Toughest stretch: Wake Forest

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: Sept. 27-Oct. 18 (at Louisville, at Florida State, Bye, Syracuse)

Why: Dave Clawson features no shortage of challenges in his first season as Wake Forest's coach. An early season stretch that features road contests against two of his division's expected top teams could only make things more difficult.

The Demon Deacons get an easy enough nonconference slate to open the season, as they go to Louisiana-Monroe, host Gardner-Webb, travel to Utah State and host Army. But they could be in a rude awakening one week later, Sept. 27, as they open conference play at ACC newcomer Louisville, which is a bit of a wild card this early in the game. Like Wake, the Cardinals have a new coach and lost a number of key players from last season. But they are clearly talented, and Bobby Petrino has proven himself at the elite level in the past, though it remains to be seen what he can do in his second act at Louisville and how soon he can get things on track, especially now that the American Athletic Conference (and Big East) days are behind the program. Things only get more difficult a week later, when the Deacs head down to Tallahassee to take on defending national champion Florida State, which went to Winston-Salem last season and delivered a 59-3 beatdown to the home team.

The bye week one week later, Oct. 11, will likely be a necessary one for Wake after its battle with the Seminoles. And the Deacs do get two home games following that, against Syracuse and Boston College, before another bye. We throw that Orange game in there as part of the toughest stretch because the Orange have the opportunity to take a big step in Year 2 under Scott Shafer after going 7-6 last season in their ACC debut. One thing that could be working in Wake's favor is the timing of that matchup, as not only will the Deacs be coming off a bye week, but the Orange will be facing them between contests against ACC powers FSU and Clemson. Syracuse facing Louisville one week before it hosts the Noles only makes this game a more favorable one calendar-wise for Wake, though it should still be a tough game to win.

That's the way it goes for first-year coaches undertaking rebuilding jobs. They need to steal wins wherever they can. And the opportunities ahead of Clawson and Wake Forest, at least in ACC play, might be few and far between in 2014.