ACC: 2012 schedule analysis

ACC viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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Miami silenced Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium fairly early Thursday night. Will we find more drama in the rest of the Week 9 slate?

Noon

North Carolina at Virginia, ESPN3, #UNCvsUVA: Marquise Williams is coming off consecutive career outings. Virginia is looking to get back on the winning track after losing to reigning Coastal division champion Duke last week. Can its defense make another big stand and make life difficult for the red-hot UNC offense? Or have the Heels found their second-half groove after a poor start, much like they did last year?

3:30 p.m.

Boston College at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #BCvsWAKE: John Wolford is good to go for Wake after leaving last week's 30-7 home loss to Syracuse. He'll face a BC team that gave Clemson all it could handle last week before falling just short. Still, the 4-3 Eagles are on the brink of back-to-back bowl games under Steve Addazio in his first two years, and their rushing game (No. 9 nationally) should be a handful for a Demon Deacons defense that has been stout this season.

Georgia Tech at Pitt, ESPNU, #GTvsPITT: Is it panic time in Atlanta? A 5-0 start has been met with consecutive losses, including a 48-43 defeat last week at North Carolina in which the defense simply could not make a stop late. Pitt hopes it turned the corner last Thursday in its win over Virginia Tech, but it needs more diversity on the offensive side of the ball, which has been too reliant on James Conner and Tyler Boyd. Its defense does not have Aaron Donald and his dominant performance last year against the Yellow Jackets, but it has been playing well so far this season, ranking 14th nationally in scoring average (18.6).

7 p.m.

Syracuse at No. 21 Clemson, ESPNU, #CUSEvsCLEM: Scott Shafer and Dabo Swinney have made up after last year's Tigers rout in the Carrier Dome. Both teams are in their second straight week with their current signal-caller, as freshman AJ Long led the Orange past Wake Forest in their first career start and Cole Stoudt returned as Clemson's starter in its win at BC. Will the Orange's offensive line give Long a chance against the Tigers' stout front? This game ends a brutal stretch for the Orange, who faced Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State before Wake last week.

Schedule analysis: Wake Forest

June, 26, 2012
6/26/12
9:00
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WAKE FOREST

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
  • Liberty (7-4)
  • Army (3-9)
  • At Notre Dame (8-5)
  • Vanderbilt (6-7)
ACC home games
  • North Carolina
  • Duke
  • Clemson
  • Boston College
ACC road games
  • At Florida State
  • At Maryland
  • At Virginia
  • At NC State
Gut-check time: Sept. 15 at Florida State. Florida State fans are sick and tired of hearing about Wake Forest. Imagine how the Seminoles feel. Nobody needs to remind them that FSU has lost to the Deacs in four of the past six games, including last year’s 35-30 loss. And now, with expectations soaring for Florida State, the smallest school in the BCS thinks it’s going to roll into Tallahassee and do it again? FSU fans say puh-lease. Not a chance. Not with this loaded roaster. Wake Forest, though, has recruited the state of Florida well, including a little place called Pahokee. The Deacs are well-coached and usually disciplined. Do they have what it takes, though, to beat the Atlantic Division favorites on the road?

Trap game: Sept. 29 versus Duke. Those of you who have been following this series might have realized by now that Duke has a chance to surprise some teams this season. The Deacs’ series against the Blue Devils has been one of the ACC’s most entertaining and tightly contested in recent years. Since 2005, when Duke lost 44-6 to Wake Forest, the Blue Devils have lost five of six games in this series by a combined 16 points. Three of those games (2011, 24-23; 2008, 33-30 OT; 2006, 14-13), have been by a field goal or less. Despite the close games, Wake Forest has won 12 straight against Duke. This could be the year the tables turn.

Snoozer: Sept. 1 versus Liberty. This is the only tune-up the Deacs get, though, as they go right into back-to-back conference games in Weeks 2 and 3.

