Virginia Tech and Florida State are the two most unpredictable teams in the ACC this season. They both have enormous gaps between their floors and ceilings.
We saw Florida State's floor last season, and it wasn't pretty. Starting quarterback Deondre Francois went down in the season opener against Alabama, and it was all downhill from there. The Seminoles won and covered the spread in their final four games against Delaware State, Florida, Louisiana-Monroe and Southern Mississippi to salvage a 7-6 record and a 4-8 mark against the spread. And while there were a couple of close losses early on for the Noles, single-digit victories against Wake Forest, Duke and Syracuse were needed to prevent an all-out disaster. The university's relationship with head coach Jimbo Fisher was already deteriorating, and the dismal 2017 campaign ensured his exit from Tallahassee at season's end.
So where does that leave FSU this year? If new coach Willie Taggart can't get a young team to jell, and Francois is rusty upon returning from injury, another seven- or eight-win season is on the table against a difficult schedule. On the other hand, FSU is one of a handful of programs in the country with the requisite talent to make a legitimate run at a national title. That would be quite a one-year turnaround, but it's not out of the question.
Now to the Hokies: Virginia Tech was consistently good and occasionally great during Frank Beamer's decades-long tenure as head coach, and Justin Fuente has upheld the standard since taking over in 2016, with a 19-8 record across two seasons. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster, one of the best in the business, has played an enormous role in both men's success.
He'll have an uphill climb this year, though. The Hokies D loses five All-ACC defenders from last season, including four NFL draft selections—two of whom were first-rounders. And as the summer went on, things only got worse, as three presumed starters in the secondary were lost for various reasons. That is going to make it difficult for the Hokies to stop teams from scoring.
The offense is in better shape with seven starters returning, but both of its all-conference selections from last season are gone. It has become very difficult to imagine a Virginia Tech team with a losing record, given that the program hasn't had a sub-.500 season since 1992, but this year's outfit will need to overcome significant obstacles to reach the Hokies' usual level of excellence.
Perhaps realizing that—and owing to some optimism for an FSU turnaround—bettors have been hammering the Seminoles against the spread as this matchup approaches. Over the course of the summer, the line has moved from FSU -5.5 to FSU -7.5, and further movement before game time is possible. (The total has also shifted substantially, with heavy action on the over moving the O/U from 52 to 56.5.)
There's certainly an argument to be made for the Hokies keeping this one close. The strength of FSU's offense is a rushing attack led by Cam Akers, who was a rare bright spot for the team last season with more than 1,000 yards on the ground in his freshman campaign. But Virginia Tech was 16th in the country in run defense in 2017, and while the defense as a whole experienced serious attrition this offseason, all starters but one return along an excellent defensive front.
That said, I can't see this wildly inexperienced Hokies secondary holding up against Francois. He led the Seminoles to victories over vicious Florida and Michigan defenses to finish the 2016 season, suggesting he should have no trouble at all against this Virginia Tech group. This spread isn't nearly as tantalizing as it was at FSU -5.5 a couple of months ago, but I'll still take Florida State to cover 7.5 against some very green Tech defenders.
The Pick: Florida State -7.5
Confidence Level: Moderate (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)