The ACC Playlist is a weekly preview of intriguing games and matchups in the Atlantic Coast Conference, loosely tied to various artists or songs in some way, shape or form. That’s the plan at least.
Atlantic Coast Conference heavyweights Clemson and Florida State kick off their season with low-profile matchups, but the conference as a whole does not waltz into the 2015 season. There are four ACC matchups with Power Five-conference teams over the next five days, including meetings with the Nos. 1, 6 and 13 programs nationally. It’s been a long time, college football, you shouldn’t have left us:
Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va., Monday at 8 p.m.
What an offseason for the Buckeyes. Three star quarterbacks bypassed the transfer route, a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year changed positions, the hyper-productive workhorse that led them to the national title returns at running back, the offensive and defensive lines return scary and intact, the potential No. 1 overall draft pick (Joey Bosa) is suspended for the opener and the linebackers and safeties are back to wreak havoc.
The preseason No. 1 team is always busy. When it’s Ohio State coming off a championship, everybody wants a piece.
The Hokies’ shadow has hung over the summer, though. As has been covered ad nauseam, Virginia Tech handed the champs their lone loss in 2014, and while Ohio State eyes revenge do not expect Frank Beamer’s group, particularly an excellent defense, to roll over. Virginia Tech still has questions on offense, but Bud Foster’s defense is loaded.
The Hokies were the only unit to hold the high-scoring Buckeyes under 30 points last season (J.T. Barrett’s only truly poor outing in a near-historic redshirt freshman season) and most of the key defensive pieces return. Few, if any, teams were better at pressuring the quarterback last season, so whether it’s Barrett or Cardale Jones behind center, things will not be easy.
Still, if Ohio State comes anywhere near the ridiculous hype, Virginia Tech’s offense shouldn’t be able to keep up.
Tame Impala, "Let It Happen" — A song that kicks off with the line, "It’s always around me, all this noise," feels appropriate enough for the top-ranked team. Also, if we’re stretching out the relevance here, the anxiety-inducing video for the song was directed by David Wilson — just not that David Wilson.
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga., Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
Storylines abound for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff as well, the entry-level versions focusing solely Louisville coach Bobby Petrino. The former Auburn offensive coordinator, who infamously interviewed for the school’s head job years ago, returns to the Georgia Dome, the site of his infamous NFL season with the Atlanta Falcons. It’s all happening.
Meanwhile, Gus Malzahn’s high-octane offense is breaking in a new cast of characters, notably quarterback Jeremy Johnson, and Auburn now features a Will Muschamp-led defense. For it’s on-field part, Louisville is still searching for a quarterback.
A few things feel like certainties here, though. The Cardinals’ front seven should be outstanding with the return of star defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins and the addition of former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. Todd Grantham’s defense should be able to disrupt things in the backfield. There are high hopes for Johnson — even Heisman hype — but the No. 6-ranked Tigers are one of four Power Five programs to finish top-15 nationally in rushing over the past two seasons, i.e. the Gus Malzahn Era. Auburn is going to run the ball, and run it effectively.
Can Louisville stop Malzahn’s bread and butter?
The Velvet Underground, "Run, Run, Run" — This doesn’t need explanation, does it? The Cardinals have too many question marks at the moment.
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.; Thursday at 6 p.m.
These defenses can’t be worse this year, right?
That’s the question for this inter-conference turf war after South Carolina’s young defense languished in the SEC, ranking 104th in efficiency … which would have been a dramatic improvement from where North Carolina’s unit was in 2014. The Tar Heels brought in one of the top available coordinators around in Gene Chizik, but one-year turnarounds can be difficult. The result: Most spreads are expecting a high-scoring affair.
Madonna, "Borderline" — Aside from the incorporation of the word border, this was just an excuse to throw some ’80s Madonna into the mix. It’s an upgrade over "Sandstorm," regardless.
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif., Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
Virginia’s offense has been nothing to write home about in recent years, but give Mike London’s team some credit. Despite the non-competitive records in recent seasons, the Cavaliers have been stingy on defense – a top-20 unit nationally, they shut down both the run and the pass last season.
No. 13 UCLA is the obvious favorite here with advantages all over the field, but the Bruins are starting highly touted true freshman Josh Rosen at quarterback and if Virginia’s defense shows up the Cavaliers might hang around.
Beyoncé, "1+1" — So here’s this (objectively perfect) love song constructed around keeping things simple. UCLA will likely follow suit on offense in Week 1, leaning on a dynamic running game and talented defense.
Clemson Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C., Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
It’s time to get a look at Deshaun Watson 2.0. One of the bona fide breakout players in 2014, a true freshman season not even multiple injuries could derail, Clemson’s superstar sophomore is going to be watched closely early in the season as he makes his way back from knee surgery. By all accounts from coaches and teammates, he’s back and better than ever.
Just turn the clock back to coach Dabo Swinney at the ACC Kickoff: "(Watson is) beyond what you’ve seen. He is a great football player, there’s no question about that. It’s pretty easy to watch this kid play and say, ‘Wow, this is a rare guy.’ … He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever been around. I haven’t been around many seniors with the football IQ that this man possesses right now as a true sophomore. Really excited about his future, his potential. Can’t wait to get him back out on the field. When he’s out there, we got a chance each and every play for something good to happen."
The easier opening schedule (Wofford, Appalachian State) should help the Tigers as they look to replace numerous pieces along the offensive line and on defense. Look for the preseason ACC favorites to find their rhythm.
Don Covay, "Mercy, Mercy" – Although Wofford gave Clemson a scare back in 2011, the Tigers have beaten FCS opponents by an average of more than 49 points per game over the past three seasons. Also, since we’re on the subject of preternatural talents like Watson, let then-unknown 22-year-old Jimi Hendrix cook.