Defining stretch: Oct. 25-Nov. 10 (Clemson, Boston College at NC State). The Deacs host the defending division champs on a Thursday night, and then have back-to-back games against two more Atlantic Division opponents. Wake Forest came within a field goal to beat Clemson last year, a shock to many following the conference race. The Deacs were able to beat NC State, but that will be more difficult this year in Raleigh. If Wake Forest is going to make another run at the division title, it will likely have to go 3-0 in this stretch (unless it somehow escapes Tallahassee with a win).

Final analysis: Wake Forest is fortunate it doesn’t have to play Coastal Division favorites Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, but road trips to Florida State and NC State will make it difficult to build upon last year’s surprise run in the Atlantic Division race. This is a difficult schedule for the Deacs because they’ve got to be good early with three league games in the first five weeks. The bye week comes at a good time, the midpoint of the season, so they’ll get a chance to recharge and heal before the most difficult stretch. Road wins within the division will be a must, as Wake Forest has to travel to Florida State, Maryland and NC State. It’s likely Wake Forest will be a better team than it was a year ago, but this schedule might make that difficult to see in the Atlantic Division standings. With three winnable home nonconference games, though, the Deacs should be bowling again.

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Schedule analysis: Virginia Tech

June, 25, 2012
6/25/12
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VIRGINIA TECH

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
  • Austin Peay (3-8)
  • At Pittsburgh (6-7)
  • Bowling Green (5-7)
  • Vs. Cincinnati (10-3)
ACC home games
  • Georgia Tech
  • Duke
  • Florida State
  • Virginia
ACC road games
  • At North Carolina
  • At Clemson
  • At Miami
  • At Boston College
Gut-check time: Take your pick between Sept. 3 versus the Jackets, Oct. 20 at Clemson, or Nov. 8 against Florida State. My pick is the October game in Death Valley. While the other two might play a bigger role in the ACC race, this game is about pride and redemption. Virginia Tech was beaten soundly twice last year by Clemson -- once during the regular season and again in the ACC championship game. Now the Hokies will be looking to turn the tables, and they’ll have to do it on the road in one of the league’s most hostile stadiums. In two games last year, Virginia Tech scored a total of 13 points against Clemson. How much will that motivate them?

Trap game: Nov. 1 at Miami. The matchup against the Canes was one of the most exciting games in the ACC in 2011. Both teams will have a bye week to prepare for the Thursday night game, and Miami will have finally had three straight home games after a tough stretch on the road to start the season. By this point in the season, the Canes shouldn’t look so young anymore and will be ready for the Hokies.

Snoozer: Austin Peay. It was a fill-in for East Carolina, which was pushed back so the Hokies could open with Alabama in 2013.

Defining stretch: Oct. 20-Nov. 10 (at Clemson, at Miami, Florida State). A road trip to Death Valley, followed by back-to-back Thursday night games. This lineup also includes Atlantic Division favorite Florida State. Yes, the season opener against Georgia Tech is important. Historically, the winner of that game has won the Coastal Division. But a win against the Jackets in Week 1 will be less significant if Virginia Tech can’t get past the two best teams in the Atlantic Division.

Final analysis: With Atlantic Division opponents Florida State and Clemson in the lineup, the Hokies have arguably the toughest cross division schedule in the ACC. With Georgia Tech scheduled for Week 1, Virginia Tech will know early who has the lead in the Coastal Division standings. It’s a difficult way to open the season, considering the Hokies will have four new starters on the offensive line and a new starting tailback. A win over the Jackets could snowball into a five-game winning streak because of a very manageable nonconference schedule, with the toughest games being a road trip to Pitt and a game against Cincinnati at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. The key to returning to the ACC championship game will be how the Hokies fare against Georgia Tech, Clemson and Florida State. Be wary: a fast start could be deceiving.

