ACC preview: the quest for the playoffs begins

ACC preview: the quest for the playoffs begins
August 28, 2014, 8:45 am
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(Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports)

Schedule:

Wake Forest at Louisiana-Monroe, Thurs. 7:00 pm
Villanova at Syracuse, Fri. 7:30 pm
No. 7 UCLA at Virginia, Sat. 12:00 pm (replay on CSN Sun. 7:00 pm)
Delaware at Pittsburgh, Sat. 12:00 pm
Wofford at Georgia Tech, Sat. 12:30 pm on CSN
Georgia Southern at North Carolina State, Sat. 12:30 pm
Boston College at Massachusetts, Sat. 3:00 pm
Rice at No. 17 Notre Dame, Sat. 3:30 pm
William & Mary at Virginia Tech, Sat. 4:00 pm (replay on CSN Sun. 1:00 pm)
No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia, Sat. 5:30 pm
Liberty at No. 23 North Carolina, Sat. 6:00 pm
Elon at Duke, Sat. 6:00 pm
No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State, Sat. 8:00 pm
Miami (FL) at Louisville, Mon. 8:00 pm

The week's storylines:

Anyone want a cupcake?

The College Football Playoff's emphasis on strength of schedule will be in future seasons, but it didn't come along early enough to save this mess. Six ACC teams will be playing teams from the FCS and NC State is facing a Ga. Southern team that is in its first season as an FBS school. Suddenly a nine-game conference schedule doesn't look so bad.

The defending champs

Florida State begins its title defense with a primetime matchup against Oklahoma State. Whatever happens, try to temper your expectations. The Cowboys are destined for a rebuild year and Florida State is really good. The Seminoles are going to win and win big. Because Oklahoma State has been good in recent years, some people may try to talk up the blowout to show how far ahead FSU is from everyone else. Don't get me wrong, Florida State is the best team in the nation right now, but don't put too much emphasis on Saturday's blowout.

Petrino's redemption tour

Bobby Petrino returns to Louisville to lead the Cardinals in their first season in the ACC and he faces a tough matchup right off the bat with Miami. Given his long and sordid past, it will be interesting to see how Petrino's second tour goes and how he is received at various places. He's also a great football coach who's team gets a shot at the defending nationals champs later in the season. A strong win against Miami will reflect just how fast we can expect him to get up to speed.

[RELATED: Frank Beamer given two-year extension]

Game of the week: No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia, Sat. 5:30 pm

The Tigers will meet the Bulldogs between the hedges on Saturday in one of the best opening matchups in all of college football.

Again, parity is the name of the game. Last season, both teams came in with experienced quarterbacks who dissected the defenses leading to a high-scoring shootout. This season, both teams will feature new quarterbacks in what should be a far more defensive game.

Georgia certainly has the upper hand on offense with both Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins gone for Clemson. While the Bulldogs have to replace Aaron Murray under center, they still boast star running back Todd Gurley who will be the best playmaker on the field Saturday.

Gurley torched the Tigers last season for 154 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries. But, as Georgia appears better offensively, so Clemson looks better defensively. The Tigers will have four senior defensive linemen starting on Saturday. For a program of Clemson’s caliber, to have four senior linemen doesn’t happen very often. I can't wait to see who wins the battle in the trenches between Clemson's line and Georgia's rush attack.

Georgia is favored in this one by a wide-margin, but I’m not so sure. The Bulldogs have a bad habit of losing games they should win against other power conference teams. Am I calling for the upset? No, but I don’t see it being as decidedly in Georgia favor as everyone else does.

Player to watch: Virginia FS Quin Blanding, Fr

As a five-star recruit, Blanding did not disappoint in camp. He is taller and bigger than any safety on this roster and was named the starter this week at free safety despite only being in his first-year. His first task? Taking on Brett Hundley of UCLA.

Talk about a trial by fire.

With Anthony Harris lining up at strong safety, Blanding is probably going to be targeted by Hundley and the Bruins. It will be interesting to see just how he handles it.

I don’t expect Virginia to win or even keep it close, but the battle between Hundley and Virginia's safeties will be fun to watch.

Upset alert: Miami (FL) at Louisville, Mon. 8:00 pm

These two teams met in the Russell Athletic Bowl last season and Louisville shellacked the Hurricanes 36-9. These two teams today, however, are very different from the ones that played last season. That is especially true for Louisville who is adjusting to a new coach in Petrino and  no longer have Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback.

Last season’s game exposed how wide the gap was between the two. Based on Miami’s young talent, the return of Duke Johnson who could easily challenge for the Heisman this season and the influx at Louisville, that gap narrowed significantly and the score is likely to be much closer this seaon. Louisville is still the better team and I expect them to win, but when you beat a team as badly as the Carinals did and find yourself in a dog fight at halftime, sometimes the doubt can creep into one locker room and the confidence can fuel the other.

I give Miami a shot in this one, but only a small one.

[MORE CONTENT: Watford slides down depth chart as UVa reveals its starters]