Predicting the ACC's Biggest Upsets in 2016

Even national contenders like Clemson and Florida State have potential landmines

Preseason poll season is in full swing, and there is some semblance of order to where most people expect programs to end up by the end of the 2016 college football campaign.

 

But as happens every year, the favorites get knocked off at one point or another and throw everything into chaos. As much as one expects the chalk to hold, it will happen again this fall. Where and when and to which teams these upsets happen is the tough part to predict, but in the ACC, here's a list of 10 of the craziest possibilities.

 

Related: Predicting the SEC's Biggest Upsets in 2016

 

Of course, knowing the nature of college football, the big shocker could likely come from something off this list, but at this point, here are the ones that make the most sense.

 

(Note: I do not necessarily think these particular upsets will happen. These are just a few to keep an eye on.)

 

10. Houston over Louisville, Nov. 17

A few things to keep in mind here. For one, the Cougars are a dark horse College Football Playoff candidate and may end up starting the season ranked ahead of Louisville, so this may not qualify as that much of an upset at all. Also, this game is in Houston and, of all things, on a Thursday night. Every avid college football follower knows Thursday night home games are breeding grounds for upsets.

 

9. Louisville over Florida State, Sept. 17

Early in the season, the Seminoles, unless they slip up the first weekend against Ole Miss, are a sure bet to be sitting somewhere in the top 10 or five. But a huge test comes along in the form of the Cardinals, who return plenty of NFL-caliber talent on defense and a quarterback in Lamar Jackson who should be a household name by the end of the year. The fact that this will be in Papa John's Stadium only heightens the possibilities for a Cards win.

 

8. Miami over Florida State, Oct. 8

Over the last decade or so, this rivalry has lost a good deal of punch on the national scale. This is still a major event in Florida simply due to the amount of crossover in recruiting between the two programs, but Miami's impact in the ACC has been underwhelming. However, the Hurricanes come into this season with renewed hope due to new head coach Mark Richt, and last year's game wasn't exactly a blowout. A Miami win in Coral Gables would send its fans into hysteria.

 

7. East Carolina over NC State, Sept. 10

The Wolfpack figure to be in the lead group behind Clemson, Florida State and Louisville in the Atlantic Division, but have to replace current Patriots backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett. The running game should be on solid footing early on, but if the passing game is still a work in progress, the Pirates could catch them on the second weekend of the season. Although East Carolina did not have a great 2015, it is a perennial tough mid-major program that has beaten ACC teams in the past.

 

6. Virginia over North Carolina, Oct. 22

The Tar Heels return almost everyone from last season's Coastal Division champion squad, but quarterback Mitch Trubisky will be a first-year starter. By the time this game rolls around, he should be comfortable running the offense, but the Cavaliers won't be a pushover. Although Virginia did not have much on-field success under Mike London, he did recruit well, so new head coach Bronco Mendenhall may have enough talent on hand to pull off a signature win.

 

5. Auburn over Clemson, Sept. 3

Typically, Auburn can be a difficult team to gauge preseason. Last year the Tigers were a dark horse Playoff contender before falling to a mediocre 7-6 record. Not many people are expecting much out of Auburn this season, but perhaps that's what makes these Tigers dangerous. Jordan-Hare Stadium is always a tough place to come away with a victory, and while Clemson will be heavily favored, Auburn has talent on the roster and Gus Malzahn may be coaching for his job. A desperate Auburn team should not be overlooked.

 

4. Marshall over Louisville, Sept. 24

A classic trap game, this comes right after the Florida State showdown and immediately ahead of a trip to Clemson. In between those major tilts is a trip to this dangerous mid-major program, which went 10-3 with a win over UConn in bowl season last year. The Thundering Herd return starting quarterback Chase Litton and all-purpose threat Deon-Tay McManus. Throw in the fact that this is scheduled to be a night game and there are a lot of reasons to like the upset here.

 

3. Georgia Southern over Georgia Tech, Oct, 15

Georgia Southern is just one of those programs that will always be in the conversation when it comes to knocking off a more talented team. Two years ago, it beat Florida, and last year it took Georgia to overtime before losing. Part of what makes the Eagles such a giant killer is their ability to execute the option so well, but going up against option guru, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, who led the Eagles from 1997-2001, does not make this an ideal matchup for the team from the Sun Belt. Still, the Yellow Jackets are coming off a poor season and the Eagles have beaten better teams in the past.

 

2. Appalachian State over Miami, Sept. 17

Speaking of teams that recently made the jump to FBS that have a history of knocking off big-time programs, is there anyone with a better resume in that department than Appalachian State, which stunned Michigan in 2007? The Mountaineers went 11-2 last season and this game will be at Kidd Brewer Stadium, a rare road game for a Power Five conference school like Miami against a Sun Belt opponent. The Hurricanes don't face a very challenging slate in the first two weeks, but the Mountaineers will have already traveled to Tennessee the first week and may be more battle tested.

 

1. Georgia Tech over Clemson, Sept. 22

It would be foolish for anyone to forget that for all of Georgia Tech's struggles last year, the Yellow Jackets did beat Florida State in stunning, last-second fashion on a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. That game was in Atlanta, as will this game with the Tigers, who should be unbeaten and somewhere in the top five or higher coming in. But this is a Thursday night game and Tech coach Paul Johnson is a proven giant killer. Clemson will have a short week to prepare for Tech's option, which is never easy to defend, even with the wealth of talent in the front seven Clemson promises to have again this season.

 

— 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.

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