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Schedule analysis: Virginia

June, 22, 2012
6/22/12
9:00
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VIRGINIA

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
  • Richmond (3-8)
  • Penn State (9-4)
  • At TCU (11-2)
  • Louisiana Tech (8-5)
ACC home games
  • Maryland
  • Wake Forest
  • Miami
  • North Carolina
ACC road games
  • At Georgia Tech
  • At Duke
  • At NC State
  • At Virginia Tech
Gut-check time: Nov. 24 at Virginia Tech, of course. 38-zip. ‘Nuff said. UVa was on a roll last year -- a four-game winning streak, ranked in the top 25, and one of the hottest teams in the ACC. Instead of making a statement against its in-state rival with the Coastal Division title on the line, UVa suffered its first shutout loss at home in 172 games. Ouch. Virginia has made progress under coach Mike London, but last year’s game showed there is still a gap between the two programs. In order for the balance of power to even start to shift back to Charlottesville, the Hoos have to leave Blacksburg with a win this year.

Trap game: Louisiana Tech. ESPN Insider Travis Haney listed La Tech as one of the top five BCS buster candidates for 2012Insider.

Snoozer: Sept. 1 vs. Richmond. I know, I know, it’s London’s old team, so there is the plotline of familiarity there. But it’s still an FCS team and UVa should have the upper hand. Should.

Defining stretch: Nov. 10-Nov. 24 (Miami, North Carolina, at Virginia). Will it be a November to remember for UVa, or one to forget? The Hoos end the season with three straight Coastal Division opponents, which will determine their final place in the league standings. A Thursday night game against UNC followed by a road trip to Blacksburg will put UVa in the spotlight.

Final analysis: Virginia is going to have to win on the road if it’s going to be a factor in the Coastal Division race, let alone get to a bowl game again. At Georgia Tech. At TCU. At Duke (which it lost to three of the past four years). At NC State and at rival Virginia Tech. Those are tough trips, especially to Atlanta, TCU and Blacksburg. This is a tough schedule for a defense that has to replace seven starters. With a bye week that doesn’t come until Oct. 27, Virginia won’t have any time to rest in the first half of the season, and the game against Georgia Tech will determine an early pecking order in the division standings. We should know by the end of September how seriously to take Virginia’s postseason chances because it will have already faced plenty of legitimate competition.

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Schedule analysis: NC State

June, 21, 2012
6/21/12
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NC STATE

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
  • Tennessee (5-7)
  • At Connecticut (5-7)
  • South Alabama (6-4)
  • The Citadel (4-7)
ACC home games
  • Florida State
  • Virginia
  • Wake Forest
  • Boston College
ACC road games
  • At Miami
  • At Maryland
  • At North Carolina
  • At Clemson
Gut-check time: Oct. 6 vs. Florida State. There’s a reason NC State has been overshadowed by Florida State in the Atlantic Division: The Noles have recruited much better. Florida State is a deeper, more athletic team, which is why it is favored to win the division this season. NC State was embarrassed by FSU last year, 34-0. NC State, though, is on the brink of turning the corner under coach Tom O’Brien. If the Wolfpack is going to emerge from the shadows of FSU and become a true player in the ACC race, it must win this game.

Trap game: Oct. 20 at Maryland. Will the Wolfpack be looking ahead to the following week’s matchup at rival North Carolina? The expectations aren’t high for Maryland in coach Randy Edsall’s second season – unless you ask the guys in College Park. They’re certainly not going to roll over for anyone, and are determined to put last year’s 2-10 season behind them. The Terps’ defensive line should be a good matchup against NC State’s offensive line.

Snoozer: Sept. 15 vs. South Alabama. NC State won this game 35-13 last year.

Defining stretch: Oct. 6-Oct. 27 (vs. Florida State, at Maryland, at UNC). You could argue that the final three weeks of the season -- against Atlantic Division opponents Wake Forest, Clemson and Boston College -- will be the tell-tale stretch for the Pack, but it won’t matter much if NC State can’t handle FSU and back-to-back road trips to Maryland and UNC. The game against Florida State will affect the Atlantic Division standings, and the rivalry game against the Tar Heels will be an emotional week, win or lose. NC State will try to beat UNC for the sixth consecutive season, and will have to do it in Chapel Hill. NC State is typically at its best in the second half of the season under O’Brien and that will have to hold true again if the Wolfpack is going to escape this stretch unscathed.

