Toughest stretch: Miami

Not all schedules are created equal. That's life in college football. Each slate does, however, present its own set of challenges. We're taking a look at the toughest stretches that each ACC team will face in 2014, periods that could help determine their fate in the upcoming season.


Miami Hurricanes football

Toughest stretch: Oct. 23-Nov. 15 (at Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State)

Why: Miami plays one of the most difficult schedules in the ACC, featuring 10 teams that made bowl games a season ago. But this three-game stretch is the most challenging, for a host of reasons. It will most likely determine whether the Hurricanes can get to their first ACC championship game. If you remember back to our ACC Road Trip series, Miami vs. Virginia Tech and Miami vs. Florida State were our selections for best games on their respective weekends.

Start with Virginia Tech. This has developed into one of the better rivalries in the ACC because the two programs have a long history, going back to their days in the Big East. Fighting for conference championships is nothing new when these two teams play. Miami has not won in Blacksburg since 2005, and this game is on a Thursday night -- making the stakes all the greater because the environment is electric at Lane Stadium for midweek games. Coastal Division hopes were on the line when these teams played a season ago. Virginia Tech won in an upset.

The following week, Miami returns home to play North Carolina -- one of the favorites to win the Coastal. Miami has won three of the last four against the Tar Heels, including a thriller on a Thursday night in Chapel Hill a year ago. But many believe North Carolina is better positioned to compete for a Coastal crown this season, based partly on how the teams ended last season (North Carolina ended with wins in six of its final seven games, Miami ended with losses in four of its final six games). In addition, North Carolina is expected to have more stability at quarterback, even though the starter is still undetermined.

A bye comes next, then the all-important showdown against Florida State. The defending national champs are the best team Miami will face this season. Florida State has won four straight and five of the last six in the series and shows no signs of letting up anytime soon. Miami was able to stay with Florida State for a brief time during their game a year ago, but its lack of depth and defensive problems were made even more apparent as the game wore on. As it stands today, Florida State is an early two-touchdown favorite in the contest.

You can see why this stretch is particularly critical. Given the cluttered Coastal, Miami cannot afford many slipups. In the early odds, Miami is favored to beat only North Carolina among these three games, and the Canes are a one-point favorite at that. An upset or two here would be huge for the still-growing Hurricanes.