For proof that the ACC has completely changed the conversation this offseason, we take you over to a neighboring conference page. The headline reads, “Kickoff Week gives SEC a chance to make early statement.”
Wait a minute, Edward! Have you been cribbing the ACC company line?
Since when does the SEC have any statement to make? After all, this is the same conference that has the least pressure in September because it always gets a (one-loss) pass.
But things have changed slightly over the past year. The ACC is actually ... wait for it ... favored in two of the three ACC-SEC matchups that highlight Kickoff Week. But I am here to tell you the oddsmakers are wrong. Because the ACC teams will sweep their SEC opponents.
How is that for a statement?
It has been over a decade since the ACC posted a winning record on opening weekend in nonconference games against Power 5 opponents or independents. That does not include 2007, because there was only such matchup in Week 1 (Georgia Tech beat Notre Dame).
You have to go all the way back to 2005, when Georgia Tech upset No. 16 Auburn, and Clemson upset No. 17 Texas A&M to lead the conference (Maryland also beat Navy, and Boston College beat BYU). But the stakes that season were not nearly as high as they are this year, when the ACC faces higher expectations than ever to open a season.
No. 2 Clemson is a 7.5-point favorite over Auburn on Saturday night, while No. 4 Florida State is a 4.5-point favorite over No. 11 Ole Miss on Monday in Orlando, Florida. Both ACC teams are expected to contend for a College Football Playoff berth this season.
Clemson has Deshaun Watson, and Auburn has Sean White, not exactly an even quarterback comparison. Plus, the Tigers should be able to figure out the weaknesses in the defensive game plan Kevin Steele is coming up with to slow down Watson. This is the same Steele who was Clemson's defensive coordinator in the West Virginia Orange Bowl meltdown.
The Florida State-Ole Miss game has a little more intrigue because Deondre Francois will make his first career start for the Seminoles, while Chad Kelly returns as perhaps the best quarterback in the SEC. But given the wealth of talent returning on offense (ahem Dalvin Cook) and along the defensive line, the Seminoles have the edge in just about every matchup on paper.
So, we will go chalk and say Clemson and Florida State win. That brings us to North Carolina versus Georgia in Atlanta, the game that will determine whether the ACC sweeps. Let’s be honest: History is not on North Carolina’s side.
The Tar Heels have lost eight straight season openers against Power 5 opponents; their last victory was over Indiana in 1997. They played poorly the last two times against the SEC in season openers, with both losses coming to South Carolina in 2013 and 2015.
And UNC faces an excellent running back in Georgia's Nick Chubb, who has been cleared to play after tearing his ACL last season. Quick reminder: Baylor ran for 645 yards against the Tar Heels in the Russell Athletic Bowl last season.
Oh, and the game is about an hour away from Georgia’s campus in Athens.
All these arrows point toward Georgia, which is favored by 3. But North Carolina has a few advantages that could be difference-makers. The offense returns seven starters and is expected to pick up where it left off with new starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky. This team is well versed in the way Larry Fedora wants everything done, while Georgia is just starting out under rookie head coach Kirby Smart -- and could be starting a true freshman quarterback to boot.
Defensively, the Tar Heels' coaches and players believe they will be better this season because they have a greater familiarity with defensive coordinator Gene Chizik’s scheme. They should be better against the run, and having a healthy Nazair Jones in the middle of the defense will help (Jones missed last season's bowl game).
So, yes, there are reasons all three ACC teams will come out of Kickoff Week with victories. If that happens, it would be the biggest, best statement to be made.