ACC Football: Key Nonconference Games Still on the Schedule

The opening weekend of the college football season saw ACC teams combine for an impressive 10-2 record against nonconference teams, including a couple of premiere wins. With Week 1 in the books, let’s take a look at some remaining nonconference matchups that could have a big impact for the ACC and in the College Football Playoff (CFP).

Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee – Sept. 10, 8 p.m. (Bristol, Tenn.) on ABC

We’ve seen college football inside Major League Baseball parks, at international soccer stadiums and – come Saturday – at a NASCAR track. The Hokies and Volunteers will meet inside a transformed Bristol Motor Speedway in a game that has been dubbed the “Battle at Bristol.”  

ESPN’s College GameDay will be on hand to witness the record-breaking crowd that is expected to exceed 150,000 fans – shattering the previous NCAA attendance record of 115,000. 

“We’ve played in some big venues before,” associate head coach Bud Foster said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s going to be an exciting atmosphere, but it’s played between the lines, not up in the stands.”

Virginia Tech will be looking to build on an impressive Week 1 win over Liberty, while Tennessee will try to improve from a near loss to Appalachian State at home. 

Penn State @ Pitt – Sept. 10, 12 p.m. on ESPN

“Renewed rivalry” are two of the best words in all of college football. Penn State and Pitt will do just that on Saturday, bringing life to a rivalry that has been dormant for 16 years. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi has cut off his players’ media access leading up to the big game, but he has made sure his players understand the history and importance of playing Penn State. 

“We just try to educate them on what it is, who played before them and how intense the rivalry would be,” Narduzzi said. “It's going to be a heated battle on both sides, and the team that controls their emotions and uses it between the whistles is going to be the team that wins.”

All eyes will again be on Pitt’s James Conner as he faces his first Power 5 defense since before his season-ending knee injury a year ago. A win for the Panthers would bring legitimate national attention, while a win for Penn State would certainly help cool off the hot seat under head coach James Franklin.

Miami @ Notre Dame – Oct. 29, 3:30 p.m. on NBC

Another sleeping rivalry will awaken in late October when the Hurricanes travel to South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish. There may not be quite the same hostility between the teams that made the games from the 1980s so memorable, but both will have plenty to play for. 

The Hurricanes cracked the Top 25 this week and will be at the tail end of a rough October schedule that sees Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech in the three weeks leading up to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish dropped their season opener against Texas and will more than likely need to run the table to have a chance at making the CFP.

Louisville @ Houston – Nov. 17, 8 p.m. on ESPN

The Week 1 performances of Louisville and Houston grabbed the full attention of the entire country. Louisville manhandled Charlotte behind Lamar Jackson accounting for eight touchdowns – all in the first half! Houston shocked Oklahoma, staking its claim as America’s football darling for 2016. 

Don’t let the word “darling” fool you. Houston can play with any team in the country and will be the heavy favorite in every game leading up to Louisville. If the Cougars do come into this game undefeated and Louisville has one or no losses, this matchup will shape up as a CFP elimination game.

Florida @ Florida State – Nov. 26, TBA

The addition of the CFP did what was once seen as impossible – making Rivalry Week even more intense. At this point in the season, both teams will know where they stand with their respective conference title games, as well as the CFP rankings. 

If Florida State can get through its hefty ACC Atlantic Division schedule unscathed, it will be looking to keep an undefeated season alive. Otherwise the Seminoles will be trying to take advantage of the rivalry game with the Gators as their last chance to prove themselves to the CFP selection committee. Don’t forget about the possible Heisman implications, either. If Dalvin Cook does “Dalvin Cook” things all season, this game could be what he needs to separate himself from the rest of the Heisman field. 

South Carolina @ Clemson – Nov. 26, TBA

Clemson and South Carolina didn’t like each other when they first played in 1896, and they still won’t like each other when they meet for the 114th time this November. On paper, it’s not expected that the Gamecocks will come into the game with as much at stake as the Tigers, but we all know that a rivalry game can make – or break – a team’s season.

If the Tigers are able to bring an 11-0 or 10-1 record into the game, it will be either a final tune-up before the ACC Championship Game or a last chance to make a statement to the selection committee. Regardless, the Tigers will need to keep their emotions in check and handle their business to stay on the CFP path.