Final analysis: NC State will likely be looking up at Florida State and Clemson in the preseason predictions this year, but there is a quiet confidence brewing in Raleigh. The nonconference schedule is conducive to a 4-0 start, and a win at Miami isn’t unreasonable. Could NC State really be 5-0 heading into its home game against the Noles? On paper, yes. The key is a fast start, and NC State could turn the ACC race upside down this year.

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Schedule analysis: North Carolina

June, 20, 2012
6/20/12
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NORTH CAROLINA

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
  • Elon (5-6)
  • At Louisville (7-6)
  • East Carolina (5-7)
  • Idaho (2-10)
ACC home games
  • Virginia Tech
  • NC State
  • Georgia Tech
  • Maryland
ACC road games
  • At Wake Forest
  • At Miami
  • At Duke
  • At Virginia
Gut-check time: Oct. 27 vs. NC State. Does any other game on the schedule even matter this year? UNC can’t go to a bowl game or win the conference title because of NCAA sanctions, so THIS is North Carolina’s bowl game. The Tar Heels have lost to NC State five straight times. C’mon, man. Larry Fedora has a chance to do what his predecessor could not -- beat Tom O’Brien. It’s gut-check time.

Trap game: Sept. 22 against East Carolina. Those pesky Pirates always seem to give ACC teams fits.

Snoozer: Sept. 1 vs. Elon. UNC will have one week to get the kinks out under Fedora’s new schemes before travelling to Wake Forest for the first league game of the season.

Defining stretch: Can I just write Oct. 27 again? A defining four quarters? OK, OK … Oct. 6-Oct. 27 (Virginia Tech, at Miami, at Duke, NC State). At the midpoint of the season, the players should be more comfortable with the changes Fedora has made, and they will have a chance to derail the Hokies and beat their in-state rivals. Back-to-back road trips at Miami and Duke look a lot friendlier on paper than they actually will be. These four weeks will provide a good barometer of how quickly the Tar Heels have progressed under Fedora, and where they stand in comparison to the division favorites, Virginia Tech.

Final analysis: The NCAA has taken the postseason away from UNC, so the Tar Heels are playing the role of spoiler this year. They’ve got two of their toughest division opponents at home in Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, and will also have home-field advantage for rival NC State. The nonconference schedule is one of the easiest in the ACC, and a bye week before facing Georgia Tech always helps in defensive preparation. UNC has been trying to get over the eight-win hump, and it couldn’t line up much better for Fedora in his first season. It’s up to him to take advantage of it.

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Schedule analysis: Miami

June, 19, 2012
6/19/12
9:00
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MIAMI

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
  • At Kansas State (10-3)
  • Bethune-Cookman (8-3)
  • Notre Dame (Chicago) (8-5)
  • South Florida (5-7)
ACC home games
  • NC State
  • North Carolina
  • Florida State
  • Virginia Tech
ACC road games
  • At Boston College
  • At Georgia Tech
  • At Virginia
  • At Duke
Gut-check time: Oct. 20 vs. Florida State. There are several games on this schedule that will be gut-checks for Miami, including the season opener against Boston College and the home Thursday night game against the Hokies. The Canes have lost the past two games against their in-state rivals, though, and if Miami is ever going to reclaim any of its relevance, it has to first win the state championship and an ACC championship. Right now, the Noles are ahead of the game and standing in the way of both goals. With so much rebuilding, particularly on offense, the Canes aren’t looking like a factor in the ACC race right now, so a win against FSU will carry more weight within the program, fan bases and recruiting than it would implications in the league standings.

Trap game: Nov. 24 at Duke. I’ve mentioned this a few dozen times before, but Duke is on the verge of beating a program it’s “not supposed to,” and this would be the perfect opportunity for the Blue Devils to take advantage of Miami. Duke won’t have to travel, and the Blue Devils could have the better quarterback. This is a game Miami can’t overlook.

Snoozer: Bethune-Cookman. Miami will need a break after opening with back-to-back road games at BC and K-State.

