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ACC Atlantic Schedule Outlook
Coastal Outlook

The college football season is just around the corner, the schedule is set and there are some great disparities within each conference that will impact the conference races. The ACC looks to step back into the national spotlight this season and it appears there are a few teams capable of making a great run. Here is a look at the key games ahead for each team in the ACC Atlantic division.

Boston College Eagles: After going 2-10 last season, there is nowhere to go but up, but with a new coaching staff and a difficult schedule, it will not be an easy climb for Boston College, a program that has been absent from the bowl picture in back-to-back seasons. While Boston College does play at USC, the other three non-conference games are winnable, but the Eagles have one of the toughest draws from the Coastal division and several difficult home games ahead.

Coastal Draw: North Carolina and Virginia Tech

Toughest Back-to-Back: The toughest consecutive games will be the two crossover games from the Coastal division. Boston College plays at Clemson in mid-October and then has a bye week before another long trip south to play in Chapel Hill. A home game with Virginia Tech is up next as the Eagles have a brutal mid-season schedule, playing USC, Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech in a six-game span.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: In the third week of the season, Boston College will play at USC for a game on a big national stage. The game follows up a key conference opener with Wake Forest for the Eagles, but it also follows up a conference opener for the Trojans. Boston College was 0-5 ATS as a road underdog last season, but the longer term historical track record is strong for the Eagles when getting points.

Clemson Tigers: Following up an 11-2 season won't be easy, but Clemson was 10-4 in 2011 and this is a program that looks ready to stay at an elite level at least for another year led by quarterback Tajh Boyd. With two SEC powers on the schedule, it will not be easy for the Tigers to stay in the national title hunt, but getting to host Florida State should put Clemson in a good position to get to the ACC title game and possibly end up in another BCS bowl with hopes of redeeming the embarrassing Orange Bowl showing two years ago. Clemson beat LSU in bowl action last season, so this is a team that can compete with anyone and the conference schedule is favorable.

Coastal Draw: Virginia and Georgia Tech

Toughest Back-to-Back: The mid-October game with Florida State will be the biggest of the season in the ACC, as it was last season with an entertaining 49-37 win for the Seminoles. This year, Clemson hosts the game and regardless of the result, a tricky follow-up game on the road at Maryland could be a great challenge with an up-and-coming Terrapins team that will be ready to redeem a 45-10 loss from last season.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: While the finale at South Carolina will be huge as that rivalry continues with a four-game losing streak for the Tigers, the opener with Georgia at home will set the tone for the season and determine whether or not Clemson is a player in the national picture. It is rare to see a prominent SEC team in a true road game in non-conference play and the opener will be a big statement opportunity not just for Clemson, but for the entire ACC.

Florida State Seminoles:
While it was among the most successful seasons in Florida State history, last year's 12-2 record with an ACC title and an Orange Bowl championship was a bit unfulfilling. The team certainly had the talent to run the table and lost in a fluky finish at NC State to spoil things in October and then lost again against Florida late in the season in a game that was not overly meaningful in the big picture. While many prominent players have departed to the NFL, this is a Florida State squad that certainly has a shot at a perfect season with very few challenging games ahead and the toughest games in relatively favorable spots.

Coastal Draw: Pittsburgh and Miami, FL

Toughest Back-to-Back: Florida State has fairly favorable spacing between its big games, but with the emphasis on the Clemson game in mid-October, a game that Florida State has a bye week prior to, the follow up at home with NC State could be a tricky spot on the schedule. While it will be a revenge game for the Seminoles, the Wolfpack looks like a rebuilding team that could be taken lightly, especially knowing another rivalry game with Miami is up next.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: Florida State plays a weak non-conference slate until the finale, playing in Gainesville against Florida. Oddly the series has been decided by double-digits in six straight seasons, but a lot could be on the line for both teams depending on how the rest of the season has shaken out. Either team would love to spoil an undefeated season or ruin a crack at a BCS bowl bid for the other.

Maryland Terrapins: While the top two teams in the Coastal division look pretty clear cut, the battle for third place could be a tight race with Maryland a strong contender despite being just 4-8 last season and winning only two conference games. Maryland does have to play Virginia Tech, potentially the top Coastal team, and the road schedule in conference play is difficult. The schedule does have many favorable home games and climbing back into the bowl picture seems attainable for this team with this slate.

