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North Carolina’s offense will overwhelm Syracuse’s defense

Clemson is the clear Atlantic Coast Conference favorite, but Mack Brown and North Carolina are among a small group of teams hoping to challenge.

Quarterback Sam Howell emerged during his freshman season last year, and the Tar Heels return four skill players who each accounted for at least 933 yards.

That offense should be able to showcase its top-10 promise against a Syracuse defense that gave up 56 points to Louisville, 58 to Boston College and 63 to Maryland, then lost its top two linebackers and three of its top four defensive linemen.

Syracuse coach Dino Babers’ stock is plummeting, in part because his system depends heavily on finding an athletic quarterback with fast decision-making skills. Tommy DeVito has a strong arm, but he takes too many sacks, isn’t a runner and doesn’t display above-average judgment.

With concerns at offensive line and running back, the breakneck Orange tempo and short passing game could snowball against them once they fall behind.

I liked the number better at -20½ early in the week, but you can’t be picky on price if you’re betting on game day. Take North Carolina -23.

IOWA STATE (-11½) over Louisiana-Lafayette, Under 57

The speed of the Cyclones’ defensive backs might be the only thing preventing the defense from being the best in the Big 12. That won’t matter as much against the Ragin’ Cajuns, as receiver is their weak point. Lafayette had two offensive linemen drafted and lost one of its three horsemen in the backfield. The Cyclones are rebuilding their offensive line and sometimes play uninspired against weaker competition (see near disasters against Drake, Northern Iowa and Kansas the last two seasons). But quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall are good enough to overcome offensive line issues against Sun Belt talent.

Coastal Carolina (+6½) over KANSAS

The Chanticleers had 15 spring practices and return their starting quarterback, a 1,000-yard rusher, their top two receivers and four starting offensive linemen from the team that beat Kansas last season. The Jayhawks didn’t have one spring practice, are replacing quarterback Carter Stanley, lost an NFL draft pick at left tackle on a rebuilding offensive line and lost four of the top six havoc guys on a defense that was not disruptive last season. Unless Pooka Williams Jr. puts together some explosive plays, I don’t think Kansas will distance itself.

NOTRE DAME (-20) over Duke

The Blue Devils’ strengths are defensive back and defensive end, where Victor Dimukeje and Chris Rumph II combined for 15 sacks and 23 tackles for loss last season. But Notre Dame’s veteran offensive line and quarterback Ian Book should take care of the ball and stay out of trouble. Duke’s play-calling has become predictable in recent years. It might be even more predictable by swapping out the rushing threat that QB Quentin Harris presented with Clemson transfer Chase Brice, who will be throwing to an uninspiring collection of skill players. The Irish run defense was vulnerable at times last season but should be much better this year. Notre Dame’s offense must find new playmakers, and Duke sometimes plays to avoid embarrassment against this caliber of opponent, so be prepared for a gradual, slow-moving Irish cover.

Last season: 46-31-3 ATS

Christopher Smith of AL.com and BetOnline is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Follow @cfblocksmith on Twitter.

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