The Atlantic Coast Conference has its back against the wall, or against the ropes. The ACC’s TV deal is antiquated and their universities are bound to fall tens of millions of dollars behind the SEC and Big Ten in the immediate future.
That said, the conference has two potential College Football Playoff teams and possibly 4-5 other eight or nine win programs in 2023. With the ACC’s games buried on the ACC Network the conference has a few bigger games to showcase what they have, and has to hope cannibalization of their top programs doesn’t kill the season.
I’m going to use the SP+ “overall” metrics from Bill Connelly as a litmus test of how important the games could be throughout the ‘23 season.
The out of conference slate
Sept. 2, South Carolina at North Carolina
SP+: 33 at 28
South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer comes from ACC (and BIG EAST) stock as his father, Frank Beamer, was the architect of the Virginia Tech Hokies run into being a household name. Beamer’s Gamecocks beat the Clemson Tigers in ‘22, and were a bowl team a year ago as well. UNC has struggled early in the year in the past and really needs a win here to start the season off with Heisman Trophy candidate Drake Maye at quarterback.
Sept. 9, Texas A&M at Miami
SP+: 16th at 37th
When Miami joined the ACC, the Hurricanes were supposed to be a marquee addition, so much so that the ‘Canes and FSU Seminoles were placed in opposite divisions. Well, divisions are gone and Miami has only one Coastal title, and no ACC rings to show for it. In ‘22, TAMU edged Miami in College Station, TX. This time the ‘Canes host the Aggies as underdogs in round two.
Sept. 9, Notre Dame at NC State
SP+: 15th at 43rd
Notre Dame is that sibling that’s allowed to break curfew and some how never gets grounded. They’re not really in the ACC, except when they need to be during the 2020 COVID season. They’re playing at NC State and the Wolfpack have changed OC’s and QB’s heading into the season. NCSU always seems to wind up choking a game away. This could be a huge win to start the ACC season if NC State can pull it off.
Sept. 9th, Cincinnati at Pittsburgh
SP+ 46th at 41st
2021 ACC Champion Pitt will play two major OOC games early in the season. The first is a matchup against the Big 12’s new addition- the Cincinnati Bearcats. This pits (pun) The Panthers against a fellow ‘hanging on for dear life’ conference in the Big 12.
The ACC sure could use a signature win against Cincy to gain some form of momentum as the conference teeters on failure.
Sept. 16th, Pitt at West Virginia
SP+ 41st at 56th
Five years ago I never would’ve thought Pat Narduzzi could be the savior of the ACC but here we are. Pitt faces their Backyard Brawl rival in West Virginia up in Morgantown. If Pitt can take wins against Cincy and WVU, that’s two big ones over the Big 12.
In 2007, Dave Wannstedt’s 5-7 Panthers team mucked up the WVU Mountaineers undefeated season with a 13-9 upset win. Rich Rodriguez’s ‘Eers finished 11-2 with losses to South Florida and Pitt, but did knock off Oklahoma, Cincy and UConn.
The Early Conference Slate
Sept. 23, Florida State at Clemson
SP+: 10th vs 12th
Florida State is the ACC’s highest ranked team per the SP+ and many feel this is the year the ‘Noles get back into the College Football Playoff. If FSU wants to get there, they’ll have to go through Clemson on the road in Death Valley.
The Tigers have a new QB and OC after the offense sputtered again in ‘22. This could be a huge game for the ACC and should be a primetime ABC game with College Gameday on campus.
Oct. 14, Miami at UNC
SP+: 37th vs 28th
This game could be a complete dud by Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Neither team has lived up to their potential since Manny Diaz and Mack Brown first faced off in 2019. UNC has a 1st round pick QB, Miami has a guy that was thought to be on his way there only one year ago.
Oct. 21, Clemson at Miami
SP+: 12th vs 37th
Another ‘potential dud’ if Miami drops their games against TAMU and UNC and Clemson loses to FSU. This one could be a big time matchup or a completely boring affair on ESPN2 at 6:30 eastern.