Coastal Draw: Virginia and Virginia Tech

Toughest Back-to-Back: It will not be easy for Maryland to beat either Florida State or Clemson considering lopsided losses last season, but those will be big games on the schedule. The most critical back-to-back may be the two games in between those marquee games, hosting Virginia and then playing at Wake Forest. For Maryland to take a solid step forward this season to the postseason, those are games they have to win and that mid-October stretch will be the most critical part of the schedule for Coach Edsall to keep his team focused even if they fail to compete with the division contenders.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: The biggest game for Coach Edsall may be a trip back to Storrs to face his former program in Week 3. Last season, Connecticut won at Maryland, but this year, the Terrapins visit the Huskies and what could be a chilly reception for the long-time coach who left suddenly two years ago. A big game the next week with West Virginia playing at the Ravens stadium may be a bigger deal for the Maryland players, however.

NC State Wolfpack: A new coaching staff takes over in Raleigh despite three straight bowl seasons for NC State and player turnover seemingly takes a big hit with a fairly inexperienced roster this season. The schedule will provide the opportunity for NC State to stay in the bowl mix with four winnable non-conference games all at home and a relatively favorable draw from the Coastal division. This could be a surprise team that could conceivably get off to a 5-1 start with a fairly light early season schedule.

Coastal Draw: North Carolina and Duke

Toughest Back-to-Back: The toughest back-to-back set will be playing at Florida State and then hosting North Carolina for homecoming in the last two weeks of October. Those will be huge games for the players and fans. A more important set might follow that however with consecutive road games at Duke and at Boston College to open November, both are games NC State might need for a winning season, but they will need to avoid a homecoming hangover.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: There is not an overly exciting game on the non-conference map for Wolfpack fans, but the opener against a Louisiana Tech program that has been pretty successful in recent years will be a big benchmark step for the program as the first game for the coaching staff. Louisiana Tech is also going through a major transition so the opportunity for a strong showing should be there for NC State.

Syracuse Orange: Switching conferences will be a challenge for Syracuse, especially with the departure of its head coach and star quarterback. Add in a very tough first two games on the non-conference slate and a downward step after winning eight games last season seems likely. The ACC schedule also opens with three of the toughest conference games of the season in consecutive weeks and it may be a rude welcome to the ACC for the football team.

Coastal Draw: Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh

Toughest Back-to-Back: Hosting Clemson for homecoming will be a big game and the Orange will have a bye week prior to that game. The next two weeks could present the toughest stretch, however, with tricky follow-up games and long travel playing at NC State and then at Georgia Tech in consecutive weeks in mid-October. Playing at Maryland and then at Florida State in consecutive weeks in November will be a big challenge as well.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: Syracuse will open the season with a marquee game with Penn State, playing at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. It will be a big game to kick off the season and a great experience for the players to play in the stadium that will host the Super Bowl this winter.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Jim Grobe is by far the longest-tenured coach in this division and while there have been several down years recently, this season may present a great opportunity for a rise in the standings. The division looks relatively weak after the top two and getting to play Duke at home in the Coastal draw is a favorable break compared with many of the alternatives. Wake Forest also will play a fairly weak non-conference schedule, although games with Louisiana-Monroe and Vanderbilt will be tougher than they might have been a few years ago.

Coastal Draw: Miami, FL and Duke

Toughest Back-to-Back: Following up homecoming, the Demon Decons will play at Miami and then at Syracuse in consecutive weeks, taking on taxing travel and two important games. Getting a split in those two games will be important for any bowl hopes and with Florida State on the schedule next, it will be critical to avoid a long losing streak that could take the emotional edge off the team late in the season.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: While playing at Army will be a big game for the team and a unique experience for the players, the finale at Vanderbilt could be a critical game for both teams. Both squads project to be on the edge of bowl eligibility this season and it may be a critical game to get that sixth win for the Demon Deacons. After losing 41-7 and 55-21 the past two years, there also should be a desire for a better showing this season vs. the SEC squad.

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