The ACC’s Biggest Non-Conference Games of 2015

The ACC is looking to send another team into this year’s College Football Playoff. Florida State and Clemson lead the way for the conference, as usual. Clemson was picked by the ACC media to win the conference, but pundits galore feel the ACC may be left out in the cold come playoff time. Some of the games below won’t have playoff implications for the ACC teams, but you can bet they’ll go a long way to solidify the perception of the conference this year. The other teams involved could have their sights set on the CFP, and the ACC could be playing spoiler.

Here are my top non-conference games for the ACC this year. The rankings included are from the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll, and the betting spreads are from VegasInsider.com. They are listed chronologically.

THE ACC’S BIGGEST NON-CONFERENCE GAMES OF 2015

LOUISVILLE VS. (7) AUBURN

Saturday, September 5, 3:30 PM ET in Atlanta, CBS, Line: AUB -10.5

Anytime two teams are picked to kickoff the season in a big time neutral site game, it is guaranteed to be a highly viewed affair. Not only will the Cardinals get an enviable TV slot, and national exposure, but they also get a crack at the SEC. While the SEC West did itself no favors in bowl season last year with a 2-5 record, it is still the league to beat. Getting a win over an SEC school would jump Louisville right into the rankings, and get the conference off to a hot start. The Cards can put their last matchup with an SEC school (lost to Georgia 37-14 in the Belk Bowl) behind them. Louisville’s early onslaught continues with Houston and Clemson in weeks 2 and 3, respectively.

(1) OHIO STATE AT VIRGINIA TECH

Monday, September 7, 8 PM ET, ESPN, Line: OSU -11

I had this game on this same list last year, and I simply hoped the Hokies could hang in with the Buckeyes in Columbus. Instead, they gave the eventual National Champions their only loss of the season, 35-21. VA Tech did not ride the momentum from that win to a stellar season. Instead, they needed a regular season finale win over the Virginia Cavaliers just to secure a bowl berth. But it doesn’t matter if VA Tech had gone 0-12 last year; this game is the Hokies’ opening night, and it’s in prime time on a Monday. Lane Stadium will be a madhouse. Blacksburg is notorious for its Thursday night atmosphere, and there’s no reason to think Monday night won’t be just as loud. OSU is looking for revenge, and to make a statement that they can repeat. Braxton Miller is now a wide receiver, but that seems to be the only shakeup in a team loaded with talent. There are enough storylines to sell this game; not just the fact it’s the finale of the first weekend of college football.

(24) BOISE STATE AT VIRGINIA

Friday, September 25, 8 PM ET, ESPN

Last year UCLA traveled across the country to face the Cavaliers, and escaped with a 28-20 victory. UVA proved they could hang with anyone on their home turf. The Cavaliers went 5-2 at Scott Stadium last year, and they were a few bad plays away from going to a bowl game. If there is any Group of Five opponent one would want to invite into their venue, it’s Boise State. They’ve shed the term “mid-major” from their vocabulary and they put up double digit wins year in, year out. Getting an opportunity against the Broncos on a national stage, in prime time, will give UVA a chance to shine. The Cavaliers have a bye the following week, and they’ll need it. The Wahoos open at UCLA, then face Notre Dame, William & Mary, and Boise State at home. UVA will be tested by the time the Broncos come in for some Friday night lights, so the level of competition won’t surprise them, but there is a chance it might be too much.

(13) LSU AT SYRACUSE

Saturday, September 26

This is my pick for “just hang in there.” This is also the first game on my list that is a traditional, Saturday, home game for the ACC. The weeknight games listed above could be major wins for the conference if VA Tech and UVA are victorious. Either outcome, the focus of the night will be on them. With a full slate of games on the docket for September 26, there will be eyes on the Tigers and Orange, but there’s more choice out there this week. If the Cuse can keep this one close, then they can turn some heads. LSU is a national power from the mighty SEC, and they may have more fans in New York than the Orange. This would be like Boston College shocking USC last season in Chestnut Hill. If LSU holds sway and destroys Syracuse, the ACC can sweep it under the rug and get ready for October. There is low risk and no shame in losing to LSU, but the reward would be immense.

MIAMI (FL) AT CINCINNATI

Thursday, October 1, 7:30 PM ET, ESPN

This may be the most evenly matched, entertaining game on this list. Miami is still trying to be “back.” Cincy has been very consistent the past few years, especially since Tommy Tuberville came to town. Miami comes into this weeknight game off a bye after getting Nebraska at home September 19. Cincinnati plays Temple, at Miami, OH, and at Memphis in consecutive weeks before getting the Hurricanes to open October. This is the OOC game for the ACC in which they should be favored to win against a Group of Five opponent. UVA can give it a go against Boise State, but not many will give them a fighting chance. Miami is expected to go into Cincinnati and win. I don’t see it being a big spread, and depending on how the Bearcats fare in their first four games they could be ranked. The Hurricanes can bring a big win home for the Coastal division with a road win against Cincinnati.

(11) NOTRE DAME AT (12) CLEMSON

Saturday, October 3

Rounding out my top OOC games for the ACC is the matchup between the Fighting Irish and the Tigers. Every game Notre Dame plays gets the royal treatment. They went into Tallahassee last year, and almost knocked off Jameis Winston and company. This year they will enter the home of another team with high hopes of winning the ACC, and perhaps of making the CFP. This will be Notre Dame’s first big road test, (I don’t see UVA putting up much of a fight), and Death Valley is not a place to take lightly. The Irish have ten starters back from a defense that started hot last year, but went off the rails late in the season. Clemson is retooling a defense that was stingy all season in 2014. This one could be ground and pound game that comes down to the last play. If Clemson takes down Notre Dame, it might be the biggest pelt on this list.

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