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Ranking the ACC's Toughest Non-Conference College Football Schedules in 2016

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When looking over the ACC non-conference schedules, the first few weekends offer some interesting matchups, particularly games with SEC opponents like Ole Miss, Auburn and Georgia. On a less regional scale, Virginia's trip to Oregon sticks out.

The best of the rest tend to feature games with Notre Dame, perhaps the most intriguing matchup being the one with Miami, which brings back memories of showdowns in the 1980s when both were at the top of the college football world.

Related: Ranking the ACC's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2016

Overall, it should bring some exciting football as teams hope to build their resumes for the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.

But which ACC team has the most difficult non-conference slate to navigate? Here is a ranking of all 14 teams from toughest to easiest.

1. Florida State

Sept. 5 vs. Mississippi (Orlando, Fla.)

Sept. 10 vs. Charleston Southern

Sept. 24 at South Florida

Nov. 26 vs. Florida

The opener against Ole Miss pairs the Seminoles with a program that has beaten Alabama two years in a row and has improved both in recruiting and on the field at a steady rate since head coach Hugh Freeze took over. As far as non-conference games go, it will be one of - if not the toughest - single non-conference games on the schedule for any ACC team. You can't overlook the trip to USF, either, a team that went to a bowl last year and returns several key playmakers. It's hard to predict exactly what Florida will be after how the Gators played down the stretch of last season. If the Gators do figure out their quarterback situation, though, they could be dangerous.

College Football’s Toughest Predictions in 2016



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2. Virginia Tech

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Sept. 3 vs. Liberty

Sept. 10 vs. Tennessee (Bristol Motor Speedway, Tenn.)

Sept. 24 vs. East Carolina

Nov. 19 at Notre Dame

The Hokies don't get any favors in their non-conference schedule, as the two toughest games come outside of Blacksburg. The neutral site game against Tennessee will likely have a pro-Volunteers feel to it, and that's a team that many consider as the SEC East favorites going into the season. Although East Carolina is at home, the trip to Notre Dame will also be against a likely top-15 squad, so don't expect many breaks for new head coach Justin Fuente.

3. Clemson

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Sept. 3 at Auburn

Sept. 10 vs. Troy

Sept. 17 vs. South Carolina State

Nov. 26 vs. South Carolina

On paper, this schedule looks a little tougher than it actually is, but most of that is dependent on the opener. Auburn is one of those teams that could be really dangerous or continue its downward slide from a disappointing 2015. Since the game is at Jordan-Hare, expect the atmosphere to be raucous as the hosts attempt to pull off the upset of a team surely to be ranked near the top of the polls. Troy and South Carolina State are auto-wins, while the rivalry game with South Carolina won't be as difficult as it was a few years ago, as the Gamecocks will be in rebuilding mode in Will Muschamp's first year in Columbia.

4. Virginia

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Sept. 3 vs. Richmond

Sept. 10 at Oregon

Sept. 17 at Connecticut

Sept. 24 vs. Central Michigan

The Cavaliers will be going into the hornet's nest on the second week of the season when they travel to Eugene to take on the Ducks. Oregon dropped off a bit last year but will still be a formidable foe. The opener against Richmond should be a win, but the trip to Storrs, Conn., may be tougher than expected. Unlike most teams on this list, the entire non-conference slate will be over before October.

5. Pittsburgh

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Sept. 3 vs. Villanova

Sept. 10 vs. Penn State

Sept. 17 at Oklahoma State

Oct. 1 vs. Marshall

Although the Panthers will be heavy favorites against Villanova, the rest of the non-conference slate has some landmines. The home date with Penn State will be critical not just for the season but also for recruiting against an in-state rival. The trip to Oklahoma State will be against a likely top-25 team, while the home date with Marshall to start October could present problems as well.

6. North Carolina

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Sept. 3 vs. Georgia (Atlanta)

Sept. 10 at Illinois

Sept. 17 vs. James Madison

Nov. 19 vs. The Citadel

The opener against the Bulldogs in the Georgia Dome will be a huge test against a team that should vie for the SEC East title in Kirby Smart's first year as head coach. The Tar Heels then travel to face an Illinois team that they should beat, but a Power Five opponent nonetheless. The other two non-conference games, against James Madison and The Citadel, should be relatively easy wins.

7. Duke

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Sept. 3 vs. North Carolina Central

Sept. 17 at Northwestern

Sept. 24 at Notre Dame

Oct. 8 vs. Army

The two big ones here come at the middle and end of September when the Blue Devils travel to face both Northwestern and Notre Dame. Northwestern is a game that could go either way, two similar programs in their respective conferences. Duke will be an underdog when it heads to South Bend to face the Fighting Irish, so being able to come away with a win against Northwestern will be that much more important. The Blue Devils should be heavy favorites in the other two games.