Defining stretch: Sept. 1-Sept. 22 (at Boston College, at Kansas State, Bethune-Cookman, at Georgia Tech). With three of four games on the road to open the season -- including two games against conference opponents -- Miami has no choice but to start strong. That’s a lot to ask of such a young team that has to replace seven starters on offense.

Final analysis: This is one of the most difficult schedules in the ACC, and it isn’t very rookie-friendly with four of the first six games on the road, including a trip to Soldier Field in Chicago. Miami wants to win the Coastal Division as always, but will this team even be bowl eligible? The Canes still need to name their starting quarterback, find a new starting running back, starting receivers, and three new starters on the offensive line. They also have the uncertainty of the NCAA investigation still hanging over their program. It’s not all doom and gloom -- Miami has one of the nation’s top recruiting classes to work with this summer. How the Canes fare at Boston College in Week 1 will reveal a lot about which direction the team is headed.

Schedule analysis: Maryland

June, 18, 2012
6/18/12
11:00
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MARYLAND

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
  • William & Mary (5-6)
  • At Temple (9-4)
  • Connecticut (5-7)
  • At West Virginia (10-3)
ACC home games
  • Wake Forest
  • NC State
  • Georgia Tech
  • Florida State
ACC road games
  • At Virginia
  • At Boston College
  • At Clemson
  • At North Carolina
Gut-check time: Oct. 13 at Virginia. Maryland has lost to its neighbor four of the past five seasons, the lone exception being 2010. The Terps consider the Hoos a rival because they compete against each other in recruiting, and the proximity of the two schools breeds some contempt. Virginia’s rival is Virginia Tech, but it’s also a game they take very seriously in Charlotte, so bragging rights will also be at stake. Mike London will be entering his third season, while Maryland coach Randy Edsall will be entering his second. London has obviously had more time to build the foundation for his program, but if Edsall is going to get things turned around from last year’s 2-10 finish, he’s got to show he’s at least on par with UVa.

Trap game: Sept. 8 at Temple. You’d think Maryland would be able to hang with a MAC team, right? Last year Maryland lost at home to Temple 38-7. At home! If the perception of Maryland and Edsall is going to change, the Terps can’t afford to lose this game and get off to a bad start. If they lose this one, a bowl bid would seem even less likely.

Snoozer: After a 2-10 season, not even William & Mary is a given. We’ve seen it happen before in the ACC.

Defining stretch: Sept. 1-Sept. 22 (William & Mary, at Temple, Connecticut, at West Virginia). That’s right -- not one conference game in the lineup. Maryland’s nonconference September will determine if a turnaround truly took place this summer under Edsall. They’ll face his old team in Connecticut, and a road trip to what should be a preseason top 10 West Virginia team. As mentioned before, the trip to Philly should be taken seriously. Maryland needs to go 3-1 during this stretch to have any hope at a bowl game.

Final analysis: As of right now, Maryland doesn’t look like a real player in the Atlantic Division race, so the focus here is on whether the Terps can get six wins and get back to a bowl game. That would be a victory for Edsall in his second season and help ease some of the heat on him. They’ve got a good chance if they can get through September with a lone loss to West Virginia. The bye week would give Maryland time to prepare for Wake Forest and Virginia, and a win over Boston College would make the Terps bowl eligible. In order to do that, though, Maryland HAS to be able to win on the road -- at Temple, at Virginia and at Boston College. Maryland’s defense should surprise some ACC fans this year. It’s going to have to be good, considering the questions and turnover the offense will have to overcome. Whether it’s good enough to carry the Terps to at least six wins? We should know by the end of September.
GEORGIA TECH

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
  • Presbyterian (4-7)
  • Middle Tennessee (2-10)
  • BYU (10-3)
  • At Georgia (10-4)
ACC home games
  • Virginia
  • Miami
  • Boston College
  • Duke
ACC road games
  • At Virginia Tech
  • At Clemson
  • At Maryland
  • At North Carolina
Gut-check time: Day one. Right off the bat we’ll find out what the Jackets are made of, as they have to travel to Blacksburg for a Labor Day opener against Virginia Tech. This game has historically decided the winner of the Coastal Division, and it should again carry such lofty implications. For those who say it will be an advantage for Virginia Tech’s defense to have the whole summer to prepare for Paul Johnson’s spread option offense, I don’t completely buy that as a game-changing advantage because Al Groh has just as much time to prepare his defense for Logan Thomas. Sure, it’s better to have more than a regular game week to prepare for a scheme you don’t see on a regular basis, but Georgia Tech has the entire summer, too. Virginia Tech will have the better quarterback, the better defense and a true home-field advantage. Georgia Tech will have the better offensive line and most likely running backs.

