Three nonconference games against Power 5 opponents highlights the ACC’s Week 1 schedule, giving league fans reason to find that critical couch groove and retreat to their college football bunker.
Thankfully, those three games are spread out so there won’t be as much of a need to flip between channels. (The rest of a loaded Week 1 national schedule is fit for mobile streaming; ACC gets the big TV.) Georgia and North Carolina kick off at 5:30 p.m. ET, and Auburn and Clemson will follow just as that game ends. Ole Miss against Florida State is the Labor Day showcase game two nights later.
Yet, what if you decided to pack up the tailgate and take in one of these environments in person? Over the next few days, writers Matt Fortuna, David Hale and Jared Shanker all state their cases for which opener is the most compelling.
Shanker: I’d be heading to the Georgia Dome for the Dawgs and Heels. It’s the most interesting of the three matchups considering the unknowns on both sides yet each has been awarded the label of “playoff dark horse.” A victory will shoot the winner up the rankings as both teams will likely open in the bottom half of the preseason Top 25.
The matchups are especially intriguing given the strengths of each team. Georgia possesses a backfield of Sony Michel and a recovering Nick Chubb, and North Carolina was brutal last season against the run, partially because of scheme. Baylor rushing for 645 yards in the Russell Athletic Bowl is a memory not easily erased. The defense became a respectable unit in 2015, but will the group continue its ascent under Gene Chizik?
Offensively for UNC, there is a new quarterback but Mitch Trubisky is billed as a player of the year candidate. The offense is loaded around Trubisky, who was stellar in a reserve role. The Dawgs are experienced in the secondary and were a highly rated group last season, but opposing SEC quarterbacks were a forgiving bunch, collectively. No UGA opponent finished higher than 44th in yards per attempt; UNC finished 10th.
There’s the added curiosity of Kirby Smart returning to Georgia as coach, and whether the new era will begin with a true freshman quarterback, too. Jacob Eason is the No. 1 quarterback in the 2016 class, and there is a definite possibility he opens the season as the starter.
UNC was crushed for its schedule last season, but a win against Georgia in Atlanta will provide a résumé bullet point that will silence critics. A Georgia win will have analysts reconsidering the SEC East hierarchy.