Jimbo Fisher and Florida State open the season in Atlanta against Alabama
Duke started spring practice on Feb. 3, so there’s really no excuse for you slackers to not be looking ahead to the 2017 college football season, is there?
As spring dates inch closer for more and more ACC teams, we’ll take a look at the top non-conference games awaiting the league once the fall finally arrives.
10. UConn vs. Boston College (at Fenway Park), Nov. 18
Boston College won this game 30-0 last season, so the on-field product may not exactly be the biggest selling point here. Luckily for both programs, though, this game will be played at historic Fenway Park, and anyone who saw the Eagles face Notre Dame at the Red Sox’s home in 2015 knows how cool of an environment that truly is.
9. Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech (at Mercedes-Benz Stadium), Sept. 4
It’s the Labor Day night game, which always delivers. Additionally, it’s opening weekend at brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, which may or may not be a de facto home game for the Yellow Jackets, depending on how well Volunteers fans travel. Regardless, the winner will have a great momentum boost after both went 9-4 in 2016.
8. Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia (at FedEx Field), Sept. 2
Justin Fuente had a very successful Year 1 in Blacksburg, replacing a legend by capturing the Coastal division and winning 10 games. But the Hokies will have plenty of new faces offensively, and the Mountaineers will provide a stiff test in this neutral-site matchup in Landover, Md., after a 10-win season themselves.
7. Louisville vs. Purdue (at Lucas Oil Stadium), Sept. 2
Indianapolis will host Jeff Brohm’s first game coaching the Boilermakers, after a brilliant run with Western Kentucky. Brohm, of course, played his college ball at Louisville. This also will be the first encore act for reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.
6. Notre Dame at Miami, Nov. 11
Notre Dame won the first on-campus meeting between the two in 26 years, in 2016. This will be the programs’ first meeting in South Florida since 1989. And, given the late-season date, there could be a lot on the line here.
5. Florida State at Florida, Nov. 25
The Seminoles have won four straight against the Gators, matching a program-best mark in the series (1977-80). Though one-sided in recent years, you can throw out the record books when these two meet. And with FSU on the short list of early 2017 title favorites, there could be plenty at stake here.
4. Clemson at South Carolina, Nov. 25
This rivalry has grown extremely heated in recent years, with Clemson winning three straight after dropping five in a row from 2009-13. The Gamecocks will be out for blood in Year 2 under Will Muschamp, who had a surprising 6-7 year in 2016 but lost in Death Valley by a 56-7 score.
3. Auburn at Clemson, Sept. 9
Auburn’s Tigers came awfully close to stunning Clemson’s Tigers in last year’s opener, so they know they can play with the defending national champs. This also will be the first real test for Clemson with a new starting quarterback, whoever that may be.
2. Pitt at Penn State, Sept. 9
Pitt jumped on Penn State early and held on for dear life in a 42-39 win last season, which was what most expected going in. But when the Nittany Lions ended up winning the Big Ten and were on the cusp of the College Football Playoff, well, guess which team was all-too-happy to take responsibility for keeping them out? Narduzzi-Franklin II should be a fun one.
1. Florida State vs. Alabama (at Mercedes-Benz Stadium), Sept. 2
What more needs to be said? These two teams are widely considered to be the front-runners for the 2017 national title. They will christen Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, while providing immediate clarity to the College Football Playoff picture. Oh, and in case you haven’t heard: Jimbo Fisher used to work for Nick Saban.
— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.