Perhaps a clearer answer may emerge this season as ACC and SEC foes square off nine times this fall. Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Florida State each have two SEC opponents on their upcoming slate of games.
Along with those SEC battles, ACC schools face other interesting non-conference challenges. Here is a list of the top 10 ACC non-conference games this season.
1. Florida State vs. Alabama (Sept. 2 – Atlanta)
In reality, this is not a must-win game for either team. A season-opening loss would not eliminate the Seminoles or the Crimson Tide out of the College Football Playoff hunt. But these are two storied programs that will both be in the top 5 when the season opens, creating a ton of buzz around this contest. FSU and ‘Bama have only met four times with the ‘Noles holding a 2-1-1 edge.
2. Clemson vs. Auburn (Sept. 9)
After watching an ACC-SEC heavyweight battle in week one, round two comes the very next week. There is plenty of optimism at Auburn as Jarrett Stidham comes in from junior college via Baylor to run a new-look offense. Clemson squeaked out a 19-13 victory at Auburn to open last season and the Tigers from the Plains hope to return the favor during their trip to Death Valley.
3. Florida State at Florida (Sept. 25)
The Seminoles have won six of the last seven meetings between the in-state powers with only one of those victories coming by less than two touchdowns. Florida has had trouble scoring points in recent years thanks in large part to mediocre quarterback play. With Deondre Francois at the helm, the Seminoles appear to be in good shape at that position.
4. Pittsburgh at Penn State (Sept. 9)
The Panthers and the Nittany Lions renewed their rivalry last season and Pittsburgh came out on top 42-39 in a game played at Heinz Field. But Penn State improved greatly as the season went on, returns a large part of its explosive offense, and gets Pitt in Happy Valley this year.
5. Miami vs. Notre Dame (Nov. 11)
Thanks to Notre Dame’s agreement with the ACC – and a Sun Bowl matchup in 2010 – the Irish and the Hurricanes have also renewed their once bitter rivalry. This, however, will be the first time that Notre Dame has gone to Miami since 1989. On that night, the Hurricanes ended Notre Dame’s 23-game winning streak on the way to a national title.
6. Pittsburgh vs. Oklahoma State (Sept. 16)
The week after visiting Penn State, the Panthers come home to face the high-flying Cowboys. Pitt was atrocious against the pass last year, as Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph threw for 540 yards in a 45-38 home victory over the Panthers last September. Rudolph, along with top receiver James Washington, returns and will once again present problems for Pat Narduzzi’s defense.
7. Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia (Sept. 3 – Landover, MD)
The Hokies and Mountaineers are former Big East foes and have played each other 50 times, but this is the first meeting since 2005 shortly after Virginia Tech joined the ACC. Both programs suffered key personnel losses after last season, including each quarterback. But both Virginia Tech and West Virginia feel good about their chances heading into this campaign and the season-opener will be filled with emotion.
8. Georgia Tech vs. Georgia (Nov. 25)
Georgia has a lot returning, including 11 defensive starters. The Bulldogs also remember giving away last year’s game in Athens. But the Jackets have 17 starters of their own coming back, including star running back Dedrick Mills.
9. Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee (Sept. 5 – Atlanta)
Georgia Tech’s game with Georgia will be its second of the year against an SEC East power. The Yellow Jackets open the season in a neutral site game just down the road from campus at brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium against the Volunteers. Tennessee played a neutral site game against an ACC team last year, beating Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway.
10. Clemson at South Carolina (Nov. 25)
Clemson’s recent dominance has come at the expense of South Carolina in some respects. The Tigers’ 56-7 home blowout of the Gamecocks is a prime example. But South Carolina has some young stars emerging in quarterback Jake Bentley and running back Rico Dowdle, and the defending national champions lost a lot of firepower to the NFL.
— 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.