Ten Profoundly Important Games Remaining in ACC Football

 

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It’s true that every game matters. But the following regular season matchups are guaranteed to generate the biggest ripple effects, in the divisional races, in the hunt for bowl positioning and in ways that transcend box scores and standings.

10. Duke at Pittsburgh, Nov. 1
With six of the seven members separated by just one game in the loss column, every pairing between Coastal Division teams is going to be crucial in November. The Blue Devils and the Panthers get the mayhem kicked off this weekend at Heinz Field. Pitt won last year’s meeting, 58-55, with current Houston Texan Tom Savage throwing six touchdown passes. If the Panthers can make it two straight in the series, it’ll send the Coastal into a state of parity—and chaos—that transcends even its usual wackiness.    

9. Virginia at Virginia Tech, Nov. 28
Will it matter in the Coastal Division chase? Maybe not. Will it matter in the Commonwealth? Oh, you bet, especially in Charlottesville. The Hokies have held the Commonwealth Cup for more than 3,600 days, which gnaws at the Cavaliers and its frustrated fans. Through the ups-and-downs around Blacksburg, there’s been one constant over the last decade—Virginia Tech is going to put a bow on the regular season by beating intrastate rival Virginia. The ‘Hoos need this game. Head coach Mike London needs this game.  

8. North Carolina at Miami, Nov. 1
Two hot teams. Only one will remain firmly in Coastal Division contention by Sunday night. Carolina is delivering a repeat performance of last year’s second-half surge, beating Georgia Tech and Virginia to claw back to .500. Not to be outdone, Miami swamped Cincinnati and Virginia Tech in its last two games. There figures to be plenty of fireworks at Sun Life Stadium this weekend, as the Heels and the ‘Canes both look to go 3-2 in league play, while remaining within range of pace-setting Duke.

7. Georgia Tech at Georgia, Nov. 29
Clean, old-fashioned domination. The Dawgs have owned this storied rivalry of late, winning all but twice this century, 2000 and 2008 in Athens. The Yellow Jackets are pining for an opportunity to reverse the recent trend, especially after painfully falling in double-overtime a year ago, 41-34. Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson beat Mark Richt in his first attempt, but that was six long years ago. And that’s the kind of dry spell that’ll keep a coach and his staff up at night until the next chance at redemption arrives.

6. North Carolina at Duke, Nov. 20
Every year, the Tar Heels and the Blue Devils play for the Victory Bell. This fall, though, a spot in the ACC Championship Game might be at stake as well. After back-to-back upsets of Coastal Division mates, Georgia Tech and Virginia, Carolina is just a game behind first-place Duke. In other words, the Tar Heels, which were mired in a four-game losing streak just a few weeks ago, now control their own destiny. Win the next four games, and it’ll be Carolina versus the Atlantic Division champ on Dec. 6 at Bank of America Stadium.  

5. Louisville at Notre Dame, Nov. 22
For the Cardinals, this represents a historic first-ever meeting with the Fighting Irish, as well as an opportunity to play an impactful game in South Bend. Besides soaking in all of the history that comes with this region of the college football landscape, Louisville wants to earn a signature win. Beating Notre Dame, which still has visions of rising into playoff contention, would certainly qualify. ND’s Brian Kelly versus Louisville’s Bobby Petrino will be one of the most delicious coaching matchups of the entire month.   

4. Florida at Florida State, Nov. 29
Rule No. 1 about rivalry games—records go out the window. Sure, the Gators are down, their coach is in trouble and the ‘Noles have won three of the last four meetings by at least two touchdowns. That’s even more of a reason for Florida to play with absolutely nothing to lose when it arrives in Tallahassee. Florida State will have to keep its eye on the ball for this game. The defending champs might still be unbeaten, so any stumble at this juncture of the regular season could capsize hopes for a repeat.

3. South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 29
Is this the year Clemson breaks through with a win over South Carolina? The Gamecocks have won five in a row, which haunts the Tigers and their faithful. For all the success that Clemson and Dabo Swinney have had in recent seasons, the inability to knock off Steve Spurrier’s team has been extremely tough to reconcile. South Carolina is down, and the 112th edition of the Palmetto Bowl will be staged in Death Valley. You’ve got to break the losing streak this fall, Clemson.

2. Florida State at Miami, Nov. 15
It’s not like it was in the heyday, when both teams were ranked in the top 10 and fighting for a national championship. But it’s getting closer to the glory days. Florida State is holding up its end of the bargain as the reigning king of the sport. And Miami is making progress in Al Golden’s fourth year. In fact, the ‘Canes are playing well and are still very much in the Coastal Division race, a situation that’ll greatly improve if they can shock the Seminoles at Sun Life Stadium in two weeks.

1. Florida State at Louisville, Oct. 30
The Seminoles have cleared every hurdle so far this year, one of just three FBS programs that can make that claim. And of the five remaining roadblocks to another perfect regular season, tonight’s trip to Papa John’s Stadium could be the trickiest one. Bobby Petrino with time to prepare is dangerous, as is a Louisville defense allowing a nation’s-low 245 yards per game. But cool-handed Jameis Winston just doesn’t lose, regardless of the circumstances. It’s a fascinating matchup, with far-reaching College Football Playoff implications.