With two teams ranked among Athlon Sports’ projected College Football Playoff participants and two more in its Top 25, the ACC schedule will feature several important games this season. Fortunately for fans of the league, the interesting matchups are not contained to only league games.
Related: ACC Football 2016 Predictions
There are compelling non-conference matchups that begin on Labor Day weekend and don’t end until the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Many of these will have Playoff implications for both the ACC team and their opponents.
Here is a list of the top non-conference games this season involving ACC programs.
1. Florida State vs. Ole Miss (Orlando, Fla. – Sept. 5)
This game pits two top 10 teams against each other right out of the gate. It will be played in Orlando, giving the Seminoles a territory advantage. Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly and FSU running back Dalvin Cook are two players on the Heisman short list.
2. Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee (Bristol, Tenn. – Sept. 10)
In one of the most anticipated games of the season, the Hokies and Volunteers will tangle in front of an expected 160,000 fans at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. The two schools are separated by just 113 miles but they have not met in the regular season since 1937. Tennessee comes in as the favorite to win the SEC East while the Hokies begin a new era under the guidance of new head coach Justin Fuente.
3. Florida at Florida State (Nov. 26)
When the Gators and the Seminoles meet up on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the stakes will be high regardless of how the game’s result will impact the national landscape. However, there is a good chance that at least one of the two teams will be contending for a major bowl bid and perhaps a spot in the College Football Playoff.
4. Clemson at Auburn (Sept. 3)
After closing out last season against Alabama in the national championship game, Clemson heads to the Plains to open up the 2016 season by playing the Crimson Tide’s Iron Bowl rival. The Tigers of Clemson come in ranked in just about everyone’s top five while Gus Malzahn’s Tigers will be looking to rebound from a season in which they finished just 2-6 in SEC play and 7-6 overall.
5. Miami at Notre Dame (Oct. 29)
In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, few collegiate rivalries were as emotional as the one between the Hurricane and Fighting Irish. The game was put on hold after the 1990 meeting in South Bend and the two storied programs did not play again until the 2010 Sun Bowl. The teams also played a Shamrock Series game in Chicago in 2012, but this will be the first true home game in the series since that 1990 contest.
6. Penn State at Pittsburgh (Sept. 10)
In a time when both Penn State and Pittsburgh were independent programs, this was always the biggest game on their respective schedules. But when the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten in 1990 and the Panthers became part of the Big East in ‘91, the game lost some importance and the series halted in 2000. But everyone on both sides has to be thrilled that these heated rivals will be battling again in week two.
7. North Carolina vs. Georgia (Atlanta – Sept. 3)
Much like Ole Miss playing Florida State in Orlando, the game against Georgia in Atlanta is not exactly a neutral site from UNC’s perspective. The Tar Heels rattled off 11 straight wins after losing their 2015 season opener against South Carolina in Charlotte. But if the Heels want to make some national noise this fall they need to take down the Bulldogs in week one.
8. Louisville at Houston (Nov. 17)
When the Cardinals lost at home to the Cougars last September, no one knew exactly how good Houston would become. By the time Louisville heads to Houston in the middle of November, Tom Herman’s group could be viewed as a viable Playoff candidate. The Cardinals should have plenty to play for themselves, with games early in the year against Florida State and Clemson determining just how important this game will be.
9. Virginia Tech at Notre Dame (Nov. 19)
Virginia Tech began playing football in 1892. Notre Dame started its program in 1887. Amazingly, the teams have never played each other. That will change this fall as the Hokies will travel to South Bend to face the Irish in a big late-season showdown.
10. Pittsburgh at Oklahoma State (Sept. 17)
The week after hosting Penn State – and the week before opening ACC play against Coastal Division favorite North Carolina – Pittsburgh goes out to Stillwater to face a team hoping to contend for the Big 12 title. The Panthers will look to pound the Cowboys on the ground with Qadree Ollison and James Conner in an attempt to keep Oklahoma State’s explosive offense on the sidelines.
Best of the Rest
South Carolina at Clemson (Nov. 26)
Florida State at South Florida (Sept. 24)
Kentucky at Louisville (Nov. 26)
Duke at Northwestern (Sept. 17)
Duke at Notre Dame (Sept. 24)
Vanderbilt at Georgia Tech (Sept. 17)
Georgia Tech at Georgia (Nov. 26)
North Carolina at Illinois (Sept. 10)
Virginia at Oregon (Sept. 10)
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)