At the beginning of every season fans are filled with hope and anticipation. Some fans have those flames of hope fanned throughout the summer by praises from media outlets all across the nation. Others, however, try to avoid the noise because they believe it’s going to be “one of those years” for their team.
No matter the outcome of a team’s non-conference schedule, all teams know the season ahead will be long, and at times, arduous. This natural grind of the sport comes from each team having to play an eight or nine game gauntlet against other teams from their conference.
Year after year, season after season, conference games are what separate the “contenders” from the “pretenders”. This holds true especially for those teams whose conference championship game decides the ultimate champion of that conference.
The ACC, or Atlantic Coast Conference, is a prime example of this situation in modern college football. In looking ahead to the upcoming season, here are the Top 10 ACC games for 2018:
- Clemson vs Florida State (Oct. 27): What will be pegged as the de facto ACC Atlantic Division Championship, this matchup could determine a lot going forward in the ACC. FSU has the harder schedule, by far, before this game, but with this game being played in Tallahassee, Clemson will have the most to lose. If the Noles can pull the upset, this game could be the marquee win in Willie Taggart’s first season as head coach.
- Virginia Tech vs Florida State (Sept. 1): The 8pm game on Labor Day proves to be extremely critical for both teams. An early season conference win is up for grabs along with setting the foundation for both programs’ future in 2018. Both teams also have quarterbacks looking to prove themselves in Josh Jackson of Virginia Tech and Deondre Francois of Florida State. No matter what, the winner of this game will have a huge leg-up going forward in the ACC.
- Miami vs Virginia Tech (Nov. 17): An old Big East rivalry pits teams with coaches in their third year at their programs in Mark Richt of Miami and Justin Fuente of Virginia Tech. This late season Coastal Division matchup could determine the division winner and who plays in the ACC Championship Game*. By kickoff both teams will have had nearly 90% of their season completed, but this game could end up being the de facto ACC Coastal Division Championship Game.
- Florida State vs Miami (Oct. 6): This cross division rivalry will write its 2018 edition with plenty on the line in the conference standings. For Miami, it will be their opening game in conference play, while FSU will have had three conference games under its belt by kickoff. The history of this rivalry has seen many close games through the years, and with new head coach Willie Taggart’s FSU squad facing a seasoned Mark Richt team in Coral Gables, this year’s matchup has the potential going wide right or wide left, yet again, for either team.
- NC State vs Clemson (Oct. 20): Last year’s Textile Bowl matchup proved to be a true road test for the Tigers. NC State gave Clemson all they could handle, and this year’s game could be one that directly impacts the outcome of the ACC Atlantic Division. Losing all four defensive linemen to the NFL Draft could be problematic for the Wolfpack, but a strong offense could propel NC State to being a real contender in the long-run, and an upset in Death Valley would surely get them on the College Football Playoff Committee’s radar.
- Georgia Tech vs Virginia Tech (Oct. 25): Both teams will go into this Thursday night matchup in Lane Stadium coming off their bye week. This will give the Hokies an extra week to prepare for the Yellow Jackets’ triple option attack, while Georgia Tech will have more time to develop a game plan to limit and stop Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson. Either way, this game could make or break both team’s seasons going into the second half of their schedules.
- Clemson vs Georgia Tech (Sept. 22): Throughout Paul Johnson’s tenure in Atlanta the Yellow Jackets have come out for big games and, at times, pulled a major upset. Other times, they’ve simply choked under the pressure. Georgia Tech will have to be clicking on all cylinders in order to beat Clemson, but nonetheless, Dabo Swinney’s Tigers will have their hands full with Tech’s old school offense.
- Florida State vs NC State (Nov. 3): A once decent rivalry in the ACC, the FSU versus NC State game has, over the years, dwindled into just another Atlantic Divisional conference game. However, this year looks to be a matchup that will rekindle the old rivalry flame, and, could possibly, burn a hole in the division standings. Both offenses have weapons across the board, while both defenses are rebuilding in certain areas. An eighth place ranking during the preseason seems right on paper, but by November 3rd, this game could be on a list of Top 3 games to watch that Saturday.
- Miami vs Boston College (Oct. 26): Last year on a cold late-October Friday night, Boston College upset Florida State in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. They’ll look to do the same this year to Miami on Friday October 26th. Steve Addazio’s Eagles have been a slow-moving train through the ACC the past couple years gaining tons of momentum last season. That train looks to be a full force machine of destruction through their 2018 campaign, and, if Miami isn’t fully locked in for this game, the Hurricanes could be looking at a similar fate FSU faced last year. Georgia fans were accustomed to the annual “Mark Richt road trap game” every season, and if there was a “trap game” on Miami’s schedule for 2018, this would be the one.
- Florida State vs Louisville (Sept. 29): Lamar Jackson is gone and Louisville will be a completely different team this season. Florida State has a new head coach and will be retooling the weapons they have. Both teams have a lot to prove this season, but one thing is for sure, the coaching matchup of Willie Taggart versus Bobby Petrino looks to be an intriguing one going forward. “Taggart versus Petrino Round 1” should deliver a quality game.
Looking ahead is always exciting going into an upcoming college football season. With so many great matchups across the ACC landscape, this season looks to be another great chapter in the storied history of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
*The ACC Championship Game will be played on Saturday December 1st at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.