The key to a successful season is starting off strong, as September can set the tone for which direction a program is headed. Look at what happened to Virginia last year after losing the season opener in embarrassing fashion to William & Mary. Or how about Maryland, which started 2009 with a loss to Cal and then came home to barely beat James Madison and then lose to Middle Tennessee and Rutgers. Miami, on the other hand, knocked off three of four ranked opponents after opening with a win over Florida State. It can go either way, which is why it’s worth a look at who in the ACC is most likely to lose in the opening weekend.
Here’s a ranking of who has the highest chance at falling first:
Maryland vs. Navy: You would think Maryland would be favored to win all of its in-state matchups, but that probably won’t be the case in this game. Navy was a 10-win team last year and narrowly missed a chance to beat the Terps the last time these programs met.
Virginia Tech vs. Boise State: The Broncos return all but one starter from last year’s undefeated team, and the Hokies’ depleted defense will be tasked with stopping one of the top quarterbacks in the country in Kellen Moore.
North Carolina vs. LSU: The Tar Heels’ defense should make it difficult for LSU’s offense to show how much improvement it made from a year ago, but the ACC hasn’t fared well recently against the SEC in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff.
Virginia vs. Richmond: This one could be tricky because of the familiarity Richmond has with its former coach, Mike London. The seniors at Virginia have yet to win a home opener, and the Spiders won 11 games last year.
Duke vs. Elon: This FCS opponent is a good chance for rookie starting quarterback Sean Renfree to adjust to his new role, but Elon won nine games last year and Duke isn’t invincible against FCS opponents in openers (See: Richmond, 2009).
Boston College vs. Weber State: The Eagles have one of the easiest nonconference schedules in the ACC and should be able to take advantage of this Big Sky opponent and its penchant for turnovers.
Miami vs. Florida A&M: The odds of the Canes losing at home in a Thursday night opener are slim, but Florida A&M won eight games last year and in-state opponents always come to Coral Gables with something to prove.
Clemson vs. North Texas: At least the Tigers open with an FBS program, but the Mean Green won just two games last year and had one of the worst defenses in the country. Andre Ellington should have a great start.
Georgia Tech vs. South Carolina State: This will be the Jackets’ first game in Al Groh’s 3-4 defense, and it comes against a 10-win FCS program. There should be no threat of an upset, though, as Georgia Tech should be superior in talent.
NC State vs. Western Carolina: The Pack should be able to handle an FCS team that was 2-9 a year ago and ranked 100th or worse in the nation in eight different statistical categories. No running backs with starting experience? No problem. Western Carolina ranked 109th in rushing defense last year.
Wake Forest vs. Presbyterian: Regardless of who starts at quarterback, there shouldn’t be any excuse in losing to a program that finished 0-11 at the provisional FCS level.
Florida State vs. Samford: Bobby Bowden’s shadow continues to loom as the Noles will host Bowden’s former program, but Samford won just five games last year. Those within the program will be eager to prove things are different under Jimbo Fisher.