1. Virginia Tech
November 8 (Thursday night)
Analysis: Virginia Tech's inability to win out of conference games is well known, but there is no question to their dominance in conference. The Hokie's have been in the ACC Championship game four of the last five years (3-1 in those games including a win over FSU in 2010).
The 'Noles have played VT four times since joining the ACC and have split the games. Each team has won at home in this match-up and each team has won an ACC Championship Game against the other. In non-conference action since 1980 FSU was 7-0 against the Hokie's including the win in the Sugar Bowl for the 1999 National Championship(46-29).
It figures to be a 'standard' Frank Beamer Virginia Tech team with a tough defense and opportunistic offense. VT returns nine starters on defense and that should be very scary for all of the ACC teams as Bud Foster maximizes his talent. The issue is offense where they return just three starters. One of the three is a big one--quite literally--in QB Logan Thomas. They will be looking to break in a new, unproven running back and wide receivers as well as offensive line.
This will be the 10th game of the season for FSU and the 'Noles do have an open week before this Thursday night showdown. In addition FSU is much deeper on both sides of the ball so there is a lot less injury risk (losing key players) than the other sideline. This will be the second Thursday night game in a row for VT as they have to go to Miami the week before. The bad news for FSU is that VT tends to get better as the season progresses.
FSU is expected to field a top 10 defense in the country, with VT's question marks on offense this game figures to come down whether FSU can make offensive plays in a tough, noisy environment. VT gets up for their big games and FSU has to expect early pressure.
Odds-makers have these two teams as the class of their divisions so this could very well be the first of two contests between these national programs.
Analysis: At one point in time this was the premier game in the country. Recently that has not been the case as both programs have struggled for the better part of a decade. Over the past 30 years Miami has been the slightly more talented team, that clearly will NOT be the case this year as FSU has the edge by a long-shot (17 returning starters to 10).
Home field does not mean much in this series as FSU is 14-19 against the 'Canes since 1980 (7-9 at home, 7-9 on the road, 0-1 in a bowl game). FSU has won two straight and they will be heavily favored this year.
Two years ago Randy Shannon's Miami team laid down at home and let FSU run all over them in a 45-17 beat-down that pretty much gave Shannon his walking papers (year 4 for Shannon, year 1 for Jimbo Fisher). Last year Miami was out-manned, but they fought hard in Tallahassee and surprisingly the game came down to the wire (23-19).
Both teams have tended to play a similar brand of football with a lot of the players coming from similar area's and programs in Florida. This is a 'professional' rivalry between the schools as there is a lot of respect from both programs for the other. It is THE measuring stick for each regardless of record.
Perhaps the best news for FSU is that the better team has won the vast majority of the games, maybe all of them as crazy as that sounds. Miami has been lucky to win more of the games when the teams were evenly matched (missed field goals playing a huge role).
This is game no. 8 for FSU and it can't be placed any better on the schedule with Boston College coming to town the week before and Duke the game after. It is difficult to see a scenario where this inexperienced Miami team can win, but the FIGHT Miami showed a year ago really caught FSU by surprise. Both head coaches seem to be doing all the right things to get their programs back in the national championship picture, FSU is just 1-2 years ahead in re-building.
Jimbo Fisher is 4-0 against his in-state rivals(Miami/UF) and he clearly takes these games very seriously. Fisher has won those games by a combined score of 130-50! Nothing on paper says that Miami should play with FSU, but because it is Miami and it is on the road.......this will be one of the more difficult games of the season.
3. North Carolina State
Analysis: This game actually became a bit of rivalry when former FSU coach Chuck Amato took over at NCSU. FSU is 14-6 against the 'Pack since joining the ACC (8-2 at home, 6-4 on road). Two years ago NCSU dealt FSU a devastating blow with a 28-24 win in Raleigh, a fluke fumble cost the 'Noles a key win and momentum (lost the following week to UNC).
NCSU returns 13 starters which is not a lot, but key pieces return including QB Mike Glennon and the entire offensive line. This is year 6 of the Tom O'Brien regime and there were signs of life last year from this team.
This is game no. 6 for FSU and it will be their second straight road test (USF the week before). Outside of Clemson, NCSU is the only other team with a shot to win the division so this game is huge in the grand scheme of things.
If FSU sleeps on NCSU, if they just 'show up' this could very well be a loss. FSU won the game 34-0 last year, amazingly it seemed like a wake-up call for the 'Pack as they played much better down the stretch. If FSU is focused this should be a 10-17 point win, even in Raleigh.