the Tigers for the division crown. So we start with NC State, which took a strong 2020 and broke through in 2021, finishing with the best win percentage and highest final poll ranking of the Dave Doeren era.
The Wolfpack bring back loads of experience on a defense that was excellent last season, and they have potentially the best quarterback in the ACC with Devin Leary. After setting a new school record for single-season passing touchdowns (35) and becoming just the third quarterback in ACC history to have 3,400 passing yards and 35 passing touchdowns in the regular season, Leary is the face of the Wolfpack's effort to win its first ACC title since 1979.
Longshot -- Boston College (+3000): Boston College hasn't proven itself with a conference title like Pitt, but I'm quickly putting it on a similar "high floor" status with Jeff Hafley at the helm. Last year's late-season struggles had a lot to do with injuries, and the Eagles still found a way to pick up a couple of conference victories in November to reach six wins. Quarterback Phil Jurkovec is back, as is All-ACC wide receiver Zay Flowers -- who told ESPN he turned down multiple six-figure NIL offers to transfer.
Both losses to Clemson under Jeff Hafley have been by six points, so it's possible we could see the Eagles break through against the Tigers in 2021, especially with where the game is positioned in the schedule. One week after Clemson faces one of its toughest ACC foes in NC State on Oct. 1, it has to visit Chestnut Hill for what has already been determined as BC's Red Bandana Game for 2022. The environment should be electric, and it could set up for the upset that makes this 30-1 value worth your attention.