The start of the 2011 college football season is less than 20 days away. With kickoff right around the corner, Athlon takes a look at the top 10 must-see games in the ACC for 2011.
1. Oklahoma vs. Florida State (Week 3)
Sept. 17, All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 5-1
There’s a lot at stake in this Week 3 matchup. Oklahoma and Florida State are national title contenders, and a marquee non-conference win would go a long way towards an undefeated season. The Sooners easily handled the Seminoles last year, winning 47-17 in Norman. Florida State will be hungry to avenge last season’s embarrassment and a victory over Oklahoma would be a statement win in Jimbo Fisher’s second season in Tallahassee. The Sooners suffered a blow when linebacker Travis Lewis was lost for at least the first month of the season due to a foot injury suffered in fall camp. Although Lewis is out, Oklahoma’s linebacking corps remains one of the best in the Big 12, especially with the rapid development of sophomores Tom Wort and Corey Nelson. Much of Florida State’s national title hopes will hinge on quarterback EJ Manuel, who enters his first year as the starter. The junior has six starts over the last two years and there’s no question he has the talent, but has yet to prove himself over a full season.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction:Seminoles by 3
2. Miami vs. Virginia Tech (Week 6)
Oct. 8, All-Time Series: Miami leads 17-11
Is Miami back? The Hurricanes have a tricky slate in the first half of the season, starting with the opener against Maryland, a non-conference matchup with Ohio State and this road date at Virginia Tech. The Hokies have won four out of the last five in this series, including the last two in Blacksburg. Will Miami’s quarterback situation be solved by this game? If the Hurricanes are still trying to decide between Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris, the Hokies should have a huge advantage. Virginia Tech also has quarterback question marks, with Logan Thomas stepping in for Tyrod Taylor. Thomas has the physical tools to succeed, but needs more experience. By Week 6, the ACC should have a pretty good read on Thomas.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Hokies by 7
3. Florida State vs. Florida (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Florida leads 33-20-2
Could this game be Florida State’s final stumbling block to a berth in the national title? If the Seminoles knock off Oklahoma in mid-September, don’t be surprised if they are undefeated and ranked among the top two teams in the nation. This will also be the first matchup as head coaches in this rivalry between Florida’s Will Muschamp and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher. The coaches became close friends during their time as assistants under Nick Saban. The Gators were embarrassed in Tallahassee last year and will be looking to return the favor, while possibly ruining Florida State’s season in the annual battle for bragging rights in the Sunshine State.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Seminoles by 6
4. Miami vs. Florida State (Week 11)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: Miami leads 31-24
This series was dominated by Miami in the early 2000s, but Florida State has won four of the last six games. The Seminoles have lost the last two games in Tallahassee, including a 38-34 shootout in 2009. Florida State thoroughly handled the Hurricanes last year, winning 45-17, easily the most lopsided final in this series since a 47-0 win by the Seminoles in 1997. The Hurricanes should improve under Al Golden as the year progresses, but in Tallahassee, the Seminoles will likely make it two in a row against Miami.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction:Seminoles by 10
5. Ohio State vs. Miami (Week 3)
Sept. 17, All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 3-1
When Miami fans think of Ohio State, flashbacks of the 2003 Fiesta Bowl immediately come to mind. The Hurricanes lost a 31-24 battle for the national title that year, which included a controversial pass interference penalty in the first overtime to keep Ohio State’s championship hopes alive. These two teams met last year, with Ohio State winning 36-24. This matchup in Week 3 will be a test for new Ohio State coach Luke Fickell, especially with an inexperienced quarterback under center. Even with the losses of coach Jim Tressel and quarterback Terrelle Pryor in the offseason, the Buckeyes still have enough talent to win a Big Ten title.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Miami by 5
6. Florida State vs. Clemson (Week 4)
Sept. 24, All-Time Series: Florida State leads 17-7
This matchup has trap game written all over. If Florida State manages to beat Oklahoma one week earlier, the Tigers should be able to pounce on a marquee victory. Clemson has won the last four matchups between these two teams in Death Valley in this series, but the Seminoles have won two out of the last three overall. Considering Clemson’s success at home and Florida State’s game against Oklahoma a week prior, don’t be surprised if this is one of the upsets for Week 4.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Clemson by 3
7. Clemson vs. South Carolina (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Clemson leads 65-39-4
The battle for bragging rights in the Palmetto State should be an attractive matchup this year. The Gamecocks are expected to contend for the SEC East title, while Clemson has the talent to surprise in the ACC. The Tigers are breaking in a new offensive scheme, and the progress of quarterback Tajh Boyd will be critical to contending for the conference title. Clemson has lost the last two in this series, including a 29-7 defeat last year. However, the Tigers have won six of the last overall nine matchups.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: South Carolina by 7
8. Maryland vs. Miami (Week 1)
Sept. 5, All-Time Series: Tied 8-8
Miami is back on Labor Day for another ACC opener, this time against Maryland - not Florida State. Although this one might not have the national appeal of Florida State-Miami, there’s plenty of intrigue for this matchup. This game will feature two new coaches – Maryland’s Randy Edsall and Miami’s Al Golden – and both teams will be looking to get off to a fast start in conference play. Keep a close watch on the Hurricanes’ quarterback play, which could be the deciding factor in this ACC opener.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Miami by 4
9. Maryland vs. West Virginia (Week 3)
Sept. 17, All-Time Series: West Virginia leads 24-21-2
Even though these two teams are separated by just over 200 miles, they have only met 47 times. The Mountaineers crushed the Terrapins last year, winning 31-17 in Morgantown. West Virginia has won the last five games this series, with the last Maryland victory coming in 2004 in the Gator Bowl. Since the Terrapins play in the Labor Day opener against Miami, they have a bye in Week 2, which will allow two weeks to prepare for the Mountaineers. Maryland could catch West Virginia looking ahead, as the Mountaineers host LSU in Week 4.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Mountaineers by 6
10. Maryland vs. Notre Dame (Week 11)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads 1-0
The only matchup between these two teams occurred in 2002, with Notre Dame scoring an easy 22-0 win over Maryland in the Kickoff Classic. This season’s matchup will take place in at FedEx Field Landover, Md. Although the Terrapins will have a short drive to this game, expect to see a pro-Notre Dame crowd. The Irish have BCS bowl hopes, but a loss to Maryland late in the year could be damaging.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Notre Dame by 8
Other Top Games to Watch
Northwestern at Boston College (Sept. 3)
Auburn at Clemson (Sept. 17)
NC State at Cincinnati (Sept. 22)
Clemson at Virginia Tech (Oct. 1)
Boston College at Clemson (Oct. 8)
Miami at North Carolina (Oct. 15)
NC State at Florida State (Oct. 29)
Florida State at Boston College (Nov. 3)
North Carolina at NC State (Nov. 5)
Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech (Nov. 10)
NC State at Boston College (Nov. 12)
Clemson at NC State (Nov. 19)
Boston College at Notre Dame (Nov. 19)
Virginia Tech vs. Virginia (Nov. 26)
Maryland at NC State (Nov. 26)
Georgia at Georgia Tech (Nov. 26)
Other ACC Content
Breaking Down Miami's QB Battle
Ranking the Best Units in the ACC
Athlon's 2011 ACC Predictions
Athlon's 2011 All-ACC Team
Ranking the ACC's Top 25 Players for 2011
Predicting the ACC's Breakout Players for 2011