5 non-conference games that could earn the ACC respect in 2024

Each college football season, non-conference games provide unique opportunities for teams to compete in a battle for conference supremacy. The bragging rights carry a lot of weight in trash-talking circles, but they also influence important things like strength of schedule. These games go a long way in helping prove that your conference slate is tough to navigate. 
Last season, the ACC got off to a strong start when UNC blew out South Carolina and Florida State got a statement win over the reigning SEC West champion LSU. However, the ACC would finish the season with a 12-14 record in non-conference games vs. Power 5 opponents. They’ll look to improve on that record in 2024 and prove they can hang with the two growing Power conferences.
There’s a chance the conference might look different going forward, but for now, here are 5 non-conference games that would earn the ACC some respect with a win in 2024. (Rankings used are ESPN’s early SP+ rankings for 2024) 

#16 Clemson vs. #1 Georgia (8.31 in Atlanta)

If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, and there’s no better way to announce you’re a contender than to slay one of the college football giants. Kirby Smart has built a machine in Athens, and the Dawgs will be a favorite to win the national championship in 2024. 
Clemson is coming off a disappointing 9-4 season but still has a roster loaded with talent and will now be in year two with Cade Klubnik in Garrett Riley’s system. There is a growing crowd of people who question whether Dabo Swinney will be able to get Clemson back to the top. A win over Georgia to open the season would go a long way in quieting those voices and putting Clemson and the ACC back on the map. 

#12 Florida State at #9 Notre Dame (11.9)

Although Notre Dame plays half of its schedule against ACC teams, technically, they count as a non-conference opponent. The Fighting Irish finished 10-3 last year and are forecasted to have a big season in 2024. Notre Dame has two games that stand out before the massive matchup against FSU. If they can get by a road test against Texas A&M and Louisville at home in game 5, the Irish “should” enter this game undefeated and ranked in the Top 10. 
Last year, Florida State went 13-0, won the ACC, and then became the first undefeated Power 5 champion to be left out of the playoffs. However, the Noles reloaded their roster for another run in 2024 and will certainly be out for redemption this year.
If they make it to this game undefeated, FSU would be 9-0 with wins over SMU, Clemson, Miami, and UNC. It would be hard to imagine that FSU wouldn’t also be ranked in the Top 10. All eyes will be on this matchup, as there will likely be playoff implications on the line. FSU could snag a massive win for the conference if they take care of business in South Bend. 

#21 Miami at Florida (8.31)

I know you may be thinking that Florida wasn’t very good last year, so how is this a big win for the ACC? The thing is, this is more about Miami not losing than winning. While the Gators may improve in 2024, it will likely be a long year as they have the toughest schedule in college football. (Have you seen that schedule? Ouch!) 
Miami is now in year three under Mario Cristobal and landed Cam Ward from the portal. There’s a lot of hype around the Hurricanes this offseason, but is this finally the year they actually live up to that hype? Starting the season with a win over an in-state SEC school at their place would be a big step in that direction. 
On the other hand, coming in as the third favorite to win the ACC and losing to a team that finished 11th in the SEC last year and is projected to finish 13th this year wouldn’t be a great look for the conference.

NC State vs. #15 Tennessee (9.7 in Charlotte)

NC State will face off against Tennessee in the Duke’s Mayo Classic in Charlotte. Last year, the ACC got a jar full of victory when UNC thumped rival South Carolina 31-17 in this game. Tennessee (depending on where you look) is projected to start near the Top 15. While NC State may be on the outside looking in, Dave Doeren has built a solid program in Raleigh. 
As consistent as they have been, the Pack has struggled to get over the 9-win hump. One of the most head-scratching stats in the ACC is that NC State has only had one 10-win season in program history. Getting a win over the Vols would send a clear message that the Wolfpack is ready to make a serious run in 2024. It would also give the ACC a heaping helping of bragging rights with a big win vs. the SEC. 

California at Auburn (9.7)

While this may not be the highest-profile game on the list, it would still get the ACC some respect if newcomer Cal wins. Auburn was one of the most confusing teams in college football last year. They took some really good teams like UGA, Ole Miss, and Alabama to the wire. They also got blown out by New Mexico State… It feels like the Tigers might be on the verge of a breakthrough under Hugh Freeze. 
Last year, Auburn headed west to take on Cal and almost returned home with an L in the win/loss column. Cal had a lead with less than 7 minutes remaining in the game, and if it had not been for three missed field goals, they likely would have pulled the upset. Nonetheless, Auburn managed to escape with a narrow 14-10 win. Cal will travel east to Jordan-Hare this year, and I’m willing to bet almost no one is giving them a chance this time around. 
Like the Miami – Florida game, this feels like a “just don’t lose” scenario for Auburn. If Cal beats them at home, it will definitely turn heads and look good for the conference.

Final Thoughts

The conversation around conference supremacy has become an ongoing battle for bragging rights. The ACC might be widely considered third in the race behind the SEC and Big Ten, but it will have its chance to upset the pecking order with a strong non-conference record in 2024.
There aren’t quite as many big non-conference matchups as last year, but this list certainly doesn’t cover them all. There is still Boston College at Missouri, Louisville at Kentucky (could have easily made the list after last year’s letdown), Georgia Tech at Georgia, Wake Forest vs. Ole Miss, and Pitt vs. West Virginia, to name a few. Some are more likely than others, but all present an opportunity to gather those important non-conference wins. The ACC is set up to have a strong year with five teams projected to win 8.5 games or more by the experts in Las Vegas. 
For the ACC to earn some respect and bolster their strength of schedule, they will need to prove it in their non-conference games. With four of these five games being played in the first two weeks of the season, ACC teams will have a chance to come out of the gate swinging. Thanks for reading, and Go Noles!

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