Trap game: Nov. 10 at North Carolina. Groh’s defense better be ready for this one. First-year coach Larry Fedora will have his offense moving quickly, and by November, quarterback Bryn Renner and his teammates should be executing it fairly smoothly. At this point in the season, the Jackets could very well be leading the Coastal Division standings. Will they lose their grip to a team that can’t even compete in the postseason because of NCAA sanctions?

Snoozer: Presbyterian. Next, please …

Defining stretch: Sept. 1-Sept. 22. It’s kind of difficult to pinpoint a "defining stretch" for Georgia Tech because its most important games are spread out through the course of the season. With three Coastal Division opponents in the first four weeks of the season, though, we’ll know early on where Georgia Tech stands in the conference race. Don’t forget that last year, after an impressive 6-0 start to the season, Georgia Tech lost back-to-back games against Virginia and Miami, both on the road. The Jackets certainly didn’t forget. Depending on what happens in the season opener, Georgia Tech could be looking at a 5-0 start heading into Death Valley on Oct. 6. At the very least, it could have some significant momentum.

Final analysis: It all goes back to how Georgia Tech plays in the season opener against Virginia Tech. It’s an important game that will affect the division race, but because it’s the first game of the season, there is margin for error for both teams. In order to unseat the Hokies, though, they’ve got to beat the Hokies. The road trip to Clemson will be the next biggest challenge. If the Jackets can get to their bye week at least 3-1 in the ACC, they should be good enough to get to Charlotte this year. Of course, that means avoiding an upset in the second half of the season. Beating Georgia in the regular-season finale would be a bonus, but at this point, it doesn’t seem likely.

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Schedule analysis: Florida State

June, 14, 2012
6/14/12
11:00
AM ET
FLORIDA STATE

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
  • Murray State (7-4)
  • Savannah State (1-10)
  • At South Florida (5-7)
  • Florida (7-6)
ACC home games
  • Wake Forest
  • Clemson
  • Boston College
  • Duke
ACC road games
  • At NC State
  • At Miami
  • At Virginia Tech
  • At Maryland
Gut-check time: Nov. 8 at Virginia Tech. If Florida State is truly going to live up to the preseason hype this year and play for more than an ACC title, it must be able to win in Blacksburg on a Thursday night. These teams last met in the 2010 ACC championship game in Charlotte, N.C., and the Hokies won, 44-33. Virginia Tech has owned the league since it joined the ACC, and FSU has faded into the background, its last league title coming in 2005. In order for that to change, this is a must-win game for the Noles.

Trap game: Sept. 15 vs. Wake Forest. It’s a home game. It’s the smallest school in the BCS. But the Deacs know how to beat Florida State. Wake Forest won, 35-30, last year, and has now won four of the past six in the series. FSU can’t afford to look past the Deacs to the following week’s matchup against Clemson.

Snoozer: The first two weeks. Wake me up when the Deacs get to town.

Defining stretch: Sept. 15-Oct. 6 (vs. Wake Forest, vs. Clemson, at South Florida, at NC State). This is the most important stretch because FSU will face it’s three most difficult Atlantic Division opponents, and it has to play NC State on the road. If the Noles can avoid another upset by the Deacs and beat Clemson and NC State, it should win the division.

