<
>

ACC's toughest 10 in 2010

Nobody can say the ACC doesn’t schedule tough competition. In fact, it’s one of the most aggressive schedulers among the BCS conferences. This year is no exception, starting in Durham, where Duke is taking on David Cutcliffe’s alma mater and defending national champs, Alabama. Nobody has a tougher nonconference opponent right now.

This season, the ACC will play 11 games against teams ranked in the final 2009 AP poll, 14 against opponents that are projected to be in the nation's preseason Top 25 and 26 games against bowl teams from 2009.

Here’s an early look at the 10 toughest nonconference games facing the ACC this year:

1. Alabama at Duke, Sept. 18: The Crimson Tide hasn’t lost a regular-season game since 2007 and starts the spring as the team to beat in the SEC and the country. Alabama lost nine starters on defense, but Duke is still trying to reach the six-win mark.

2. Miami at Ohio State, Sept. 11: It looked like Terrelle Pryor took a major step forward with his Rose Bowl performance, and he’ll have four experienced starters returning on the offensive line to protect him. It’s a tough road trip in the second week of the season for a Miami team looking to get back in the national spotlight.

3. Virginia Tech vs. Boise State, Sept. 6: The preseason rankings will likely have the Hokies as the underdogs heading into this one, and they’ll face a team that returns 21 of 22 starters. That includes everyone on the offensive line, which allowed the fewest sacks in the country last year.

4. Florida State at Oklahoma, Sept. 11: The Sooners should be better offensively now that Landry Jones will be in his second season as starter, but much like Florida State, there needs to be defensive improvement.

5. UNC vs. LSU, Sept. 4: The Chick-fil-A Kickoff gives the ACC another run at the SEC, and if LSU’s offense resembles anything it did a year ago (112th in total offense), the Tar Heels’ defense could have some fun. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson was inconsistent in his first full season as a starter, and the Tigers have to replace three starters on the defensive line.

6. Miami at Pittsburgh, Sept. 23: It doesn’t get any easier for the Canes. Pitt is probably still kicking itself from squandering an opportunity to play in a BCS bowl after losing close games to West Virginia and Cincinnati. The Panthers instead beat UNC in the Meineke Car Care Bowl and earned their first 10-win season since 1981.

7. Florida at Florida State, Nov. 27: Yes, the Seminoles have a much better chance of beating Florida this year. The Gators will have a new quarterback, but will still be strong defensively. What Florida lost to the NFL draft, it likely compensated for in recruiting.

8. Clemson at Auburn, Sept. 18: Auburn looks to be a middle-of-the-pack SEC team, and the Tigers will have to improve their scoring defense, which was ranked No. 79 in the country a year ago with 27.54 points per game.

9. South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 27: The Tigers have fared well against their in-state rival in Death Valley over the past decade, and they should be inspired by last year’s loss. Stephen Garcia is now a veteran quarterback, though, and South Carolina should have another stingy defense.

10. Georgia Tech at Georgia, Nov. 27: This one is low on the list because the Jackets should be motivated by their home loss to the Bulldogs last year. Both teams will be under the direction of new defensively coordinators switching the scheme to a 3-4. Georgia will have a new quarterback.

On the fringe: Maryland at West Virginia, Sept. 18; Cincinnati at NC State Sept. 16. Cincinnati and West Virginia should be among the best in the Big East in 2010. The ACC will also get tough Pac-10 road trips in Virginia at USC on Sept. 11 and Wake Forest at Stanford on Sept. 18.