Not all schedules are created equal. That's life in college football. Each slate does, however, present its own set of challenges. Here, we take a look at the toughest stretches that each ACC team will face in 2014, periods that could help determine their fate in the upcoming season.
Toughest stretch: Aug. 30-Sept. 27 (at Georgia, South Carolina State, at Florida State, North Carolina)
Why: Last season, Clemson upset then-No. 5 Georgia 38-35 in its opener at Death Valley, a victory that propelled the Tigers to a 6-0 start and No. 3 national ranking. The Tigers finished 11-2 and played in a BCS bowl game for the second time in three seasons under coach Dabo Swinney, beating Ohio State 40-35 in the Discover Orange Bowl.
This coming season, the Tigers will have another chance to make an opening-night statement when they play Georgia, this time between the hedges at Sanford Stadium on Aug. 30. Beating UGA on the road might be even more difficult, especially without departed quarterback Tajh Boyd and star receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant.
If things don’t go right against Georgia on the road, will the Tigers have enough leadership on offense to keep things intact? Senior Cole Stoudt, who threw 59 passes as a backup last season, is expected to start the season under center. Sure, the Tigers get FCS foe South Carolina State at home on Sept. 6, but then they play at defending BCS national champion Florida State on Sept. 20 and at home against North Carolina on Sept. 27.
The Seminoles blasted the Tigers at Memorial Stadium last season, handing them an ugly 51-14 defeat, one of the worst losses in Clemson history. The Seminoles led 17-0 after the first quarter and scored more points than any other opponent ever had at Death Valley. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston is back after throwing for 444 yards with three touchdowns and one interception against Clemson last season.
The Tar Heels are expected to be among the ACC’s most improved teams this season after winning six of their last seven games to finish 7-6 in 2013. After a dreadful 1-5 start a year ago, the Tar Heels finally seemed to figure out coach Larry Fedora’s spread offense. Of course, UNC still has a long way to go on defense after surrendering 24.5 points per game last season.
The good news for Clemson: It plays an FCS foe a week after facing Georgia and then gets a bye week before playing FSU. Regardless, it’s still the Tigers’ toughest stretch of the season.