FSU-Alabama tilt highlights loaded slate for loaded conference
There is plenty of interest all over the map, but right now, it would be hard-pressed to find a league with more star-studded matchups across the board this season.
Put it this way: When neither the reigning champ nor the team that returns the Heisman Trophy winner is projected to be the top squad in its division, you are looking at quite the loaded league.
Toss in a couple of marquee outsiders looking to boost their College Football Playoff resumes, and you have some treat-worthy viewing.
Here's a look at the top 15 games for the 2017 season to watch involving ACC teams:
1. Florida State vs. Alabama (Sept. 2 – Atlanta)
Clear your calendar for the biggest regular season game of the year, regardless of conference or any other metric. Alabama has made the College Football Playoff in all three years of its existence and probably will again. There's a decent chance of a rematch with the Seminoles if the Crimson Tide do. Call it a playoff preview if you will, just so long as you watch, because it will not get much better than this.
2. Florida State at Clemson (Nov. 11)
Every so often, a rivalry can annually mold the college football landscape. Currently, Florida State-Clemson does just that. While Clemson might stumble out of the gate by virtue of having to replace such an enormous loss of experience and talent to the NFL, it will probably have the kinks worked out by the time the Seminoles stroll into Death Valley.
3. Louisville at Florida State (Oct. 21)
Yes, another Florida State game. No, not a mistake. A year ago, Lamar Jackson eviscerated the Seminoles in a 63-20 blowout in Papa John's Stadium that launched his Heisman campaign into the stratosphere. You can bet this one is every bit as important to FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher and Co. as the first two games on this list. Expect Doak Campbell Stadium to be bloodthirsty for revenge.
4. Clemson at Louisville (Sept. 16)
Last year's duel between Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson was one of the most thrilling of 2016, but the Cardinals came up on the short end in the final minute. This one will hinge on whether or not new Cardinals offensive line coach Mike Summers can piece together an underachieving unit to hold up against Clemson's unrelenting front four.
5. Clemson vs. Auburn (Sept. 9)
As noted previously, the time to catch Clemson this year is at the beginning of the season when the Tigers are breaking in a new quarterback and synching him with a revamped group of skill players. Auburn, which nearly pulled off the upset last year at Jordan-Hare Stadium, has the potential to finish the job this time behind JUCO transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
6. Clemson at Virginia Tech (Sept. 30)
It may seem a little strange to see a rematch of last year's ACC title game all the way down at No. 6 on this list, but that's just where the conference sits in 2017. Blacksburg's Lane Stadium might be as raucous as it gets when the Tigers visit, but – like Clemson – the Hokies need to stabilize the quarterback position to come away with a win here.
7. Florida State at Florida (Nov. 25)
If everything falls into place for the Seminoles, this would be the last domino to fall for their regular season run to the College Football Playoff. Along with the No. 8 game on this list, this pretty much offers some of the hardest-hitting football you will see every season. The Gators are still figuring out their quarterback situation, but have the talent to derail their rivals' title hopes.
8. Miami at Florida State (Sept. 16)
This rivalry is still in the "baby steps" stages of being truly "back," when these programs essentially did what Florida State and Clemson are doing now but to a much larger degree. Last year's win by the Seminoles at Hard Rock Stadium was decided by just a point. This year, the Hurricanes boast an elite front seven that will be able to keep this one within striking distance again.
9. Pittsburgh at Penn State (Sept. 9)
Remember how everyone was up in arms last year about how Penn State should have gone to the College Football Playoff instead of Ohio State because it beat the Buckeyes head-to-head and won the Big Ten? Remember that? Well, don't forget Pittsburgh beat the Nittany Lions, and had that result gone the other way, all that controversy never happens. James Franklin's bunch wants revenge, badly.
10. Pittsburgh vs. Oklahoma State (Sept. 16)
Immediately after what should be an emotional slugfest with a top-10 team, Pittsburgh hosts another out-of-conference foe with legitimate College Football Playoff aspirations in the Cowboys. This could very well be Oklahoma State's best team since the 2011 outfit that would have made the playoff had the same format existed then. Call it "Spoiling September" for the Panthers, who have some rebuilding to do.
11. Virginia Tech at Miami (Nov. 4)
The prohibitive favorites in the Coastal Division both face similar quarterback quandaries but, by November, should have them figured out well enough to make this an even game. The Hurricanes fell apart at a similar stretch last season, in which the Hokies trounced them, 37-16, in Blacksburg. This will be a toss-up depending on how the passing games evolve by November.
12. Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia (Sept. 3 – Landover, MD)
This matchup might be flying under the radar a little too much. The Mountaineers lead the all-time series, 28-22-1, but the two have not played each other since a 2005 Virginia Tech win in Morgantown. To say that this will have some oomph behind it in the rivalry department would be an understatement. Transfer quarterback Will Grier can be the difference for the Mountaineers.
13. Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee (Sept. 4 – Atlanta)
On an opening weekend full of intriguing matchups, this should not be tossed aside. Both programs are sort of in the same spot expectation-wise: each is in the mix for a divisional crown, but not touted as the favorite just yet. The Yellow Jackets are severely underrated at the moment, though, and a win here could go a long way into changing that.
14. Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech (Nov. 11)
While most of the pundits have been crowning Virginia Tech and Miami as the top two teams in the Coastal Division, the Yellow Jackets are being overlooked a little too quickly. Why? Well, quarterback Justin Thomas is gone, but enough key pieces return to make this team more than just a dark horse. Oh, and Georgia Tech beat the Hokies last year in Blacksburg, 30-20.
15. Georgia Tech vs. Georgia (Nov. 25)
A little clean, old-fashioned hate never hurt anyone, did it? Don't answer that. Over the last four years, these two teams have each won twice, the road squad taking each one. The margins of victory have been seven points, six, six and one. Two of the games have produced a total of three overtimes. These in-state rivals despise each other and fight tooth and nail for every yard. What else do you watch college football for?
Don’t forget about...
NC State vs. South Carolina (Sept. 2 – Charlotte, NC)
NC State at Florida State (Sept. 23)
Syracuse at LSU (Sept. 23)
Louisville at NC State (Oct. 5)
Georgia Tech at Miami (Oct. 12)
Georgia Tech at Clemson (Oct. 28)
NC State at Notre Dame (Oct. 28)
Miami vs. Notre Dame (Nov. 11)
Clemson at NC State (Nov. 4)
Clemson at South Carolina (Nov. 25)
— 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.