The ACC released its full 2013 football schedule on Monday afternoon, and the first thing that jumps out is the opening weekend -- North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia Tech have non-conference matchups with SEC teams. The ACC has been outclassed on the field by the SEC in recent years, but the opportunities for breakthrough wins are there.
Pittsburgh and Syracuse are now on board as full members, and they weren't done any early-schedule favors by the league office. The Panthers jump right into the fray with a game against Florida State in Week 1, while the Orange are on the road for two of their first three league games -- and all three are against teams that went to bowl games last season.
If the Seminoles survive that trip to Pittsburgh, there's a solid chance they'll be undefeated heading into a showdown game against Clemson in October. The division ultimately was decided by this game a year ago, and that could well prove to be the case again.
The Coastal, on the other hand, is a bit murkier. No team in the division won more than five conference games in 2012, and Virginia Tech had an unusually poor season. The door appears open for any one of several teams to claim the division.
Here's a breakdown of what to keep an eye on (and what to avoid) this fall:
Five biggest games for the new guys
Syracuse vs. Penn State (Aug. 31): If Syracuse loses to the Nittany Lions, it faces the prospect of an 0-2 start. The Orange travel to Northwestern the following week.
Florida State at Pittsburgh (Sept. 2): There will be no easing into the league schedule for the Panthers.
Clemson at Syracuse (Oct. 5): This is Syracuse's first home conference game as a member of the ACC, and it's against what may be the ACC's best team.
Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech (Oct. 12): The Panthers played (and beat) Virginia Tech in a non-conference game last season, but now the two schools share a division, and the Hokies will present a major hurdle on an annual basis.
Syracuse at Florida State (Nov. 16): The Orange get their shot at last year's conference champs.
Five biggest weeknights
North Carolina at South Carolina (Aug. 29): Larry Fedora's first season in Chapel Hill was a good one -- can he build on that with a statement win?
Clemson at N.C. State (Sept. 19): The Wolfpack can't match Clemson's talent, but night games in Raleigh can be tough. The Tigers must avoid an early-season slip-up here. This is one of eight home games for N.C. State.
Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech (Sept. 26): It took overtime for the Hokies to beat the Jackets last year, and this one could come back to haunt the loser in the Coastal Division race.
Miami at North Carolina (Oct. 17): UNC has road games at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech ahead of this contest, which means this will be crucial. Depending on how the season is going, it could provide the Heels with some separation in the division, or simply keep their division hopes alive.
Georgia Tech at Clemson (Nov. 14): These teams combined to score 78 points last year.
Five biggest out-of-conference games
Clemson vs. Georgia (Aug. 31): Elsewhere in a big opening weekend for the ACC, the Tigers meet the Bulldogs.
Virginia Tech vs. Alabama (Aug. 31): Can the Hokies hang with Nick Saban's death machine?
Oregon at Virginia (Sept. 7): Give Mike London credit -- his team is coming off a 4-8 season but he isn't avoiding out-of-conference challenges. This game may end up a painful one for the Cavs, but it'll also serve as a good early-season litmus test.
Florida State at Florida (Nov. 30): FSU lost in disappointing fashion to the Gators last year.
Clemson at South Carolina (Nov. 30): Clemson hasn't won a game in this series since 2008.
Five worst games
South Carolina State at Clemson (Sept. 7): SCSU gave up 56 points to Arizona and 70 to Texas A&M last season.
Wagner at Syracuse (Sept. 14): Yep, this is happening.
Savannah State at Miami (Sept. 21): This is the same Savannah State team that lost 55-0 to FSU last year -- in a game that was called six minutes into the third quarter -- and gained 28 yards on 33 plays in the process. In other words, continue to pray for Savannah State.
Bethune-Cookman at Florida State (Sept. 21): At least there's a good payday involved for the Wildcats.
Alabama A&M at Georgia Tech (Nov. 23): Attempts by FCS teams to stopoffense generally do not end well.
Five must-watch games
Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech (Sept. 26): You never know when Paul Johnson might snap and strangle someone on the sidelines, mid-game. But you know he's thought about it. The Hokies will be coming off a short week, and their fans are not pleased about the timing.
Florida State at Clemson (Oct. 19): It was an entertaining affair last season, and there will be division title implications.
Miami at Florida State (Nov. 2): Miami returns a lot of starters, and it will be motivated to snap a three-game losing streak in this series.
Clemson at South Carolina (Nov. 30): Dabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier are enough to make this a can't-miss event.
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