If you are on Twitter and you are a football fan then you know the season is here. No, we don’t have games yet, but teams are practicing and you can almost smell the grill smoke from the tailgate lots. This is the part of the year where every fan is excited. They’re excited because regardless of preseason predictions about their favorite team, they are filled with optimism about the chances for a great season. August is a great month because every fan is still happy and thinks their team has a chance to win a championship. Fans are looking at their schedules and, whether it’s realistic or not, they are seeing more wins on them than losses.
In the ACC, the 2017 season has the makings of an exciting race for both division titles and ultimately, the conference championship in Charlotte. There are preseason predictions for both divisions, but the certainty of those predictions is tenuous at best. Predictions won’t matter once the games begin so let’s take a look at the Top 10 games that could have major implications on the path to Charlotte.
Honorable Mention: Clemson @ Louisville, Pitt @ Georgia Tech, North Carolina @ NC State, Louisville @ Florida State
10.) Georgia Tech @ Miami, October 12th: Preseason polls have Miami as the favorite in the Coastal Division. That’s a tall order for Mark Richt considering his Hurricanes are one of the ACC teams that will be starting a new quarterback this season. This is the type of game Miami has to win at home in order to win the division. For the Yellow Jackets, some see this as a comeback season where they will be in the conversation to win the division as well. Road games like this one will help Paul Johnson’s team reach that goal, or it can set them back if they come out of south Florida with a loss.
9.) NC State @ Pitt, October 14th: Both of these teams have high aspirations this season of contending in their respective divisions. This mid-October matchup could determine that fate. For the Panthers, they have to hold serve at home to have a chance to win the Coastal division. Pat Narduzzi’s team has three of their tougher matchups all at home and it begins with this game. For Dave Doeren’s Wolfpack, when you have to play division foes like Clemson, Florida State and Louisville, games against Coastal division teams are must-wins if you have any thoughts of making it to Charlotte. To make the next step in competing for division titles, this is the type of game that has eluded both of these teams in recent years that they have to win.
8.) Virginia Tech @ Georgia Tech, November 11th: Last season, Georgia Tech went up to Blacksburg and upset the Hokies, almost costing Justin Fuente’s crew a division title. This season, both of these teams will be in the mix to get to Charlotte out of the Coastal. The Yellow Jackets have three of their four biggest Coastal division foes at home. Winning those three games will go a long way in trying to win the division. For the Hokies, with games against Clemson at home and on the road at Miami, this is a crucial road game if they hope to repeat as division champions.
7.) Louisville @ North Carolina, September 9th: The first major ACC clash of 2017 is Chapel Hill on the second weekend of the season. A win in this game will jumpstart that team’s chances of competing in their respective divisions. For Louisville, it would be a crucial road win, but Bobby Petrino has to hope his team isn’t caught looking ahead to their game at home against the Clemson Tigers the following week. For UNC, it’s a chance to see if their defense can be the strength of this year’s team and contain Lamar Jackson. A win in this game would be just what Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels need to jumpstart their conference season.
6.) Clemson @ Virginia Tech, September 30th: This game is the start of a 3-game run that will determine if the Clemson Tigers can repeat as both ACC and national champions. They have the target on their back so winning a game like this in a hostile environment would show the country Dabo Swinney’s team is capable of a repeat.
For the Hokies, being able to hold serve at home is crucial to their chances as repeating as Coastal Division champions. Defeating the defending national champions at home would do wonders to solidify Justin Fuente’s efforts to return Virginia Tech to the top of the ACC; and will undoubtedly be a huge recruiting weekend in Blacksburg.
5.) Miami @ Pitt, November 24th: The Hurricanes and the Panthers have high hopes this season, making this game at the end of the season a possible winner-take-all situation if both teams take care of business before this game. The winter weather expected for a late-season game in Pittsburgh would seem to favor the Panthers, but that may not be the case here. If Miami comes in with the better running game then the weather may play right into their hands and give them the edge in this crucial Coastal matchup.
4.) Clemson @ NC State, November 4th: Everybody should have this game circled. If the Wolfpack enter this game with no more than one loss or better at this point, Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh will be off-the-chain loud. With their front seven on defense, NC State is a team that could test a reworked Tigers offense. It’s a trap game for Clemson as they play the Seminoles the following weekend. This game could have huge implications in the ACC and the College Football Playoff race.
3.) Virginia Tech @ Miami, November 4th: The Hokies and the Hurricanes need this game to stake their claim on the Coastal division. At this point in the season it will more than likely be a situation where the winner is in the driver’s seat in the Coastal and the loser is knocked out of contention or in need of some help. Both teams will be starting new quarterbacks this season so by this date we will have a good idea of which team has navigated that challenge the best; and quarterback play could be what determines the outcome of this game.
2.) Miami @ Florida State, September 16th: If Florida State is going to make the College Football Playoff they are certainly going to earn it. First they open with Alabama on September 2nd. Then, two weeks later, they open ACC play at home against the Hurricanes, who are picked to win the Coastal division. So what you have here are the two teams favored to play in the ACC Championship Game meeting in week 3 of the season in Tallahassee. Playing into the Seminoles’ favor will be home field advantage against a new quarterback for Miami, and the fact that they have an experienced, dynamic quarterback to go up against what should be a strong Hurricanes’ front seven on defense. Either way, this game has huge implications on the ACC race.
1.) Florida State @ Clemson, November 11th: When you have the #2 and #4-ranked teams in the country playing each other; that becomes the top game in your conference. When it’s Clemson and Florida State, who’ve each won national titles in recent years, they get top billing until another team steps up and knocks them off of their perch atop the ACC. Both teams have a gauntlet of hard games to play leading up to this game, but the odds are a chance to make the College Football Playoff for at least one of these teams will be riding on the outcome of this game. This is that high-value win the selection committee is looking for when putting the final four teams together for the playoff. It’s a given that Death Valley will be rocking for this game. If Clemson comes into this game undefeated then you won’t even be able to hear the person next to you. That could be the key when Deondre Francois, who could be in the Heisman Trophy race at this point, is trying to lead his Seminoles’ to victory.
Needless to say, there is a fantastic slate of games in the ACC this season. Many more games in the conference could shake up the division title race, but these are the ten that contenders need to win or teams looking to finally become contenders have to win in order to stake their claim on a division championship and make it to Charlotte. This list doesn’t even touch on the non-conference games ACC teams will be playing this season, starting right out of the gates with Florida State vs. Alabama. Other games like NC State vs. South Carolina, Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia, Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee and Clemson vs. Auburn will keep ACC fans entertained in 2017. ACC football has come a long way in recent years and it should be a fun and exciting season to watch.