Remember at the start of last season, when everybody made such a big deal about the ACC vs. SEC challenge to open the year?
Clemson-Auburn and NC State-Tennessee look like watered-down FCS matchups compared to the slate of ACC nonconference games to open the 2013 season. Now that UVa has added Oregon to its schedule, the ACC will take on an eye-popping five teams projected to be ranked in the top 10 in the first two weeks of the new season. Three games are scheduled for Week 1, which would be the most top 10 teams on the opening weekend slate since the ACC expanded in 2004.
Here is the schedule, with final 2012 AP ranking:
Virginia Tech vs. No. 1 Alabama
No. 5 Georgia at No. 11 Clemson
North Carolina at No. 8 South Carolina
No. 9 Florida at Miami
No. 2 Oregon at Virginia
Folks, this qualifies as the toughest opening nonconference stretch of games in recent ACC history. Heck, in all of ACC history.
Now, there have been a few previous instances where the ACC has played three games against top 10 teams in the opening weeks of the season. It happened in 2004, 2007 and 2010. The results were ... bad. The ACC went 0-9 in those games. But five contests against top 10 opponents? Well, league schedules that backbreaking are usually featured in the Sun Belt or WAC.
Want more? Look at the rest of the ACC nonconference slate.
Syracuse opens against Penn State in Met Life Stadium, then plays at Northwestern. Boston College plays USC. Pitt plays Notre Dame. Maryland plays West Virginia. Georgia Tech and Virginia play BYU. Wake Forest plays Vanderbilt. All of these opponents closed 2012 with winning records. All went to bowls save Penn State, serving a postseason ban.
And, of course, Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech have their annual SEC rivalry games at the end of the season.
There are two ways to look at the challenge ahead, and both are pretty black and white. Either this is good or bad for the league. Good because the ACC has its best chance yet at fixing its national perception with marquee victories against marquee opponents. Need I remind everybody about the 2-11 ACC record in 2012 against top-25 nonconference opponents?
Bad because if the ACC falls flat, well, everybody will continue to point their finger and laugh. Need I remind everybody about the 2-11 ACC record ... you get the point.
I, for one, am happy to see ACC teams embrace such a challenge. I have trotted out several cliches in this post already so one more is not going to hurt. Coaches love to say, "In order to be the best, you have to beat the best." There is only one way for the ACC to start improving its national image, and that is to schedule tougher and then go out and win those tougher games.
The hope is that this serves as a precursor of what is to come. With the new playoff system set to begin in 2014, strength of schedule is going to be a factor during evaluation time. Do you know what the selection committee would like to see? Games against Georgia and South Carolina, as opposed to Murray State and Presbyterian.
The challenge ahead is monumentally large. The time is now for the ACC to quit talking a big game. Gotta play a big game, in the big games.
Looking back at tough opening stretches in recent ACC history
Aug. 28: No. 1 USC 24, Virginia Tech 13
Sept. 18: No. 7 West Virginia 19, Maryland 16 (OT)
Sept. 18: No. 9 Ohio State 22, NC State 14
Sept. 8: No. 2 LSU 48, Virginia Tech 7
Sept. 8: No. 5 Oklahoma 51, Miami 13
Sept. 13: No. 7 West Virginia 31, Maryland 14
Sept. 6: No. 3 Boise State 33, Virginia Tech 30
Sept. 11: No. 2 Ohio State 36, Miami 24
Sept. 18: No. 1 Alabama 62, Duke 13