Toughest stretch: North Carolina

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: Sept. 27-Oct. 11 (at Clemson, vs. Virginia Tech, at Notre Dame)

Why: An afterthought through the first half of 2013, a second-half surge by North Carolina has the Tar Heels projected by many to represent the Coastal in the ACC championship game. With a soft nonconference schedule to start the season, North Carolina should be riding high at 3-0 going into its game in Death Valley. While Clemson might not be the top-10 team it was a season ago as it breaks in a new offense, the Heels will certainly be tested in that road environment. A victory at Clemson would validate the Heels’ confidence after early wins against non-Power 5 schools.

Once the Coastal power, Virginia Tech is reeling and 2014 could be another tough season in Blacksburg. North Carolina is already listed as a 10-point favorite against the Hokies, and that number could grow if the Heels are 4-0 and Ohio State blows out Virginia Tech on Sept. 6. Still, Frank Beamer is one of the country’s best coaches and might surprise the pundits who are ready to bury college football’s longest-tenured coach. Luckily for the Heels, this one is in Chapel Hill. Games are exponentially tougher when the Hokies have Lane Stadium’s backing.

The stretch ends with a visit to Notre Dame. Much like Clemson, a win against the Irish in South Bend would substantiate the preseason claim that the Heels are a legitimate division contender and a potential Top-25 team in Larry Fedora’s third season. Prognostications vary on how strong the Irish will be, but a victory against even a mediocre Notre Dame squad will go a long way rallying a program looking to break into the ACC’s top tier, which has housed only Clemson and Florida State the last few seasons.