The first week of the college football season is often full of cupcake games (ahem, Florida State vs. Murray State), but a number of ACC football teams will face tough competition as the 2012 season kicks off.
Clemson and North Carolina State will face SEC opponents on Friday and Saturday in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games at the Georgia Dome, while projected ACC leaders Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech will face off on Labor Day night in Blacksburg.
Here’s a look at what to watch for in Week One:
North Carolina State vs. Tennessee (Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic at the Georgia Dome, Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET)
Both teams have experienced quarterbacks, but those guys aren’t going to win the game for either team. Neither will NC State CB C.J. Wilson, who will sit out with an “eligibility issue,” or former Vol Da’Rick Rogers, the All-SEC receiver who transferred after being suspended. Fortunately for the Wolfpack, there’s another star corner in their secondary: David Amerson, the nation’s 2011 interceptions leader. Tennessee has other options at receiver but Rogers’ departure makes QB Tyler Bray‘s job even harder. He’s been inconsistent throughout his career and the Wolfpack secondary will make him pay for every mistake.
The Vols’ defense wasn’t terrible in 2011 and it will force NC State’s Mike Glennon to work for his yards, but the team desperately needs better production from their offense, which was 116th nationally in rushing last season.
UNC vs. Elon (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET)
Tar Heels fans will get their first taste of the new Larry Fedora-coached team in what should be an easy first win.
Maryland vs. William & Mary (Saturday, 3:00 p.m. ET)
Why do cupcake games exist? For those instances when your quarterback is lost for the year in preseason and all you have left is a true freshman. Ready or not, it’s game time for Perry Hills. At least it’s not a nationally televised, prime time conference game like last year’s opener.
Virginia vs. Richmond (Saturday, 3:00 p.m. ET)
The ties between these two teams run deep. Cavaliers’ head coach Mike London played at Richmond and spent the majority of his coaching career with the Spiders and the Cavaliers; Richmond was his first head coaching job before he headed to Charlottesville. The current Spiders’ coach? Danny Rocco, whose nephew, Michael, is the Cavaliers’ starting quarterback.
Miami @ Boston College (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)
Miami lost at Maryland in last year’s Labor Day game. This year they’re on the road in the ACC again, and without the Terps’ eye-popping State Pride uniforms distracting them, they’re looking for a win.
Both Miami and BC were picked to finish second-to-last in their divisions, and both will start the season with a number of inexperienced players on the field. It’ll be interesting to see who emerges at tight end for each team. Miami has a handful of guys in the mix, while BC’s options are limited due to injury. The Eagles will start a former defensive end, backed up by two former offensive linemen.
Clemson vs. Auburn (Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET)
Tigers vs. Tigers. The Clemson Tigers are eager to start the season with a big win to erase the memory of the big loss they suffered in the Orange Bowl to end last season, but they’ll have to do it without star receiver Sammy Watkins, who is suspended for two games. Auburn also has personnel issues: standout running back Michael Dyer is no longer with the team, and starting center Reese Dismukes is suspended.
Clemson burst into the national picture when they piled up 624 yards of offense, defeating the reigning BCS champions, 38-24. Even without Watkins, Clemson has powerful weapons on offense, led by QB Tajh Boyd, WR DeAndre Hopkins and RB Andre Ellington. Auburn is breaking in a new quarterback, Kiehl Frazier, behind an inexperienced O-line. If the SEC’s Tigers are going to take home the win, their defense will need to be exponentially better than it was last time these teams met.
Georgia Tech @ Virginia Tech (Monday, 8 p.m. ET)
Two of the ACC’s top teams kick off against each other in a game that could have immediate implications for the division title. Since 2005, the winner of this matchup has won the Coastal Division. The Hokies’ defense should make life tough for the Yellow Jackets, although Paul Johnson‘s offense can be tricky. Other than Logan Thomas, the Virginia Tech offense doesn’t have any stars (yet), but he’s already proven he can frustrate the GT defenders. In last year’s meeting, Jeremiah Attaochu punched the Hokies’ QB when Thomas was too tough to bring down.