With the 2018 ACC schedules now out in the open, it’s naturally time to take an early look at some games that could be exciting. Given our admittedly arbitrary cutoff of the top five non-conference games, we begin with a handful of clashes that just missed the cut.
N.C. State vs. James Madison, September 1
N.C. State vs. West Virginia, September 15
Louisville vs. Alabama (Orlando), September 1
Pittsburgh vs. Penn State, September 8
Miami @ Toledo, September 15
Duke vs. Army West Point, September 1
Boston College @ Purdue, September 22
Florida State vs. Florida, November 24
5. Georgia Tech @ South Florida, September 8
Charlie Strong went from Texas to South Florida and immediately reminded everyone that he’s actually a pretty darn good coach. The program didn’t miss a beat from an 11-2 season the previous year and followed with a 10-2 campaign as well as a second consecutive win in the Birmingham Bowl. Folks will dismiss their weak schedule, but they went toe-to-toe with Central Florida and Texas Tech too. The Yellow Jackets on the other hand spent the season doing Georgia Tech things. The club looked great at times in close losses to Tennessee and Miami (the end was bad yes), then stumbled to not-so-close losses in four of the final five games. The one win during that stretch was an upset of then No. 17 Virginia Tech. This is a big game for both programs to prove themselves.
4. North Carolina vs. Central Florida, September 15
The Tar Heels host the defending national champions* in week three of the regular season. The Knights lost their excellent coaching staff, but key contributors like rising junior quarterback McKenzie Milton (4,037 yards, 37 touchdowns, nine interceptions) return. This coming season is vital for Larry Fedora. We’ll learn early on if last season’s 3-9 injury-riddled record was purely an aberration, or a sign of a larger trend. The good news for Carolina is that a lot of young guys were forced into duty last season. That experience should pay dividends this year, particularly for quarterback Chazz Surratt. This will be the first meeting between the programs.
*Personally I find UCF’s self-declared title to be hilarious and a perfectly reasonable dig at the current NCAA FBS Playoff format.
3. Virginia Tech vs. Notre Dame, October 6
The Irish head to Lane Stadium for the first time following a bounce-back season in 2017. Two years ago the Hokies snuck out of Notre Dame stadium with a 34-31 victory over a team that was far better than its record indicated. Now, Tech has questions on defense but Bud Foster always manages to cobble together something. The offense should continue to improve under the tutelage of Justin Fuente who is 19-8 in his first two seasons in Blacksburg. Notre Dame ran the ball incredibly effectively last season finishing seventh in the nation in rushing per game (269.3) en route to a 10-3 record and a No. 11 ranking in the final AP poll.
These teams stand a good chance to both be ranked for what should be a primetime game. This marks just the second meeting all-time between the programs.
2. Miami vs. LSU (Arlington, TX), September 2
One of the season’s made-for-tv openers will present a huge challenge to both programs and give a considerable boost to the winner. Miami is significantly improved under Mark Richt and while they took a major step forward last season, the Canes also showed they aren’t fully ‘back’ just yet. LSU had a solid season under Ed Orgeron but you get the sense no one was satisfied with nine wins and a close loss to Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl. Both teams lose key contributors, but both are making waves on the recruiting trail and should finish with top ten classes. LSU leads the all-time series 9-3.
1. Clemson @ Texas A&M, September 8
Jimbo Fisher surprised the college football world when he left Florida State for Texas A&M at the end of 2017. Unfortunately for him, he still hasn’t gone far enough to avoid Dabo Swinney. Clemson heads to College Station with essentially everyone returning from last season’s national semifinal squad, including that terrifying defensive line that told the NFL to wait its turn. Fisher is a good coach and will no doubt improve the Aggies quickly as talent has never been an issue there. The problem is, Clemson is only getting better. This could be a really fun battle of wits between two strong coaching staffs in a high-profile ACC-SEC fight. The Aggies lead the all-time series 3-1.