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The ACC's Top 15 Must-See Games of 2016

Jimbo Fisher

Jimbo Fisher

Not much has changed since last season in the overall ACC hierarchy. Once again, the two teams with the best chance to make a College Football Playoff run are the titans of the Atlantic Division, Clemson and Florida State. Both return loads of NFL talent on both sides of the ball, and many are predicting both squads to be in the Playoff, which would be the first time in the three years of the format that two teams from the same conference made it in.

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That said, although that showdown promises to be the headliner, there are plenty of other juicy matchups involving ACC squads to watch over the course of the regular season, and here are the 15 most intriguing ones, in our humble opinion.

1. Clemson at Florida State (Oct. 29)

You could very well see this as a "1 vs. 2" matchup provided some other teams get knocked off along the way. Aside from the obvious team storylines, the Heisman resumes of Clemson's Deshaun Watson and Florida State's Dalvin Cook could rest on this one.

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2. Florida State vs. Ole Miss (Sept. 5 – Orlando, Fla.)

Even though the NFL’s offering of “Monday Night Football” won’t commence until the following week, this game promises to be a whopper of a bookend to college football’s opening weekend. Ole Miss lost a ton to graduation and the draft but will have the best quarterback on the field in Chad Kelly.

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Related: Top 10 ACC Non-Conference Games of 2016

3. Clemson at Auburn (Sept. 3)

Underestimate Auburn all you want because of last year's mediocre season or because Gus Malzahn's seat is warm. Fine, but the fact of the matter is that going into Jordan-Hare Stadium and coming out with a win is never a lock.

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4. North Carolina at Florida State (Oct. 1)

While Clemson and Florida State are rightly grabbing most of the attention, the Tar Heels return most of their Coastal Division-winning squad from a year ago and can pull the upset in this rematch of last year's ACC Championship Game.

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5. Florida State at Louisville (Sept. 17)

Seeing a theme? Yes, Florida State has a brutal schedule, and this trip to Papa John's Stadium is just one of the many landmines. The Cardinals return one of the top sophomore quarterbacks in the nation in Lamar Jackson, a player who could make a statement here.

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6. Florida at Florida State (Nov. 26)

While everyone is busy talking about Tennessee in the SEC East, last year's division winner and the team that has beaten the Volunteers every year since 2007 is sort of flying under the radar. If Luke del Rio provides as much of an upgrade at quarterback as the Gators expect, this will be a dandy.

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7. North Carolina vs. Georgia (Sept. 3 – Atlanta)

This will be a good litmus test for the Heels against a talented Georgia team that is surrounded by plenty of intrigue. New Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart is a longtime Nick Saban disciple and will be looking to make a statement here.

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8. Louisville at Clemson (Oct. 1)

By this time, Louisville could have already handed Florida State a loss or be in the mode of trying to pull off a shocker against the other alpha dog of the conference. Either way, these teams feature two of the best quarterbacks around, which means that Clemson's concerns in the secondary will be tested.

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9. Louisville at Houston (Nov. 17)

The Cougars are everyone's darling to break up the Power Five party in the Playoff, but they'll have to run the table and beat both Louisville and Oklahoma in the process. It's a tall task, but this game is in Houston and the Cardinals will have their hands full even if the Cougars already have a loss.

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10. Miami at Notre Dame (Oct. 29)

There are plenty of ACC vs. Notre Dame contests this fall, but does anything in this conference quite match the tradition that Miami brings to the table when it comes to a game in South Bend? The answer is no.

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College Football Top 25: Miami

11. Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee (Sept. 10 – Bristol, Tenn.)

There is plenty of optimism around both programs, and for good reason. The Volunteers have been pointing to this season for years and are stacked with NFL talent. The Hokies, on the other hand, picked one of the hotter names off the coaching carousel in former Memphis head man Justin Fuente to replace Frank Beamer. Virginia Tech will be the underdog, but a dangerous one.

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12. Florida State at Miami (Oct. 8)

With Mark Richt taking the reins in Coral Gables, there is hope in South Florida that the ex-Georgia head coach can bring back the luster that the Hurricanes have lost over the years. This rivalry has also lost some shine, but it will be back in a big way if the 'Canes pull the upset here.

College Football Top 25: Miami
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13. Penn State at Pittsburgh (Sept. 10)

Penn State leads this in-state rivalry all-time 50-42-4, but the two programs have not met since 2000, a 12-0 Panthers win. Despite the long layoff, there is still plenty of overlap in recruiting, and while the Nittany Lions' national perch has fallen over the years, a Pitt win here would be a major coup.

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14. Virginia at Oregon (Sept. 10)

Any trip to Autzen Stadium is worth watching for the pure noise level the Ducks fans in Eugene create. This game does have some extra oomph, though, as new Cavaliers head coach Bronco Mendenhall has a chance to knock off a program that some feel is slipping under Mark Helfrich.

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15. Georgia Tech vs. Boston College (Sept. 3 – Dublin, Ireland)

You won't see either of these teams in the ACC title game, but how often do you see two ACC teams going across the pond to battle in Dublin? As for the game itself, the matchup of Boston College's stout run defense against the Georgia Tech option will be worth the look.

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Best of the Rest

Duke at Northwestern (Sept. 17)
Pittsburgh at Oklahoma State (Sept. 17)
Duke at Notre Dame (Sept. 24)
Notre Dame at NC State (Oct. 8)
North Carolina at Miami (Oct. 15)
Virginia Tech at Notre Dame (Nov. 19)
NC State at North Carolina (Nov. 25)
Georgia Tech at Georgia (Nov. 26)
South Carolina at Clemson (Nov. 26)
Virginia at Virginia Tech (Nov. 26)

— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.