Dabo Swinney has a whole lot less to prove than Mario Cristobal, but both men have something to prove in ‘23. Swinney on whether or not he can adapt to life after Tony Elliott and Brent Venables and Cristobal on if he can adapt, period.
In the last four meetings between the two teams, Clemson has scored 178 points to Miami’s 30. If you round-down to typical football numbers- that’s CU winning 44 to 7.
Oct. 28, Pitt at ND 10/28
SP+: 41st vs 15th
Look if the weather has to go to crap in North Carolina for the winter, at least I have Halloween and college football to look forward to. Pitt at Notre Dame in the fall could be a beautiful thing both with the fall leaves and all that jazz, and if Pitt has managed to hold off Cincy and WVU they could be a top-15 team.
The Irish have adjustments to make at OC and QB, but Sam Hartman will be a dynamic playmaker for the Irish. The Wake Forest transfer QB scored 127 touchdowns over 48 games in Winston-Salem.
Oct. 28, Clemson at NCSU
SP+: 12th vs 43rd
The weather around Halloween in Raleigh should be amazing and The Pack have knocked off The Tigers before. If they do it this time it could really bury the ACC into a bunch of ‘also ran’ type of teams, however. And it could also put a damper on the next game on my list.
The Late Conference Slate
Nov. 4, ND at Clemson
SP+: 15th vs 12th
The second biggest match-up on the ACC’s card all season will be the Irish vs. the Tigers. Part-timer Notre Dame could ruin the ACC’s season if they beat an undefeated Clemson in South Carolina. This is a big game for Marcus Freeman, the ND head coach.
Clemson has a 3-2 edge over Notre Dame in the last five meetings, which have all taken place since the 2015 season. The Irish took the win in 2022 by a final of 35-14.
Nov. 4, FSU at Pitt
SP+: 10th vs 41st
FSU should be cruising at this point with potentially only one loss to Clemson, or an undefeated record. The Panthers have been plucky under Narduzzi for years. They’ll have a good quarterback and you can just assume a really good defensive line. This shouldn’t even be in question if FSU is “we back” in ‘23.
Nov. 11, Miami at FSU
SP+: 37th vs 10th
A once proud rivalry has been reduced to ESPN2. If Miami can hold it together to an 8-4 type of season, and FSU is 11-1 by year’s end; maybe this thing winds up being showcased once again. The ‘Canes head to Tallahassee this year to face the ‘Noles in what could be a huge game for FSU’s CFBPO hopes.
Nov. 18, UNC at Clemson
SP+: 28th vs 12th
Cade Klubnik vs. Drake Maye at Death Valley. At this point, UNC could have found its footing and be a 1-2 loss team and Clemson could be undefeated. I’d love to see this thing on primetime on ABC but both teams will have to rebound from ‘22- UNC on defense and Clemson on offense.
The Tigers have taken the last five match-ups against the Tar Heels, including two ACC Championship Games in Charlotte.
Nov. 25, FSU at Florida
SP+: 10th vs 21st
The Seminoles will wrap up the regular season in The Swamp in Gainesville, FL for their rivalry weekend game. I love rivalry weekend, especially because Miami plays Boston College on Friday and who cares about that one? I can enjoy Michigan and Ohio State and FSU and UF without any cares.
The Gators will have their chance to ruin FSU’s playoff season with an upset win over the ‘Noles in front of the UF home crowd. It should be a loud and rowdy environment for FSU.
Nov. 25, Clemson at South Car.
SP+: 12th vs 33rd
South Carolina upset the Tigers in ‘22 and for the ACC’s top dog to lose to a middle of the road SEC team two years in a row would be the nail in the conference’s coffin. Especially if Clemson is undefeated or a one-loss team to end the regular season.
In 2023, Clemson and FSU are the top dogs of the ACC. The former Atlantic division rivals and former Bowden Bowl programs will be in the biggest games of the season for a conference that needs big games, and two or more top-rated teams.
It’s time to vote on the game of the year in the ACC, and if you choose other, comment with what you think is the biggest regular season game for the conference.
Which ACC game will be the biggest of the year?
This poll is closed
Notre Dame at Clemson
Florida State at Clemson
Texas A&M at Miami
FSU at Florida