Conferences don’t win championships, teams do.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the ACC. Florida State is so far ahead of the league that a good majority of the best games in this league won’t be conference games. Notre Dame faces five quality ACC teams and, of course, there are plenty of SEC rivalry games as well.
But within the league, there are very few marquee matchups because the Seminoles are head and shoulders (and legs and feet) above the rest of the ACC.
There are loads of intriguing games within the league once Florida State is removed from the equation but very few will register with a national audience.
1. South Carolina at Clemson (Nov. 29)
As far as deeply entrenched rivalries and overall importance of the game to the national landscape go, it's hard to argue the Palmetto State season finale won't be one the biggest non-conference games of the year. Carolina and Steve Spurrier are eyeing an SEC East title and possible playoff berth, so a loss to the Tigers for the first time since 2008 would be crippling to those hopes.
2. Clemson at Georgia (Aug. 30)
Last year's meeting was an epic offensive showdown that featured elite playmakers and provided a memorable experience for everyone. This year, Clemson's defense is its strength while Georgia returns nine starters on D. With two new quarterbacks for both teams, expect a sloppier performance from both offenses in the first week of the season — which could be equally as entertaining.
3. Florida at Florida State (Nov. 29)
This was a blowout a year ago but Florida expects to be much improved and the historic Sunshine State rivalry could hold national championship implications for the Seminoles. Florida may have the best roster of any team Florida State will face in the regular season so fans should expect a much closer bout this time around — as long as the Gators' coaching staff is still intact by season's end.
4. Clemson at Florida State (Sept. 20)
Is this the most important ACC game of the year? Likely. Will it be the closest, most entertaining conference game in the ACC this year? Unlikely. Clemson was smoked at home and is rebuilding on offense while Florida State actually appears to be improving from 2013. Best of luck on the road in Week 4, Tigers.
5. Florida State at Louisville (Oct. 30)
It’s later in the year and on the road. That is why the Louisville game might actually be Florida State’s toughest conference test of the regular season. Look for Bobby Petrino’s offense to be in full swing by the end of October and playing in primetime on a Thursday night should make for a raucous atmosphere.
6. Notre Dame at Florida State (Oct. 18)
Florida State’s toughest regular season test in 2014 may come from the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame has the talent, gets its signal-caller back under center and could be on a roll by mid-October. Few games in the nation will feature two more powerful brands with more at stake than when Brian Kelly brings his team south to Tallahassee. These two have met seven times with FSU holding a 5-2 edge.
7. Louisville at Clemson (Oct. 11)
If the Cardinals and Tigers are the second- and third-best teams in the ACC, then this game should be a fantastic first edition. Chad Morris and Bobby Petrino are two of the top offensive minds in the game and Death Valley is as good a setting as there is in college football. This one should be fun for everyone.
8. Virginia Tech at North Carolina (Oct. 4)
Many believe that Tech and Carolina are the teams to beat in the Coastal Division. And while there are four or five other key divisional games in what could be a five-team Coastal round robin, this early October bout in Chapel Hill could be the deciding matchup. Who doesn’t want to see Larry Fedora and Bud Foster scheming against one another?
9. North Carolina at Clemson (Sept. 27)
The Tar Heels are the sexy pick in the Coastal right now and Clemson is widely regarded as the second-best team in the league. An early-season trip into Death Valley will provide clarity for those who are eagerly watching North Carolina’s surge this fall.
10a. North Carolina at Notre Dame (Oct.11)
Much like Louisville and Notre Dame, North Carolina has a shot at a headline-making, non-conference win if it can go into South Bend and pull the upset. The Tar Heels may not have the same talent as the Seminoles or the coaching of the Cardinals, but North Carolina should be fairly competitive in mid-October. The Heels are 2-16 all-time against the Irish but won the last meeting 29-24 in Chapel Hill in 2008.
10b. Louisville at Notre Dame (Nov. 22)
Bobby Petrino has a few marquee showdowns on his schedule this fall and the biggest one might be a trip to South Bend in late November. The meeting will mark the first time in history that these two programs have ever met despite being just four hours apart. The matching of offensive wits between Petrino and Brian Kelly will be a thing to behold and must-see TV.
12. Miami at Louisville (Sept. 1)
Some of the intrigue with this game is the timing. A Week 1, Labor Day night, conference game between two teams that played in a bowl game last year has plenty of sizzle. Especially, when the team hosting the bout is playing in its first-ever ACC league game. Miami has plenty of revenge to exact after the 36-9 drubbing to cap 2013.
13. Florida State at Miami (Nov. 15)
This was a 41-14 beatdown in Tallahassee a year ago despite Miami’s 7-0 record at the time. Miami appears to be getting better across the board, however, as Al Golden’s freshman class is expected to buoy the defense and the quarterback position. Can they win at home over their archrival late in the year? Anything is possible.
14. Miami at Nebraska (Sept. 20)
From an intrigue standpoint, few non-conference games in college football will feature two more powerful brands than this Week 4 meeting in Lincoln. These two have met in multiple national title situations, including four Orange Bowls and three national title games. The last two meetings were a Miami beatdown in the BCS title game in 2001 and a Nebraska national championship-clinching win in the 1995 Orange Bowl. And, of course, who could forget the 1984 Orange Bowl and the most infamous two-point conversion attempt in college football history?
15. Miami at Virginia Tech (Oct. 23)
It’s traditionally one of the better matchups in the Coastal Division and this one could carry title game implications. If Tech was visiting the Canes in Florida, this game would be a much bigger test for the Hokies and would rank higher on the list.
Best of the Rest:
16. Virginia Tech at Pitt (Oct. 16)
17. North Carolina at Miami (Nov. 1)
18. North Carolina at Duke (Nov. 20)
19. Georgia Tech at Georgia (Nov. 29)
20. NC State at North Carolina (No. 29)
21. Florida State vs. Oklahoma State (Aug. 30, Arlington)
22. Virginia Tech at Ohio State (Sept. 6)
23. Pitt at North Carolina (Nov. 15)
24. Pitt at Miami (Nov. 29)
25. Virginia Tech at Duke (Nov. 15)