Good morning, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) fans. We are right in the thick of ACC basketball season – right at the halfway point, as a matter of fact. We’ll have some midseason grades here at some point on the site for each ACC men’s basketball team.
Ah – but some of us – like @TalkinACCSports (Jeffrey Fann) and I – really miss ACC football. This week, @TalkinACCSports did a post this week on five things to like about the ACC football schedule. You can check that post out here. Jeff also posted on five things that he doesn’t like about the ACC football schedule (and he’s right – Virginia Tech shouldn’t have seven weeks between Saturday home games – that really sucks).
It’s time for my take… here we go:
1.) The Opportunity for ACC Football Teams to Make Some Statements in Early Non-Conference Games
Clemson, the runner-up in the National College Football Playoff, come right out of the gate vs. Auburn on September 3, 2016 (Sure to be a primetime game). Clemson has the best player in college football in Deshaun Watson – and I expect the Tigers to drill Auburn. Also on September 3, 2016, North Carolina plays Georgia in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome. This is is Kirby Smart’s first game as a head football coach (not just his first game as head coach at Georgia, this is his first game as a head football coach) – North Carolina has improved enough as a program and has an opportunity to win here. For the first time in several years, Penn State goes on the road to Pittsburgh (!!!!!!!!!!!!!) – that game is on September 10, 2016. Finally, also on September 10, 2016, Virginia Tech takes on the Tennessee Volunteers at Bristol Motor Speedway (in Bristol, TN). This will be the most highly attended college game in the history of the sport.
2.) Can the Duke Football Program Take the Next Step or Two?
Duke just won its first bowl game vs. Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl (NYC) this past year. Duke has a couple of steps it needs to take as football program. First, Duke plays at Northwestern on Saturday, September 17, 2016. Can the Blue Devils get a big win on the road at a Power Five opponent? Second, we all know about the stadium renovations at Wallace-Wade Stadium – are Blue Devils fans gonna fill that place with fans, though (especially on Thursday night, November 10, 2016 vs. in a nationally televised game vs. North Carolina)? David Cutcliffe certainly deserves a better home field advantage than what he has (and that’s putting it mildly).
3.) Important Early Season Conference Games
Well, let’s take at the schedule, shall we? Louisville, after taking on Charlotte and Syracuse in weeks 1 and 2, respectively, gets Florida State at home on September 17, 2016 (this is probably going to be a primetime game on ESPN). This is a HUGE opportunity for the Louisville Cardinals to get an important win at home – and break out of the third spot in the ACC Atlantic Division. Florida State isn’t really sure who it’s quarterback is yet – and this game could be quite interesting. I’ll say this again – this is a huge opportunity for the Cardinals (the nation will be watching this game). Let’s go over to the Coastal Division on September 24, 2016 – Pittsburgh head on the road to North Carolina. This game could go a long way in determining who wins the ACC’s Coastal Division. The Panthers return a lot starters on both sides of the ball – and have a terrific coach in Pat Narduzzi. North Carolina returns most of its offense, but might working out some kinks with a new quarterback.
4.) The New Coaches in the Coastal Division (and one in the Atlantic) – On The Stage in Big Games?
Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech) – By all accounts, the Fuente hire by Virginia Tech was the highest rated in the country. Many journalists gave Whit Babcock five-star praise for the Fuente hire as it’s really hard to replace a legend like Frank Beamer). What’s even better here is that Fuente convinced Bud Foster to stay as defensive coordinator (and he promoted Foster to Associate Head Coach). Word on the street is that Fuente is developing terrific relationships with the high school coaches in Virginia, which is really important. The Hokies have to reclaim some of the turf in Commonwealth as far as recruiting is concerned. Upgrading the talent on the field is a key to building the program and getting some more wins. Fuente starts off with a big game vs. Tennessee as we mentioned above.
Mark Richt (Miami) – Many of us think that Miami, quite frankly, made a better than Georgia did – by the Hurricanes hiring former Georgia head football coach, and Hurricanes alumnus, Mark Richt. Richt knows a thing or two about offense – so you’re definitely going to see the Hurricanes improve on that side of the ball. Richt is a high-profile guy that Miami needed – and could afford. Miami had better look out Appalachian State – just saying (am I seeing this right – on the road?!?!).
Bronco Mendenhall (Virginia) – Mike London is gone – good heavens, I miss him already and the law enforcement jokes on Twitter and in our podcast. Seriously, though, no one saw this hire coming – and Mendenhall is a consistent coach who always won at least eight games at Brigham Young University. I’ll be interested to see how he works out here on the East Coast as he really doesn’t too many ties here (but he did makeup for that with some recent hires on his coaching staff). Jeff is right, though – I don’t think Mendenhall would have taken Oregon on the road.
Dino Babers (Syracuse) – Syracuse got a coach who will emphasize a high speed offensive game in a dome stadium environment – that’s a good fit for Syracuse. Dino won a lot of games at Bowling Green. Can’t wait until Syracuse plays Notre Dame – that’s a huge October game on National TV.
5.) ACC Football is Showcased on Thursday Night
Find me a college football team in America that embraces Thursday night more than the Hokies – I don’t think you’ll find one. The Hokies play twice on Thursday night. First, the Hokies take on Miami at home on October 20 – and head on the road the following Thursday to Pittsburgh, where Heinz Field has been very unkind to the Hokies (and that’s an understatement).
In other Thursday night games, we previously discussed North Carolina going on the road to Duke on November 10, 2016. But we also potentially have an opportunity to see Louisville get some revenge on Houston (although that game might not be on a Thursday night – right now, it’s tentatively scheduled for November 17 or November 19). I’d say I’m interested in Clemson vs. Georgia Tech on September 22, 2016, but that’s only to see if this past year was a fluke bad season for the Jackets – or if there are legit concerns (I’m thinking it was the former as I don’t see the Jackets with a losing record again… but… that said, I also can’t make too many conclusions about Georgia Tech as Clemson is the national runner-up – and a 2016 national title contender – and that’s also a reason to watch this game).