The ACC has the strongest nonconference slate to open the season, the byproduct of aggressive scheduling that has become a league mantra.
Still, there is a different feel to all these marquee nonconference games. In the past, the ACC needed to win these matchups to help improve its reputation among the power conferences. This year, the ACC needs to win these matchups to further its momentum (not to mention backing up plentiful boasts that it is the best conference in America).
So you see why there is more at stake in these games this year, why there should be greater importance and greater scrutiny. The last thing the ACC needs is to take a step backward, especially since all this hard-won credibility took so many years to gain.
Indeed, over the past five seasons the ACC has the most wins in BCS, New Year's Six, and College Football Playoff games, going 8-3. Compare that to the Pac-12 (5-4), Big Ten (6-7), SEC (5-8), and Big 12 (3-5).
Just last season, the ACC went 10-4 against the SEC and 17-9 against Power 5 opponents, both tops in the country. Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher had a right to say the ACC was the best conference in 2016. But this is a new season with new teams and new games, and a new opportunity to impress upon college football viewers how far this league has come.
It starts this weekend, as the ACC features six games against Power 5 nonconference opponents, more than any other Power 5 conference. The ACC is favored in four.
According to ESPN Stats & Information matchup predictors:
North Carolina has an 87.4 percent chance to beat California
NC State has a 62.7 percent chance to beat South Carolina
Louisville has a 94.3 percent chance to beat Purdue
Virginia Tech has a 67 percent chance to beat West Virginia
In two of the three SEC matchups, the SEC is favored:
Alabama has a 59 percent chance to beat Florida State
Tennessee has a 68.1 percent chance to beat Georgia Tech
Let's say these matchup indicators hold and the ACC opens 4-2 in these games. That would be about what is expected. And let's not forget that Florida State will have every opportunity to make it into the College Football Playoff even with an opening loss to Alabama in what is being dubbed the "GOAT -- Greatest Opener of All Time."
Week 2 offers four more ACC nonconference matchups against Power 5 teams. Two are headliners: Auburn at Clemson and Pitt at Penn State. These teams played against each other last season, and Clemson and Pittsburgh won. This time around, Penn State is the heavy favorite and Clemson has only a slight edge.
Anything better than the expected outcomes obviously fuels the continuing rise. But let's also remember that in the past it hasn't been a given that ACC teams would be the favorites in a majority of these games.
Back in 2015 for example, every ACC team was an underdog in Week 1 Power 5 nonconference matchups. The fact that ACC teams are favored this year would make losing much more difficult to take.
ACC teams have grown accustomed to playing in high-stakes games with the national spotlight squarely on them. But it's one thing to play as the upstart hoping for an upset. It's quite another to play when many more teams and conferences now see you as a threat. Any elite team will tell you that (ask Florida State and Clemson).
How the ACC responds in the first two weeks could very well be a sign for what is to come.