Final analysis: This is a difficult schedule, even for a preseason top 10 team. The odds of Florida State making it through its ACC road slate unscathed seem slim. Still, it will be a definite advantage to play Clemson at home and the Noles should be 3-0 heading into that game. Florida State should be a much better team than Miami this year, but playing their rival on the road will bring out the best in the Canes, and anything can happen. If Florida State can stay healthy, though, (unlike last year), they could be undefeated heading into Blacksburg. Unlike the Hokies, Florida State will have a bye week to prepare for that Thursday night game. On paper, Florida State should be favored against every team it will line up against this year. In the ever-unpredictable ACC, though, don’t be surprised if Wake Forest or NC State ruins the Noles’ plans this year.

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Schedule analysis: Duke

June, 13, 2012
6/13/12
11:00
AM ET
DUKE

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
  • Florida International (8-5)
  • At Stanford (11-2)
  • NC Central (2-9)
  • Memphis (2-10)
ACC home games
  • Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • Clemson
  • Miami
ACC road games
  • At Wake Forest
  • At Virginia Tech
  • At Florida State
  • At Georgia Tech
Gut-check time: Sept. 1 vs. FIU. Last year, Duke’s bowl bubble burst in Week 1. A loss to FCS Richmond in the season opener -- the second such loss under coach David Cutcliffe -- sapped the optimism surrounding the program. Duke had the potential for a breakthrough season, but instead got off to a start looking much like the same old Duke. In order to change that perception, Duke needs a win against a talented FIU team that returns 17 starters and has been to back-to-back bowl games.

Trap game: There is no such thing in Durham -- at least not now. Until Duke proves it can beat the likes of Richmond on a regular basis, and wins more than it loses, this category is somewhat obsolete.

Snoozer: You’d think at least NC Central would be a gimme, right?

Defining stretch: Sept. 29-Oct. 6. It’s only two games (at Wake Forest and home against Virginia), but they’re both must-wins if Duke is going to get to the postseason. Let’s give Duke some credit and assume the Blue Devils go 3-1 in their nonconference schedule with the lone loss to Stanford. It won’t be easy to find three more wins in the ACC, but in Cutcliffe’s fifth season, his program should be able to earn back-to-back wins against teams the caliber of Wake Forest and UVa. In order for Duke to go bowling, it must “win the winnable games,” and those opponents top the list in the ACC.

Final analysis: Duke should go bowling this year. It’s that simple. After five seasons under Cutcliffe, enough pieces should be in place for the Blue Devils to reach the six-win mark. They have one of the most talented (albeit underrated) quarterbacks in the ACC, and a nonconference schedule conducive to a 3-1 start. The key for Duke to actually become bowl eligible is to beat a team it’s “not supposed to,” – a Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech, for example. Duke has a bye week before it has to travel to Atlanta on Nov. 17, but the players won’t get a break until mid-November. That means they’ve got to be strong and well-conditioned to win the close games in the fourth quarter. Duke has lost a total of eight games over the past two years by seven or fewer points, including last year to bowl-bound Virginia Tech (14-10) and Wake Forest (23-22). If Duke is going to take the next step under Cutcliffe, it has to find a way to win the close ones.

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Schedule analysis: Clemson

June, 12, 2012
6/12/12
4:30
PM ET
CLEMSON

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
  • Auburn (8-5)
  • Ball State (6-6)
  • Furman (6-5)
  • South Carolina (11-2)
ACC home games
  • Georgia Tech
  • Virginia Tech
  • Maryland
  • NC State
ACC road games
  • At Florida State
  • At Boston College
  • At Wake Forest
  • At Duke
Gut-check time: Sept. 22 at Florida State. It’s on the road against the Atlantic Division front-runners. This is the game that could determine the division winner. Last year, Clemson beat the Noles, 35-30, in Death Valley and went on to win the ACC title. FSU played without injured starting quarterback EJ Manuel, though, and backup Clint Trickett kept the Noles in the game. With Manuel in the lineup, this game will feature two of the ACC’s best quarterbacks in he and Tajh Boyd. Will Boyd have what it takes to score on what should be one of the country’s best defenses?

Trap game: at Wake Forest (Oct. 25). No, Winston-Salem isn’t exactly as daunting as Blacksburg on a Thursday night, but if you remember, the Deacs came within a field goal of beating Clemson in Death Valley last year. Wake Forest is going to be a respectable team that could take the division by surprise this season. It has enough playmakers and experience on offense to improve upon last year’s 6-7 record. It will also have the confidence to know it can hang with the 2011 league champs.

