ACC schedules big, but can it back it up?

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
10:30
AM ET
Once again, the ACC has a heavyweight nonconference lineup, a group of opponents that includes Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Ohio State, Notre Dame, UCLA and USC.

There’s just one problem: The ACC only has one heavyweight.

Nobody should be questioning the strength of the ACC’s nonconference schedule as it enters the first season of the College Football Playoff -- the ACC is arguably the boldest and most aggressive of the Power 5 conferences when it comes to scheduling -- but with two head coaching changes and an influx of new quarterbacks, odds are there will be plenty of critics questioning the strength of the entire conference. Defending national champion Florida State enters 2014 on a pedestal, looking down at everyone else in the ACC, which makes this year’s nonconference lineup look more like a dare than an opportunity.

[+] EnlargeClemson Tigers
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDabo Swinney and Clemson definitely aren't shy about scheduling tough nonconference games.
With so many other teams in the ACC rebuilding, all eyes will again be on Tally as the rest of the ACC feebly tries to swing away at the likes of USC, Notre Dame, UCLA and Ohio State. Despite so many “big boys” on the schedule, the ACC is still missing “the big game.”

There is no top-10 matchup between Clemson and Georgia. There is no Florida State-Oklahoma, no true marquee matchup in September that’s going to elicit the same kind of anticipation we were doused with last summer. Indeed, it was a rare and special opportunity last fall in Death Valley, an atmosphere that left fans craving for more.

They’re just not going to get it from Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys ended the season with back-to-back losses and finished as the third-best team in the Big 12. We’re going to talk about FSU-Oklahoma State and overanalyze it all summer because Florida State is a preseason favorite in the first season of the playoff -- not because the Cowboys are a top 10 team. In fact, they’re not ranked at all in colleague Mark Schlabach’s Way-Too-Early Top 25. Instead, the best nonconference opponents on the schedule are facing ACC teams that have major questions to answer this spring, and only one -- Clemson -- that is likely to be ranked this preseason.

Virginia Tech goes to Ohio State in Week 2 after back-to-back underwhelming seasons with a new quarterback and arguably more questions than ever about its offense.

Clemson has lost to South Carolina five straight times -- and that’s WITH some of their best players in school history. Why should they be picked to win without Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins? Georgia should also be one of the country’s better teams this year -- especially after hiring FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

Virginia, which won just two games last year, opens the season against UCLA, a team that beat Virginia Tech 42-12 in the Sun Bowl.

Boston College, which has to replace its starting quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist running back, will host USC.

The ACC deserves credit for scheduling more games against teams in the final AP Top 25 (nine) than any of the other Power 5 conferences. The league has no qualms about swinging away.

Unfortunately, only FSU looks poised to swing back this fall.

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