Biggest ACC Out Of Conference Games
After years of watching the SEC and Pac-12 compete for the National Title, the ACC has sent two separate teams to the National Championship game in three years in Florida State and Clemson. Along with the SEC, the ACC has been tops in the number of NFL Draft picks for the past 10 years. In 2015 the ACC led all conferences with nine first round picks.
Miami’s Brad Kaaya and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson continue to add to the legacy of the ACC quarterback. Both enter their junior year as the top quarterback prospects for the 2017 Draft. Watson has established his Heisman potential, and Kaaya is highly regarded as a dark horse candidate.
It is apparent that the ACC is ready to take over the College Football world. However, doubters still persist regionally and Nationally.
Several ACC out of conference games have College Football Playoff implications. Wins in these games will prove that the ACC is a conference on the rise.
#22 North Carolina vs #18 Georgia
Saturday, September 3, 5:30pm on ESPN
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
The first of the biggest ACC out of conference games scheduled for opening weekend. Both teams find themselves in a transitional phase.
For the Tar Heels, record setting quarterback Marquees Williams is gone. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky steps in and will have weapons in receivers Ryan Switzer and Mack Hollins. Elijah Hood returns as the featured back and can take pressure off Trubisky as he adjusts to the starting role. The Bulldogs pass defense was ranked number one in the country last season, allowing 156 yards per game. Expect Hood to have a big role in the Tar Heels’ opener as the offense finds itself under Trubisky.
New head coach Kirby Smart looks to continue the defensive dominance he cultivated at Alabama. Nick Chubb returns and will be a major factor in the Georgia offense come Saturday. The Tar Heels front seven will have to step up if they want to slow down a rejuvenated Chubb. North Carolina was an abysmal 121st in rush defense last season. Defensive tackles Nazir Jones and Jalen Dalton must live up to their hype as run stoppers to slow down the Georgia offense. An early season upset will be huge for a Tar Heel program looking to build off last year’s success.
#2 Clemson vs Auburn
Saturday, September 3, 9pm on ESPN
Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL
One of the marquee games of opening weekend features a match-up of risen power versus fallen star.
Clemson’s last regular season loss to an SEC school was a 45-21 defeat in Athens to Georgia in 2014. Things have changed a lot over two seasons and Clemson currently sits as a -7 point favorite. A higher margin of victory won’t come as a surprise however.
New defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has an early test to see if he can improve an Auburn defense that finished in the bottom four of the SEC in 2015. Clemson returns eight offensive starters on a unit that finished ranked 11th in total offense last season. An offense that mixes the run and the pass, all of Clemson’s top receivers return. The ACC’s second leading rusher returns in Wayne Gallman after rushing for 1,514 yards and 13 touchdowns. Slowing down the Clemson offense is key to Auburn pulling an upset.
Auburn’s offense will be lead by redshirt sophomore Sean White. He will face a Clemson defense that is rebuilding, returning only four starters. Sophomore running back Kerryon Johnson will have to step up to give Auburn some much needed firepower. Though facing a young defense, Auburn will need to control the ball to prevent a shootout against Watson and Co.
#4 Florida State vs #11 Ole Miss
Monday, September 5, 8pm on ESPN
Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
Wrapping up the Labor Day weekend is possibly the most evenly matched game of opening weekend.
Offensively, the Seminoles will rely heavily on running back Dalvin Cook. A deep and experienced offensive line should be able to contain a Rebels’ rush defense that allowed 127 yards per game a season ago. The Rebels only allowed three 100 yard rushers last season; Derrick Henry and Leonard Fournette. Cook should have no problem doing the same. This will also take pressure off first year starting quarterback Deondre Francois. The experienced talent around Francois at wide receiver, with solid pass protection, the Noles can take advantage of a young Rebels secondary.
The loss of LeQuan Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil are big for the Rebels. However, Chad Kelly returns as the best quarterback in the SEC. Kelly has several weapons in the receiving corps including tight-end Evan Engram. The Seminoles boast one of the strongest secondaries in the country headed by true sophomore Derwin James. The match-up between the Rebels’ receivers and Noles’ secondary serve as the catalyst for the final game of opening weekend.
Virginia Tech vs Tennessee
Saturday, September 17, 8pm on ABC
Bristol Motor Speedway, Britsol, TN
For years, Bristol Motor Speedway has been considered as a site to host a college football game. The Hokies and Vols will meet in the first ever Battle at Bristol in a week three match-up in primetime.
Justin Fuente takes over for long time head coach Frank Beamer. Fuente turned the fortunes of the Memphis Tigers program around in four years as head coach and the Hokie faithful are hoping he can do the same in Blacksburg. Last season under Fuente, Memphis had the 19th ranked offense in the country. 20.6% of Memphis’ pass completions went to running backs and tight ends. Fullback/Tailback Bucky Hodges and tightend Sam Rogers give the Hokies Fuente a similar skill set to work with to improve on the Tech offense that finished ranked 74th a year ago.
Tennessee is project by many not just to win the SEC East, but to compete for the National Championship as well. This outlook relies heavily on quarterback Josh Dobbs. Dobbs passing however, leaves much to be desired. VT has a young secondary anchored by cornerbacks Mook Reynolds and Greg Stroman, both first year starters. Both players have experience on the field and will have to step up to the challenge to slow down an amped Volunteers offense.
Miami vs Notre Dame
Saturday, October 29, 3:30 pm on NBC
Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, IN
The rekindling of a historic rivalry. A late season match-up, this game will show which direction Mark Richt has the Hurricanes headed.
Miami can find themselves in Charlotte in the ACC Championship Game at seasons end. Kaaya is undoubtedly the best quarterback in the Coastal division. But for Miami to get themselves in a position to compete for a playoff spot, the Hurricanes offense needs to find the consistency that was missing last season. Better offensive line play is needed for Kaaya and his receivers to open up the offense to give their trio of running backs; Joe Yearby, Gus Edwards, and Mark Walton opportunities in the run game.
Defensively, the Hurricanes secondary has the experience that makes them one of the best in the conference. Anchored by cornerbacks Corn Elder and Sheldrick Redwine, the Hurricanes secondary will be able to contain the young Irish receiving corps. The big factor in the success of the Hurricanes defense will be in the front seven. Decimated by injuries in 2015, the linebacker corp hopes to bounce back under defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Miami gave up 200 yards per game on the ground but after a few weeks of adjusting to the 4-3 should have no problem containing the deep but young Irish backfield.
The last difficult game on the Hurricanes schedule, a victory can have Miami in control of their own destiny, for the ACC title and beyond.
Across the college football landscape, we wonder who will assert themselves as the second best conference in the country. With a slew of big name coaching hires, several National Title contenders and next level talent at multiple positions, the ACC has positioned itself to not only take but take over the mantle as the best all-around conference in college football.