Expect a packed Sun Life Stadium on a hot and humid afternoon in September. The trash talking is amping up for a bitter in-state rivalry that dates back generations. These two teams will likely meet for the final time this decade. How can there be more hype for the Canes vs Gators game? By declaring the game crucial in the battle for conference supremacy. It's finally time for Miami to carry the mantle and help to elevate the ACC nationally.
In recent years, the gap between the SEC and the rest of the college football has widened. The conference has won seven straight national titles and has several of the favorites once again in 2013. In 2011 and 2012, the SEC went 11-4 against the ACC in head to head match-ups, but Clemson's bowl win over LSU may have changed the momentum. Three of those four ACC wins have come courtesy of Clemson, so the rest of the conference needs to step up. Enter the Miami Hurricanes.
ACC vs SEC Showdown for Supremacy
North Carolina at South Carolina August 29th
Virginia Tech vs Alabama (in Atlanta) August 31st
Georgia at Clemson August 31st
Florida at Miami September 7th
Perception matters. Contrary to the beliefs of most national writers and commentators, other conferences do exist besides the SEC. The ACC has a huge opportunity to earn credibility in the season's first two weeks. Four games comprise what I am calling the "Showdown for Supremacy." Each conference is represented by four of their respective top five teams. If only Texas A&M and FSU could face off to open the season, we'd have a perfect tournament. Instead, the Aggies challenge themselves by hosting Rice and Sam Houston State to open the year. While the Owls could end up winning Conference USA, Johnny Manziel will likely wake up in time to lead an Aggies blowout. FSU gets a shot at the SEC to finish this year in the annual rivalry game against the Gators.
While this is a very Pro ACC article, I am a realist. At this stage, it is far too much to ask for the conference to go 3-1 in these four games. If the ACC manages to split, that would be a significant accomplishment and help to chip away at the invisibility of the SEC. The main problem is that Alabama will probably pound Virginia Tech by double digits. South Carolina is a large favorite at home against UNC and that game will be an uphill battle for the ACC as well. Clemson is getting respect as an early favorite against Georgia. If the Tigers can defend their home field and pass the conference baton to Miami, the following week becomes even more interesting nationally. Expect some great passing performances, with six of the top ten senior quarterbacks on display. You will hear about Morris, McCarron, Boyd, Murray, Thomas, and Renner on Sunday's in the near future.
Here are previews for the individual games with the lines included. I won't make official predictions until late August so I'm not accused of flip-flopping if my emotions change over the next month.
North Carolina at South Carolina
Thursday Aug 29th - 6pm - ESPN (South Carolina -12)
The long wait finally ends on August 29th, when the season’s first kickoff takes place in Columbia, SC. Unfortunately for the family of Michigan RB Vincent Smith, the highlight of the Jadeveon Clowney hit in the Outback Bowl will be shown on an infinite loop in the days leading up to the game. UNC’s talented QB Bryn Renner has received praise this offseason and is considered a sleeper in the 2014 NFL Draft. Renner complimented Clowney this week, but maintained that he is confident in the ability of his offensive line. This game is a platform for Renner to elevate his status nationally. South Carolina has two solid quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson and I expect both to play multiple series in this game. Can North Carolina hang around and give themselves an opportunity in the 4th quarter? The crowd will be a factor and if UNC falls behind early, they have little chance of coming back. If the Tar Heels are forced into obvious passing situations, Clowney will cause havoc. The ACC would love for this game to at least be close throughout.
Virginia Tech vs Alabama (in Atlanta)
Saturday Aug 31st - 530pm - ESPN (Alabama -18.5)
I won’t lie to my fellow ACC fans. This game will likely be ugly. Alabama needs no introduction and QB A.J. McCarron has received significant attention this offseason. Nick Saban will have his team ready and the Tide always seem to play their best on the big stage. Alabama knows how to win in Atlanta and will surely have the majority of the crowd in the Georgia Dome. Star LB C.J. Mosley leads a talented defense for Bama. Virginia Tech had a dreadful offense at times in 2012, and the Hokies must replace seven starters on that unit. QB Logan Thomas is saying all of the right things this offseason, but if things don’t go well early, his confidence will be an issue. The Hokies must make a big play early and keep the game close heading into halftime to have any shot. If there was ever a time for Beamer Ball and Tech’s special teams to make a play, this game would be it. The Crimson Tide are hefty favorites and I expect that number to continue to grow as game-day approaches.
Georgia at Clemson
Saturday Aug 31st - 8pm - ABC (Clemson -2)
Clemson’s status as an early favorite is very interesting and it shows the level of national respect Dabo Swinney’s team has gained in recent years. This game has clear Heisman implications. Both Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd have high expectations in 2013. The ACC catches a break with this game being in Clemson, which is a very difficult place to play as I’ve seen first-hand. The Tigers’ faithful create the ACC’s best atmosphere in my opinion and the 8pm kickoff will add to that as well. Clemson WR Sammy Watkins is looking to bounce back from a disappointing year last year. Georgia’s stud RB Todd Gurley should have success on the ground with his entire starting offensive line returning this season. Can Clemson seize the moment and build on their momentum from the LSU victory? The Tigers are confident and know they can play with the SEC. Georgia’s Mark Richt will be looking for an early statement win.
Florida at Miami
Saturday Sept 7th - 12pm - ESPN (Florida -2.5)
The Canes are fortunate to play the Gators early in the season. UF QB Jeff Driskel will have all the pressure on his shoulders and I’m still not convinced he has the ability to carry his team. Florida will miss several key playmakers that have moved on to the NFL. The departures of Shariff Floyd, Jon Bostic, and Matt Elam leave significant holes in Will Muschamp’s defense. In addition, Miami caught a break with the suspension of UF's stud LB Antonio Morrison. He will be stuck barking instructions at his television from his couch in Gainesville. Miami’s defense should show signs of improvement in 2013 and will feed off the home crowd. Florida’s offensive playmakers on the perimeter are unproven and I expect the Canes to sellout to stop the run. Miami has an experienced offensive line and will wear down the Gators in the afternoon heat. The Gators have two very talented corners, but Miami’s offense will be one of the best in the nation under new OC James Coley. The ACC can depend on Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson to earn a close victory.
Bring it on SEC fans, tell us why your conference will win all four games.
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