If there is a league capable of making a serious assent in public perception this year, it’s the ACC. With myriad opportunities for top teams to take down SEC contenders, the ACC can establish itself as being comparable at the top to the nation’s best league.
Then again, this song has played before and the ACC didn’t hit all the right notes. Can this year be different?
1. Georgia at Clemson – Aug. 31
Two teams with realistic national championship dreams square off to open the season. One will watch its hopes dwindle significantly before a second gameplan’s creation. The star power certainly exists in coaches (Dabo Swinney vs. Mark Richt), coordinators (Chad Morris vs. Todd Grantham) and quarterbacks (Tajh Boyd vs. Aaron Murray). These squads will almost certainly open in the top 10 and could well start in the top five. This is the type of game fans hope will become a regularity once the College Football Playoff has athletic directors mindful of strength of schedule.
2. Clemson at South Carolina – Nov. 30
For all the great things Dabo Swinney has done since taking over as Clemson coach, the one blemish has been his inability to hold his own with South Carolina. The Gamecocks enter this year’s annual Battle for the Palmetto State having won each of the last four. This one could potentially have a berth to the BCS National Championship Game on the line – or at least feature an SEC division winner against an ACC division winner.
3. Florida State at Florida – Nov. 30
The 2012 battle between these two rejuvenated memories of the Bobby Bowden-Steve Spurrier days. That includes the quality of teams, with the two combining for 22 wins last season and with both qualifying for BCS bowls. The Seminoles have the talent to play for a national championship this season. Will The Swamp be the final road test for Jimbo Fisher’s team?
4. Florida at Miami – Sept. 7
With the expected improvement for Miami, this one could provide a significant feather in the cap of the ACC. The Hurricanes get Florida at home. Gators coach Will Muschamp’s defense showed a lot of bite in a run for the Sugar Bowl but his offense at times looked punch-less. Miami RB Duke Johnson will get his opportunity to go toe-to-toe with an elite SEC defense.
5. North Carolina at South Carolina – Aug. 29
This Carolina vs. Carolina duel to start the season features a pair of teams with aspirations of reaching the next levels. The Tar Heels open 2013 with plans to chase down the ACC Coastal title. They tied for the division a year ago, but were ineligible to play in the postseason. That ban is now lifted. South Carolina, which has won 22 games in the last two years, realizes it is in a situation where it could lose a game and still play for the national championship.
6. Alabama vs. Virginia Tech in Atlanta – Aug. 31
The Hokies are looking for a quick start after their worst season since 1992. They will certainly receive a test when squaring off against two-time defending BCS national champion Alabama. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban will certainly have his team ready for this contest. Will QB Logan Thomas and company be able to rise to the challenge?
7. Georgia at Georgia Tech – Nov. 30
There’s no need to remind Yellow Jackets fans that their team has dropped 11 of 12 to the hated in-state rival. They know. Georgia Tech, for all its success in the ACC Coastal, has been unable to match what the neighboring Bulldogs have done. If the ACC is to change the way the nation views its teams, it needs to start winning some of the critical rivalry games between upper-tier ACC teams and elite SEC squads.
8. West Virginia at Maryland – Sept. 21
Some expect the Terrapins to be the bounce-back team of 2013 – albeit a bounce back that is now a year overdue. West Virginia, in the Big 12, might find itself in trouble after graduating the majority of its offense. This is another game in which the ACC could flex some middle class muscle against comparable teams from other leagues.
9. Syracuse vs. Penn State in East Rutherford, N.J. – Aug. 31
How’s this for change? Syracuse breaks in a new quarterback playing for a new coach as the program transitions into a new conference. The Orange also open the season with a pair of contests against Big Ten teams. This one against the Nittany Lions, at least, is at a neutral field. Syracuse travels to Northwestern for a Week 2 matchup. The Orange has plenty to prove, with the potential of bolstering an unsteady middle of the ACC. Winning these two games could well determine whether Syracuse coach Scott Shafer can lead the program to another bowl game during his first season.
10. Georgia Tech at BYU – Oct. 12
Fresh off enormously important divisional games against North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami, Georgia Tech travels to Provo to spice up a schedule in no need of added difficulty. The Yellow Jackets might well be running on fumes by the time BYU hosts them, likely either having taken the driver’s seat in the ACC Coastal or watching their divisional hopes slip away. This one has trouble written all over it.
Topics: ACC, Alabama Crimson Tide, BYU Cougars, Clemson Tigers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Maryland Terrapins, Miami Hurricanes, North Carolina Tar Heels, Penn State Nittany Lions, South Carolina Gamecocks, Syracuse Orange, Virginia Tech Hokies, West Virginia Mountaineers