Although most of the ACC football top regular season matchups won’t come until October and November, there are plenty of intriguing games around the league in September. One of the ACC’s top cross-divisional matchups takes place on the opening weekend, while heavyweights such as Clemson and Miami are staring at major early challenges.
Take a closer look at five of the top ACC football games heading into the first month of the regular season, including our choice as the ACC’s Game of the Month for September.
Miami at LSU (Sept. 2)
The reigning Coastal Division champions from Coral Gables are overwhelming favorites to once again play in the ACC Championship Game come December. Mark Richt has the Canes thinking once again about the glory days of the 1980s and 1990s. But they’ll have to survive a significant road test the opening weekend to harbor any realistic College Football Playoff hopes.
Miami faces off against LSU for the first time in the regular season since 1988 on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. The Tigers aren’t quite the juggernaut they were a decade or so ago. But they’ll bring a large contingent of fans to Arlington’s AT&T Stadium, and will show up ready for war. This is the ultimate swing game for the Canes – either a momentum-building road victory over a top 25 foe to open the year, or a trap game that could potentially derail the whole season if things go badly.
Penn State at Pittsburgh (Sept. 8)
After a decade and a half hiatus, Pitt renewed its longtime Keystone State rivalry with Penn State in 2016, picking up a stunning 42-39 triumph. Penn State turned the tables last September in Happy Valley, as they took down the Panthers, 33-14. With Pitt losing significant resources on defense, including Jordan Whitehead and Avonte Maddox, few will be predicting the Panthers to pull off this upset.
Penn State heads into the regular season in the top 10. But coming off last November’s stunning upset of previously-undefeated Miami, the Panthers are confident that they can beat anyone on any given day. If Alex Bookser and the Pitt offensive line can give Kenny Pickett time to throw, the Panthers could make things interesting.
Clemson at Texas A&M (Sept. 8)
Clemson heads into the new season as the overwhelming favorite to win another ACC title and compete for another national championship. The Tigers will face a familiar old foe on the second weekend of the regular season following an opening week tune-up against Furman.
Jimbo Fisher has made his way to Texas A&M, where he’s been given the money and resources to get the Aggies eventually competing with Alabama, LSU, Auburn, and the rest of the SEC’s Western Division. On paper, Clemson will be a decided favorite in this one. But playing on the road against a talented squad with nothing to lose, the Tigers will have to show up to avoid a potentially devastating setback to their College Football Playoff dreams.
Notre Dame at Wake Forest (Sept. 22)
Coming off an 8-5 season in 2017, and with much of its personnel returning, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, Wake Forest is looking to make some noise in the Atlantic Division in Dave Clawson’s fifth season in Winston-Salem. Notre Dame makes its way to BB&T Field for a late September showdown that will be a real measuring stick game for the Demon Deacons.
If Wake can hang with the Fighting Irish for sixth minutes and beat them, it will send a strong message around the ACC that the Demon Deacons are a force to be reckoned with. But if Notre Dame toys with the Deacs and handles them easily, it’ll take a lot of wind out of Wake’s sails heading into the meat of its regular season schedule.
GAME OF THE MONTH: Virginia Tech at Florida State (Sept. 3)
This cross-divisional matchup of traditional top 25 powers kicks off the ACC regular season slate. Florida State welcomes new head coach Willie Taggart to the sidelines at Doak Campbell Stadium, while Virginia Tech looks to build on a solid two-year run by Justin Fuente, in which he replaced Frank Beamer by winning 19 combined games.
Both the Hokies and Seminoles are harboring ACC championship dreams, but are overshadowed in the preseason rankings by the likes of Clemson and Miami. Both teams have a chance to make a major statement on national television, and neither can afford to open with a loss. A win springboards the victor into a legitimate conversation to win their division. The loser faces an uphill battle in regaining respectability among the league’s top programs.