With the national champion coming from the Atlantic Coast Conference in two of the last three seasons, there is certainly a reason to keep an eye on the conference this season. But Clemson has dominated the league over the past few years, winning the last four conference championship games by an average of 20.5 points. Can any other team in the league give the Tigers a run for their money? These five games will help determine the answer to that question.
Clemson at Syracuse, Sept. 14
It was Syracuse — not Alabama — that gave the Tigers their toughest game in 2018, leading by 10 in the fourth quarter on the road before freshman QB Chase Brice led Clemson to the come-from-behind victory. Two seasons ago, the Orange gave the defending champion Tigers their first loss of the year at home. So can they pull off that feat again? They’ll have to shut down Trevor Lawrence — who was injured in last year’s meeting — which is no small task. The Tigers will certainly remember the previous matchups between these two teams and come in ready, but if the Orange want any shot at the Atlantic Division crown, they’ll need this one.
Virginia at Miami, Oct. 11
Two of the top teams in the Coastal Division matchup on a Friday night, with the Hurricanes six days removed from a home game with Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers won a 16-13 defensive battle in last year’s meeting, but Virginia QB Bryce Perkins could change that in this one after finishing third in the league in total offense a season ago. Miami’s offense could be hitting its stride under new offensive coordinator Dan Enos, the former Alabama quarterbacks coach, and new signal caller Tate Martell, a transfer from Ohio State who is trying to win the starting job.
Florida State at Clemson, Oct. 12
The two dominant teams in the ACC over the past decade square off in their annual get-together, with the Seminoles looking for a little revenge for last year’s 59-10 Tigers victory, which was Florida State’s worst home loss ever. Second-year coach Willie Taggert is hoping for a much better showing in this one, with either sophomore James Blackman and Wisconsin grad transfer Alex Hornibrook leading the team under center. This one could get a little chippy after Florida State committed 16 penalties, including three that led to players being ejected for personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct in last year’s rout.
Boston College at Syracuse, Nov. 2
Two former Big East rivals square off in a game that could determine one or both teams’ division title chances. The Eagles have QB Anthony Brown back after he threw for 20 touchdowns last season, the second-most by a sophomore in school history. The Orange will have a more conventional offense with QB Tommy DeVito taking over as the starter, providing more pocket passing as opposed to scrambling. He has a number of receivers back this season, including Sean Riley, who led the team with 64 receptions a season ago.
Virginia Tech at Virginia, Nov. 29
The day after Thanksgiving brings an in-state showdown that may decide the Coastal Division. The Hokies won the battle for the Commonwealth Cup in overtime last season, their 15th straight victory in the rivalry. The Cavaliers will certainly be ready for this one, especially defensively, with linebackers Charles Snowden and Jordan Mack leading the way. Virginia Tech is looking for a rebound on the defensive side of the ball after allowing 31 points a game last season, the most in Bud Foster’s 24 seasons as the team’s defensive coordinator.