Snoozer: Furman. Yawn. There’s only one FCS team on the schedule, and it shouldn’t be a problem.

Defining stretch: Sept. 22-Oct. 20. Games against Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech will determine Clemson’s place in the ACC race this year. The Tigers also have to travel to Boston College a week after playing in Tallahassee. Clemson has a bye week to prepare of the Hokies, but Virginia Tech will be looking for redemption after losing to Clemson twice last year, including in the ACC title game.

Final analysis: Two of the more important games on Clemson’s schedule weren’t even mentioned yet -- the opener against Auburn and the regular-season finale against rival South Carolina. Clemson will face Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff, and coach Dabo Swinney will be looking to beat South Carolina for the first time in four tries. A win over Auburn would be huge because it would likely propel Clemson to a 3-0 start heading into the trip to Tallahassee. (FSU also has a great chance to start out 3-0 with possible wins over Murray State, Savannah State and Wake Forest.)

The game in Tallahassee will be important, but don’t forget about NC State on Nov. 17. The Wolfpack knocked off then-No. 7 Clemson a year ago and should again be good enough to win that game. This is a similar schedule to what Clemson faced last season, when it started out 8-0. Whether the Tigers can improve upon that success again depends on if they can handle Auburn and Florida State early.

More in this series

Schedule analysis: Boston College

June, 11, 2012
6/11/12
2:30
PM ET
It’s gut-check time in the ACC. We’re going to take a look at each team’s schedule and break down where the pitfalls might be. We'll start today in alphabetical order:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
  • Maine (9-4)
  • at Northwestern (6-7)
  • at Army (3-9)
  • Notre Dame (8-5)
ACC home games
  • Miami
  • Clemson
  • Maryland
  • Virginia Tech
ACC road games
  • at Florida State
  • at Georgia Tech
  • at Wake Forest
  • at NC State
Gut-check time: Back-to-back October road trips to Florida State and Georgia Tech will tell us what this team is made of. The Noles should be favored to win their division, and the Jackets are a contender in the Coastal Division race. If BC is going to return to relevance in the conference race, it has to be able to beat the strongest teams in both divisions.

Trap game: Don’t forget BC only won four games last year, so no team should be taken lightly. The Oct. 6 road trip to Army could be a pitfall for the Eagles. In his preseason magazine, Phil Steele predicted the Black Knights will get their second bowl bid in three years and be one of the country’s most improved teams.

Snoozer: Maine. Zzzz. Boston College shouldn’t have trouble with an FCS team from the CAA.

Defining stretch: Oct. 6-Nov. 3 (at Army, at Florida State, at Georgia Tech, Maryland, at Wake Forest). You’ll notice that four of these five games are on the road, and three of them are against Atlantic Division opponents. If Boston College is going to return to the postseason in any form, it must find a way to beat Army, Maryland and Wake Forest. If the Eagles can surprise either FSU or Georgia Tech, they should be able to reach the six-win mark. Bowl eligibility appears to be a more realistic goal right now than winning the division title.

Final analysis: The most important game will be the first, as BC’s result against Miami in the season opener will set the tone for the rest of the season. The Eagles are trying to rebound from their first losing season since 1998, and now that coach Frank Spaziani is entering his fourth season, they should be expected to at least go 2-2 in their nonconference schedule (you’d think they could beat Maine and Army). Last year the Eagles beat Miami, but lost at home to Northwestern and the Wildcats’ backup quarterback. They also lost to Notre Dame 16-14.

BC gets defending ACC champ Clemson at home this year, but has to travel to FSU and NC State, two more teams that will keep the Eagles out of the division race. This schedule is going to make it tough for BC to get to a bowl game. A fast start is imperative, and so is a good strength and conditioning program. With the bye week on Sept. 22 (the earliest in the conference), the Eagles have got to be strong enough to play for nine straight weeks.

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