The ACC was one of two Power 5 conferences — along with the Big 12 — that played non-conference games in 2020. But with the exception of the games against upstart Liberty played by Syracuse, Virginia Tech, and NC State, the matchups were not that appealing.
While no one knows exactly how normal the fall of 2021 will be, the upcoming ACC non-conference slate, as currently constructed, is pretty exciting with traditional battles supplemented by a few new, high-quality contests. Here's a look at the 10 most interesting out-of-league games for the coming season.
10. Wake Forest at North Carolina, Nov. 6
Yes, both Wake Forest and North Carolina are ACC teams. No, this is not a conference game. In fact, this season marks the second time in three years that the two conference rivals meet up in an official non-conference contest. The Demon Deacons and the Tar Heels played an exciting game this past season, with Carolina rallying from a 21-point third-quarter deficit to win. Mack Brown's Tar Heels will be one of the ACC's top teams in 2021, but don't forget about Wake Forest, who returns one of the nation's most experienced rosters.
9. Missouri at Boston College, Sept. 25
Both Missouri head coach Eliah Drinkwitz and Boston College's Jeff Hafley had nice first seasons on the job. They will look to build on that success in year two behind their quarterbacks — Connor Bazelak for the Tigers and Phil Jurkovec for the Eagles. This will be the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
8. Virginia at BYU, Oct. 30
Bronco Mendenhall returns to Provo, a place he spent 11 years as head coach. During his time leading BYU, he often matched wits with current Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake, who despite being an alumnus was the Utah defensive coordinator for six years. BYU is coming off of an 11-1 season but will have to replace star quarterback Zach Wilson.
7. Louisville vs. Ole Miss (Atlanta), Sept. 6
The Cardinals and Rebels will close out Week 1 on Labor Day evening. Last season was a disappointing one for Louisville, which will have to replace wide receiver Tutu Atwell and running back Javian Hawkins. But in the opener, against a Lane Kiffin-coached Ole Miss team that brings back quarterback Matt Corral and exciting running back Jerrion Ealy, the Cards may be more affected by their substantial defensive losses.
6. Virginia Tech at West Virginia, Sept. 18
The Hokies and the Mountaineers played every year from 1973 through 2005, including time together in the Big East (1991-2004). But the series went away shortly after Virginia Tech joined the ACC and there has been just one meeting since, a 31-24 Tech win at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. This one will have an old-time field when the Hokies go to Morgantown.
5. Florida State at Florida, Nov. 27
This will be a very good litmus test for Mike Norvell's Seminoles. By the end of Year Two, there should be some signs of progress, and though the Gators lose a great deal of talent, they should still be one of the SEC's best teams. Florida has won the last two meetings by a combined score of 82-31.
4. Pittsburgh at Tennessee, Sept. 11
This game is certainly not ranked this high because of how each team projects in 2021. New Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel has a major rebuilding job ahead of him, and Pittsburgh loses its best players up front and on the back end of the defense. This game is about history and a coach that ties the two schools together. After winning a national title at Pittsburgh in 1976, Johnny Majors returned to Knoxville to lead his alma mater where he would win 116 games. The two schools played twice during Majors' time at Tennessee with Pittsburgh emeging victorious both times.
3. North Carolina at Notre Dame, Oct. 30
Back to their independent ways, Notre Dame will play five games against ACC competition, and the most appetizing is the date with the Tar Heels. Athlon Sports' Way-Too-Early Top 25 has Notre Dame at No. 9 and North Carolina one spot lower. UNC will once again have Sam Howell leading the way, while the Irish are hoping for their fifth straight double-digit win season.
2. Miami vs. Alabama (Atlanta), Sept. 4
Nick Saban loves having his Alabama team open the season with a neutral-site game against a Power 5 opponent. This year's foe will be Miami, which will have another platform to show they are ready to move in the right direction. D'Eriq King returns at quarterback for the Hurricanes, and he will be challenged by a very talented — albeit very young — Crimson Tide defense.
1. Clemson vs. Georgia (Charlotte, N.C.), Sept. 4
This is the most anticipated non-conference game on the 2021 college football schedule. The game will feature two southeastern powers that are quarterbacked by former five-star recruits from southern California. Clemson will most likely enter the fall as the top team in the land, while many believe that Georgia's time to dethrone Alabama in the SEC is now.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.