Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
There is usually a point during the season that makes or breaks a team's chances at contending for the conference title. Here's a look at what that key stretch in the schedule might be for each team in the ACC:
BOSTON COLLEGE: A three-game swing against Atlantic Division opponents that begins Sept. 19 at Clemson, includes a Sept. 26 home game against Wake Forest and ends Oct. 3 against Florida State will go a long way in determining if the Eagles have a prayer of ending up in the ACC title game for the third straight season.
CLEMSON: The back-to-back games against Atlantic Division opponents to start the month of November could either push the Tigers into the race or spoil it for the two preseason frontrunners, Florida State and NC State.
DUKE: The Blue Devils have a tough four-game stretch against all Coastal Division opponents late in the season, and three of the four games are on the road at Virginia, North Carolina and Miami. Duke hosts Georgia Tech on Nov. 14.
FLORIDA STATE: Yes, the opener against Miami will be important, but it won't carry as much weight in the conference race as the Noles' November schedule. It actually begins on Oct. 31 with a home game against NC State -- a game that could determine the division winner - and continues with back-to-back road trips to Clemson and Wake Forest before finishing the conference schedule against Maryland. Considering four of FSU's five Atlantic Division opponents aren't played until the second half of the season, that's when their fate will be determined -- not on Labor Day.
GEORGIA TECH: If the Yellow Jackets are going to push Virginia Tech for the Coastal Division title, they first have to put themselves in contention to win it, and that starts in September with back-to-back games against Miami and North Carolina. The game at Miami is on a Thursday night, and the Canes will want to redeem themselves from last year's poor performance on defense.
MARYLAND: The Terps have a tendency to wait until the final two games of the season to let Florida State and Boston College determine their fate for them. This year, though, Maryland has four straight games at home that could put them at 4-1 heading into a critical Atlantic Division game at Wake Forest. Factoring in a possible loss at Cal, the Terps have to take care of business at home early.
MIAMI: The Hurricanes have no choice but to play November football in September. Their first three games are conference games, including a Thursday night matchup against Georgia Tech and a trip to Blacksburg. Best case scenario? The Canes are 3-0 heading into a showdown with Oklahoma. Worst case scenario? They're 0-4 and heading into trap games against Florida A&M and Central Florida. Even if Miami is 1-3 out of the gate, though, and beats their in-state opponents, that sets up for a huge game against Clemson.
NORTH CAROLINA: Yes, the road trip to Georgia Tech will be critical, but back-to-back Thursday night games -- including the first Thursday night game ever in Chapel Hill -- is where it begins or ends for the Heels. An upset in Blacksburg would be huge, and a preceding home win over FSU would give them the momentum and confidence to do it. A 2-0 Thursday night record heading into home Coastal Division games against Duke and Miami would help outweigh whatever happened earlier in the season in Atlanta.
NC STATE: The Wolfpack has a bye week to prepare for a trip to Florida State, and a win in Tallahassee would go a long way. That momentum could set up two more home wins against Maryland and Clemson, both Atlantic Division opponents, and possibly have NC State on a significant win streak heading into Blacksburg.
VIRGINIA: The Cavaliers have four weeks to prepare for their first ACC opponent, and it's not until Oct. 24 against Georgia Tech that they'll start to figure out where their place is in the Coastal Division standings. Consecutive home game wins against Georgia Tech and Duke could lead to an upset win at Miami and shake things up drastically in that race.
VIRGINIA TECH: Yes, the Alabama game is big-time, but it doesn't do diddly when it comes to the ACC race. The Hokies Oct. 17 game at Georgia Tech is followed by a bye week to prepare for a Thursday night home game against UNC. Those two games will be a huge factor in determining the Hokies' fate.
WAKE FOREST: This one is interesting. Why? Because the Demon Deacons aren't facing the highest of expectations, yet their schedule is very favorable with five of their first six games at home. The potential is there for Wake Forest to be 6-0 and bowl eligible before hoops practice starts. You know the last time that happened? The year they won the league, 2006. Wake became bowl eligible on 10/14/2006, but if they accomplish that feat this year, it would be by Oct. 10. And they've never started out 6-0. The 5-0 start in 2006 was their best.