For the first time since 2017, the ACC preseason favorite is not named Clemson. Instead Florida State rides last year's late momentum and a bevy of returning starters to frontrunner status, according to odds from Caesars Sportsbook. The shift comes as the conference scraps its old divisional structure. In its place, the league will pit the two teams with the best league record against each other in the conference title game.
This means FSU can lose its head-to-head battle with Clemson and still have a viable path to the league title game. However, Clemson is still the reigning champion and other squads with championship aspirations are lurking in the shadows. North Carolina has a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Drake Maye, and Miami is looking to make a significant leap with the help of new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. At the next tier, consistent programs like NC State, Pitt and Wake Forest look ready to break through and join the league's upper echelon.
So, what are the best plays to make in the ACC ahead of the 2023 season? Let's look at the conference title odds from Caesars Sportsbook:
Best bet --Clemson (+180): Clemson has won the ACC championship in seven of the past eight seasons. The Tigers went 8-0 in league play last year and then throttled North Carolina 39-10 in the title game. Even on the heels of that dominance, you can get plus odds on Clemson in the preseason for the first time in several years. Sure, Florida State has emerged as a threat, but the Seminoles must visit Death Valley on Sept. 23. Maybe the Tigers aren't the national title contender they were pre-NIL and transfer portal, but the ACC still runs through them until further notice.
Worst wager -- Louisville (+650): Louisville avoids Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina in coach Jeff Brohm's first season. That creates a viable path to the ACC title game, or at least some early respectability for the new regime. But +650 is too steep a price for a program that has never even appeared in the ACC title game, let alone win it. Even if the Cardinals finish the year as one of the conference's best two teams, a well-established and more talented Clemson or Florida State is likely to be waiting. The money line for a Louisville victory in that game alone may register at +650.
Best value -- NC State (+1600): NC State has won at least eight games in five of the past six seasons. The Wolfpack should be in the mix again in the new structure, which no longer consistently puts Clemson in the way of their conference title ambitions. New offensive coordinator Robert Anae brings in a proven system and quarterback Brennan Armstrong boasts the experience and talent to run it. Florida State isn't on the schedule, and games against Clemson, Miami and North Carolina are at home, which gives the Wolfpack a manageable league slate.
Longshot -- Wake Forest (+5000): Wake Forest plays Clemson and Florida State and doesn't get projected bottom-feeders Boston College or Virginia. That is undoubtedly a factor in the long odds for a program that played in the ACC Championship Game just two seasons ago. While replacing star quarterback Sam Hartman is a tall task, coach Dave Clawson has built a consistent winner predicated on more than just a single player. The Demon Deacons took Clemson to overtime last season. If they can finish the job and pull off the upset on the road this year, look out. Wake is worth a flier at this price.