It is still baffling how the Terps beat California at home last season, but it happened in surprisingly easy fashion, setting the stage for Maryland's upset of Clemson two weeks later. The Bears welcome 15 starters back on a team that should contend for second place in the Pac 10 while the Terps are being thought of as a middle-of-the-pack team in the ACC in a rebuilding year. Still, it's the No. 2 OOC matchup in the league during the opening weekend of the season, trailing only the No. 1 game on our list.
PREDICTION: California 35 Maryland 17
#9. SOUTH FLORIDA AT FLORIDA STATE - Sept. 26
As one of the up-and-coming programs in the Sunshine state the last three years, the Bulls will present a stiff out of conference test for Florida State in this late-September matchup. Remember South Florida has climbed into the top 10 of the national polls each of the last two seasons before ending both years with an uncomfortable thud. QB Matt Grothe could give the Seminole defense fits in what promises to be an important game for the ACC. Advantage FSU, but only because the 'Noles get this one in Tallahassee.
PREDICTION: Florida State 26 South Florida 21
#8. PITTSBURGH AT N.C. STATE - Sept. 26
Led by third-year head man Tom O'Brien, N.C. State is the trendy "surprise" team in the ACC this season after winning its last four regular season games a year ago. Meanwhile 2009 is expected to be the year the Panthers contend for a Big East championship led by a stout defense under former Chicago Bears head coach Dave Wannstedt. How All-ACC QB Russell Wilson holds up against Pitt's experienced and ultra-talented defensive line will dictate the winner here.
PREDICTION: N.C State 21 Pittsburgh 20
#7. GEORGIA AT GEORGIA TECH - Nov. 28
The Yellow Jackets stunned archrival Georgia last year in Athens, and could very well be the favorite by the time these teams tee it up again in Atlanta in late November. How would the Bulldogs' faithful respond with consecutive losses to a team they have pummeled every other year this decade, both on the field and in recruiting? Could be interesting. Expectations for the Jackets are soaring after a surprise nine-win season for Paul Johnson.
PREDICTION: Georgia Tech 29 Georgia 24
#6. TCU at CLEMSON - Sept. 26
The Horned Frogs and Tigers round out a strong weekend for out of conference games for the ACC in late September. TCU finished 2008 with the No. 1 defense in the country and could be just as good in 2009. The Tigers will be hungry for a win against a quality opponent before entering the heart of conference play in October. Expect a low-scoring, defensive affair featuring what should be a pair of top 10 defenses by this point in the season.
The Horned Frogs and Tigers round out a strong weekend for out of conference games for the ACC in late September.
#5. FLORIDA STATE AT BYU - Sept. 19
The Cougars will already be well-tested for this matchup considering this will be BYU's second major non-conference game after opening the year against national championship contender Oklahoma. Watching the pass-happy Cougars, led by the electric QB Max Hall, should be fun going against Florida State's lightning-fast defense. Playing on the road against a team that won 10 games a year ago, not to mention one of the top quarterbacks west of the Mississippi, don't be surprised if FSU is a true underdog in this one.
PREDICTION: BYU 27 Florida State 21
#4. NEBRASKA AT VIRGINIA TECH - Sept. 19
The Hokies beat the black shirts last year in Lincoln and will be solid favorites this year as the host team considering many are predicting an ACC Championship and a possible run at a national title. Nebraska had a surprising first year under Bo Pelini, including a come-from-behind win over Clemson in the Gator Bowl and should be in contention in the Big 12 North. First team to 20 points – wins.
PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 20 Nebraska 16
#3. OKLAHOMA AT MIAMI - OCT 3.
The Hurricanes wrap up a brutal open four game stretch (at Florida State, Georgia Tech, at Virginia Tech) by hosting Big 12 power Oklahoma in early October. While Miami will be a substantial underdog against the powerful Sooners, this game represents a tremendous opportunity for the ACC to regain respectability around the country. Stopping Heisman Trophy contender QB Sam Bradford, however, won't be easy. The seat gets a little warmer for Randy Shannon as the ‘Canes struggle through the early part of the season.
PREDICTION: Oklahoma 31 Miami 14
#2. FLORIDA STATE AT FLORIDA - Nov. 28
The Gators are everybody's favorite to win another National Championship and why not? Former Heisman Trophy winner QB Tim Tebow is back. Most of the defense is back. Urban Meyer is back. Meanwhile the 'Noles are inching closer to their old-school status as kingpins of the ACC. Still, the talent level between these programs is significant, especially when it comes to depth. Florida rolls its arch rival once again but Florida State keeps it close for a half.
PREDICTION: Florida 31 Florida State 15
#1. ALABAMA VS. VIRGINIA TECH - Sept. 5
In what promises to be a defensive slugfest for the ages, it will be a quarterback that's the difference maker for the Hokies. Both teams are considered to be the most physical programs in both of their conferences, but the slight edge goes to the Hokies, who will use the mobility of QB Tyrod Taylor to escape the Georgia Dome with a statement win over one of the top teams in the SEC.
PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 17 Alabama 13
OTHER GAMES CONSIDERED: Rutgers at Maryland (Sept. 26), South Carolina at N.C. State (Sept. 3), Stanford at Wake Forest (Sept. 12), East Carolina at North Carolina (Sept. 19), Georgia Tech at Mississippi State (Oct. 3), Miami at South Florida (Nov. 28).