They’re the big games that’ll establish the conference’s identity. They’re the ACC’s Top 10 Non-Conference Games.
10. Georgia Tech at Georgia, Nov. 26
The Yellow Jackets gave the Bulldogs a rough battle in a 13-7 loss last year after winning the year before on the road. As if Kirby Smart doesn’t have enough pressure, he can’t afford to lose this rivalry game.
9. South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 26
Clemson eventually moved on to win the ACC championship and played in the national title, but it got all it could handle from a feisty – but miserable – South Carolina team. Will Muschamp can crank up the rivalry to another level with a win.
8. Louisville at Houston, Nov. 19
It’s Houston’s big shot at making a ton of national noise – at least depending on what it does against Oklahoma to start the season. Louisville has the right makeup and the right schedule to come up with a special year, but losing to the Cougars on the road this late in the season would be a big PR hit for the ACC.
7. Virginia Tech at Notre Dame, Nov. 19
It’s sort of an ACC game considering Notre Dame’s affiliation, but it’s also the first time the two programs have ever met. Justin Fuente’s first year will be fully established for Virginia Tech, while it’ll be just another interesting national game for the Irish.
6. North Carolina vs. Georgia (in Atlanta), Sept. 5
You want to prove that 2015 was for real, Tar Heels? Get the job done without QB Marquise Williams and in the lion’s den – or dog’s house – against Georgia in the Kirby Smart opener.
5. Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (in Bristol), Sept. 10
Forgetting that it’s a funky-weird game being played at a raceway, it’s a big moment for both programs. It’s the first time the two have met since the Hokies won 37-14 in the 2009 Chick-fil-A Bowl, and early on in the season, it’s a showdown Butch Jones and the Volunteers can’t afford to lose.
4. Miami at Notre Dame, Oct. 29
It might not exactly be the old Catholics vs. Convicts days, but considering Mark Richt is trying to establish a new era of dominance, this is the national stage to do it.
3. Florida at Florida State, Nov. 26
It might have been among the most brutal college football watches of 2015, but this time around the Gators might actually bring an offense to the rivalry game. The Seminoles have won three straight in the series, and they can’t blow the home date if they want to get into the CFP – at least if everything else goes right.
2. Clemson at Auburn, Sept. 5
It’s Tiger on Tiger action in a desperation opening for the Auburn version. After spending last year as a punching bag, nothing can show that Gus Malzahn’s team is back more than shocking the possible preseason No. 1 Clemson team.
1. Florida State vs. Ole Miss (in Orlando), Sept. 5
How’s this for drama? After all the craziness and all the Tunsiling and all the issues surrounding Ole Miss – and losing a ton of talent, too – this is the chance to show that it’s about to be a player again in a hurry. On the national stage, Florida State can make its own sort of statement that all the returning experience could signal the start of something massive.