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2012 College Football Week 1 Predictions: Clemson, Auburn, Georgia Tech, FIU, Duke and More

Looking forward to a great season of making some solid ACC Football picks.

*** Clemson / Auburn Under 56.5 (-110)

In general Clemson is not a team that you want to play the under against. Clemson has a lot of positional speed and uses an offense that generates a very high play count to exploit defenses and attempt to score often. But there are a couple of factors that point to playing the under for me.

The biggest that I mentioned above is that I feel that both teams have major ?’s on the offensive lines. Clemson is replacing 4 starters on the OL (as well as the TE) and I expect that Auburn will have a good chance to win the battle up front. Taj Boyd was a dynamic QB early last season but later in the year as teams tried different defensive fronts he struggled to adjust and often had issues with his footwork and working through his progressions.

It’s reasonable to expect him to get somewhat better with this, but in the first game of the year against a front 7 returning 6 starters I expect him to be pressed for time and potentially struggle to make the quick reads (especially with his go-to guy Sammy Watkins suspended). Look for lots of Ellington and co. here to keep drives alive and most importantly for us, the clock moving.

Auburn should also struggle up front, returning only 35 starts on the Oline (with 2 first time starters and a converted center) and featuring a So. QB making his first start. Frazier is a dual threat guy who played the Cam Newton role in limited time in ’11, but look for the new offense to be a little more ground-and-pound here as they attempt to make a switch to more of a deliberate, ball control offense. Once again, it keeps the clock moving. Clemson is breaking in a new DC as well but I look for their discipline and positioning to potentially improve as they relied far too often on natural ability last year and made a ton of mistakes.

If you were an early player on this total you could have had it in the low 60′s, but even at a TD lower I still find value in the under.  Props to pezgordo for getting such great value a month ago.  My feeling is that both teams start slowly here and we stay well under the total in what figures to resemble a physical SEC-style contest. 28-21 Tigers (whichever ones)..

*** Florida International Golden Panthers +4 (-115)

I like David Cutcliffe and in general I like his team this year, but this game finds them playing the wrong team at the wrong time. Duke is coming in really banged up, losing 5 projected starters since the start of summer to injury. Depth is always a problem at Duke (especially on D) and I’m not confident that they are deep enough to replace too many starters. This is his deepest Blue Devil team, but he will never have the kind of depth found at most BCS schools (normally an important distinction in my opinion between most BCS and non-BCS teams).

Duke did win on the road last year at FIU, but a quick look at both the stat sheet and game tape reveals they were pretty lucky to leave Miami with the W. They gave up 568 yards and were outgained by 184 (out FD’d by 10) but a couple of timely turnovers in the 4th quarter allowed them to make up a DD deficit and eek out the victory. So the revenge factor is certainly in play for an FIU team with big aspirations looking to start out by avenging a really tough loss. In many cases revenge is overrated if more than a season has passed or a team has a boatload of new starters, but this Golden Panthers is returning 17 starters who have likely been reminded of the sting of this defeat many times.

The key defensively for FIU is going to neutralize Sean Renfree, he hit them for 338 yards last year with a 65% completion percentage. Duke uses a lot of short and intermediate passing routes to limit their OL exposure and Renfree’s decision making has really improved over his lengthy career. Fortunately FIU returns their entire 2-deep in the secondary so it may be difficult for Duke to have the same success as they did last year. A big part of Duke’s passing success in this game last year was that in 43 attempts FIU didn’t register a sack, so getting more pressure up front is a key. For a defense that returns 6 of the front 7 starters from last year (which averaged a very soild 7.5% sack percentage) I think it’s likely they do better at pressuring the passing game.

The offense for FIU is more of a question with them replacing stud WR TY Hilton and their QB, but I’m willing to give them a pass against a Duke defense missing several key players. Duke traditionally struggles up front (gave up 4.9 ypc overall last year and 171 yards on ground to FIU) and though key DE Anunike returns, they are overmatched against what looks like the Sun Belts best O-line. I feel FIU has a great chance to control the line of scrimmage and really shove Rhodes down Duke’s throat.

Duke has opened at home each of Cutcliffe’s seasons but is only 2-3 SU even though 4 of their opponents have been FCS teams. Duke is banged up, doesn’t have much home field advantage and are laying 4 points to the team with the better defense and stronger O-line (possibly the better coaching staff as well) with a pretty hefty revenge angle. Duke is a great team to play on as a dog but they have struggled when laying points (just 6-4 SU as a fav since ’09 with several wins against FCS schools). I’m taking the 4 but I think FIU wins outright..

*** Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets +7.5 (-110)

Looking to fade the Hokies as chalk in September, I like their defense but have major questions about how their offense is going to come together.  Thomas looked really good last year behind a veteran offensive line with senior receivers and a home run hitter at tailback, but now it’s on him to be the star of the show.  I felt like last year teams loaded the box due to the solid ground game, and they took advantage of it when they did pass with playaction and throwing downfield to Coale, Davis and Coles.  What happens this year when teams don’t fear that O-line and an unproven ground game?  GT was an awful blitzing team last year so it is key that they can generate pressure from the front 3.  They will likely show some interesting looks to Thomas and that Oline early on to create confusion and keep Thomas from getting into a rhythm.

Tevin Washington hit a wall down the stretch I felt last year; teams did a really good job of dialing in their defenses to take away his pitch options and really make the offense a lot less explosive.  GT opened up the QB competition in the spring and TW was able to keep his job, fending off a couple of promising burners in Lee and Days.  Look for GT to get both of those guys involved at some point here.  GT has their best, most experienced offensive line since they switched to the wishbone and I expect the ground game to be a real handful which just makes the times they do decide to pass even more potentially dangerous.

PJ is known for installing some surprises and when he has a ton of time here and a big expectation of mine is that I look for the Jackets to throw the ball more than usual (13 passes a game is regular) and possibly switch out the passers a bit to test what is a probably the weakness of this defense in the secondary.  The special teams have been awful under PJ as he has coached this unit since he was hired but they have both kickers back and he finally passed on responsibilities to a coordinator so I look for this unit to get a lot more attention and be much improved.

Every year since the ACC went to 12 teams the winner of this game has represented the Coastal division in the ACC title game.  This is an ACC heavyweight fight each year (GT has covered this 7.5 point spread 3 of the 4 years under PJ) and GT is 5-0 ATS when getting more than 6.5 under Johnson (2-3 SU).  I think with the question marks for each team 7.5 is just too many points to lay with 2 such solid programs and my top two teams in the league.  I feel like this is close to a coin flip and see real value at more than a TD.

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