8. Louisville

Sept. 1 vs. Charlotte

Sept. 24 at Marshall

Nov. 17 at Houston

Nov. 26 vs. Kentucky

Those middle two games can be tricky, as Marshall is one of the more underrated mid-major programs in the region. Then there's the trip to Houston to face a Cougars team that has all the momentum in the world. Houston is coming off a Peach Bowl win over Florida State and will have a chance for another statement win against Oklahoma earlier in the season. If the Cougars win there, Louisville could be facing a team in the Playoff hunt. Kentucky may be an SEC team, but a bottom-dweller one. It will be a rivalry game that the Cardinals should win.

9. Syracuse

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Sept. 2 vs. Colgate

Sept. 17 vs. South Florida

Sept. 24 at Connecticut

Oct. 1 vs. Notre Dame (East Rutherford, N.J.)

For where Syracuse is at right now as a program, this schedule is pretty difficult. The Colgate opener will be a relatively easy win, but South Florida, even though the game is at the Carrier Dome, won't be easy. The Bulls cruised past UConn last year, and the Huskies were a better team than Syracuse. Speaking of UConn, that game in Storrs will be against a team that returns a ton (as do the Orange, which simply have a longer road back to respectability at this point). The big attraction of having Notre Dame come to East Rutherford will be a great atmosphere, but it will more than likely end up being a virtual home game for the Fighting Irish based on fan support.

10. Georgia Tech

Sept. 10 vs. Mercer

Sept. 17 vs. Vanderbilt

Oct. 15 vs. Georgia Southern

Nov. 26 at Georgia

The Yellow Jackets should be favorites in all three of their home non-conference tests. Vanderbilt should probably be the toughest of those games, but the Commodores aren't a high-end SEC team. The end of the year battle with Georgia is always a tough game for Tech, and since the game is between the hedges this year, it will be that much more of a challenge. It remains to be seen however just how well the Bulldogs will fare in their maiden voyage under head coach Kirby Smart.

11. NC State

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Sept. 1 vs. William & Mary

Sept. 10 at East Carolina

Sept. 17 vs. Old Dominion

Oct. 8 vs. Notre Dame

The Wolfpack will have a bit of an easy start to their season, as William & Mary and Old Dominion are two likely home wins. Although East Carolina isn't a bad program and that game is on the road, it’s another game NC State should be favored in. The only real major challenge here is against the Fighting Irish, and even that game is at home. In fact, each of the four non-conference games will be in the state of North Carolina, so even though Notre Dame should be favored in that matchup, the likelihood of the Wolfpack having a strong showing outside the conference is high.

12. Miami

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Sept. 3 vs. Florida A&M

Sept. 10 vs. Florida Atlantic

Sept. 17 at Appalachian State

Oct. 29 at Notre Dame

The first three games for the Hurricanes are snoozers. Home dates with Florida A&M and Florida Atlantic should be wins, as should the road trip to Appalachian State. The big road test will be the trip to South Bend in late October, a game that has some good history behind it. Miami will likely come in as the underdog to that one, giving new coach Mark Richt a chance for a signature road win.

13. Wake Forest

Sept. 1 vs. Tulane

Sept. 17 vs. Delaware

Sept. 24 at Indiana

Oct. 29 vs. Army

The first two games against Tulane and Delaware should result in victories, but the trip to Indiana will pose some problems. Although the Hoosiers aren't world beaters, their offenses lately have been explosive. Army may be difficult to prepare for with facing an option offense, but that's another game that the Demon Deacons should come out ahead in. A 3-1 showing in these games is very attainable.

14. Boston College

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Sept. 10 at UMass (Foxboro, Mass.)

Sept. 24 vs. Wagner

Oct. 1 vs. Buffalo

Nov. 19 vs. Connecticut

This is a schedule built for a team that desperately wants to bounce back from a 3-9 season. The only "road game" is at Gillette Stadium, which is actually closer to Boston College’s campus than that of UMass, which is based in Amherst, a two-hour drive away. Although UMass is improving that game, Wagner and Buffalo should all be wins. The UConn game in Chestnut Hill will be an interesting regional showdown, as the Huskies made major strides in Bob Diaco's second year and return almost everyone. But this is a slate that could provide four wins and put this team on the doorstep of bowl eligibility.

— 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.

(Justin Fuente photo by Dave Knachel - Virginia Tech Athletics)