- Jared Shanker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Not all schedules are created equal. That's life in college football. Each slate does, however, present its own set of challenges. We're taking 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: Oct. 11-30 (at Clemson, vs. NC State, vs. Florida State)
Why: While Bobby Petrino inherits a program that has won 23 games over the last two seasons, the expectation is Louisville will undergo growing pains as Petrino rebuilds the Cardinals in his image for the second time. However, if Louisville does make a surprise run and is in the race for the ACC title, the Cards will need to win at least two games during that October stretch.
Clemson has recruited extremely well over the last few cycles, and its defense -- specifically the line -- could be the ACC’s best. The offense is suspect going into the season as Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins embark on their NFL careers. Running back Roderick McDowell, who totaled more than 1,000 yards last season, has also left Clemson for the pro ranks. If new starter Cole Stoudt struggles and the high-octane offense that lit up scoreboards the last few seasons takes a giant leap backward, the Tigers could be susceptible to an upset from the visiting Cardinals. Clemson conceivably could have three losses heading into this game, and if that is the case, the Cardinals could take advantage.
NC State, coming off a winless ACC campaign in Dave Doeren’s first season, do not appear to be much of a threat. It is a divisional game, though, and the Cardinals cannot look ahead to Florida State, which they host for a prime time Thursday night game.
The Seminoles are in position to run the table again in 2014 en route to consecutive national championships, and few are looking at this game as one that could trip up Florida State. The Cardinals will have 11 days to prepare for the game (as do the Seminoles) and predicting Thursday night games is always a crapshoot, especially with a home underdog. Petrino, personal opinions aside, is one of the better coaches in the country, and it would be foolish to count him out four months before the game is played.
If the Cardinals beat Florida State, it could set up some interesting scenarios in the division, especially if Clemson beats Louisville and Florida State takes care of the Tigers in Tallahassee in September. The rest of the Cardinals' conference schedule is very manageable.
Few expect Louisville to make noise in the conference during its inaugural season, but perceptions could change quickly with a road win at Clemson to start this three-game stretch.