Not all schedules are created equal. That's life in college football. Each slate does, however, present its own set of challenges. Here, we take a look at the toughest stretches that each ACC team will face in 2014, periods that could help determine their fate in the upcoming campaign.
Toughest stretch: Nov. 8-20 (at Syracuse, Virginia Tech, North Carolina)
Why: Duke needs to finish strong. It failed to do so in 2012, losing five straight. In 2013, however, the Blue Devils won their final eight regular season games to win the Coastal Division crown. Duke needs to do the same in this stretch in 2014 as their opponents get tougher in the season's final month. This stretch, at least, offers them the benefit of three straight home games to end the campaign (Duke closes against Wake Forest on Nov. 29).
Two of those eight Duke wins down the stretch last season came with strong defensive performances on the road at Virginia Tech and North Carolina, both of whom will travel to Durham this year in games that are just five days apart from each other. Each squad will enter 2014 in much the way Duke will -- with every reason to think that it will be the one representing the division in the ACC title game. The Tar Heels are coming off a big finish to 2013 and the Hokies are looking to rebound from consecutive underwhelming campaigns. Further complicating matters is Syracuse, another upstart ACC squad that punctuated its inaugural season in the league last year with a bowl victory.
All three of these teams finished with seven or more wins, and there is a good chance that all three teams will be improved this season, even if their final records might not indicate that. With all three opponents taking on Duke within a 13-day span in the dog days of November, this is a challenge even greater than the one the Blue Devils were tasked with during their surprise run in 2013, and one that could very well determine if they can successfully defend their division crown.