Clemson's tough stretch, NC State's home cooking highlight ACC's 2018 slate

Kelly Bryant and Clemson will find out their playoff fate during a midseason three-week stretch. Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

We're still more than seven months away from games being played, but at least we now have the official ACC football schedule for 2018 to dissect between now and then. The schedule, which was released Wednesday, doesn't exactly offer many surprises. We knew the matchups already, just not the dates. But now that there's a complete picture of the 2018 competition around the league, there are some intriguing takeaways.

1. ACC vs. SEC rivalries get started early

Louisville vs. Alabama and Miami vs. LSU highlight Week 1, while Clemson vs. Texas A&M is the marquee matchup of Week 2. Last year, the ACC played four games against the SEC in Weeks 1 and 2 ... and it didn't go well. Clemson's win over Auburn was the lone highlight for the league. NC State and Georgia Tech both coughed up winnable games, and Florida State was manhandled by the Crimson Tide. Will it be any better in 2018? For the non-SEC fans out there, let's hope so. The long offseason of SEC mania will already be taxing enough.

2. No short weeks for FSU, Clemson

Florida State went to Boston College on a Friday last season and was walloped. Clemson went to Syracuse on a Friday and endured one of the year's most stunning upsets. This season? Neither team has to play a non-Saturday affair (aside from FSU's Monday night opener), which is more in line with how the SEC schedules for its powers. Georgia Tech, on the other hand? Not so lucky. The Yellow Jackets will go on the road for a Friday game at Louisville and a Thursday game at Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech, Louisville, Virginia, Wake, Miami and BC all play multiple weeknight games, too -- though at least one will be at home for each.

3. The Seminoles won't have it easy ... again

Sure, Florida State didn't live up to the hype last season. It didn't help that the schedule was brutal. And if you're hoping things get easier in 2018, you're out of luck. Notre Dame rotates back onto the schedule, and the Seminoles are stuck with the top two teams from the Coastal in their cross-divisional games -- the opener vs. Virginia Tech and an Oct. 6 date at Miami. And in a particularly brutal stretch, FSU will endure road games vs. Louisville, Miami, NC State and Notre Dame all within a six-week span, with a showdown against Clemson and the always tough Wake Forest sandwiched in between. Yikes.

4. Three weeks will determine Clemson's place in the Atlantic

Sure, the battle with Jimbo Fisher and A&M will garner early headlines, but the meat of Clemson's schedule -- and the path to a fourth straight playoff berth -- will likely come from Oct. 20 to Nov. 3, when the Tigers host NC State, travel to Florida State and host Louisville, back to back to back.

5. The Tar Heels have to travel

The first two weeks might tell us a lot about North Carolina, as the Heels will go on the road vs. California and East Carolina. Both are winnable games (neither opponent played in a bowl last year), but neither will be a cakewalk. Indeed, those first two contests might tell us a lot about how much UNC has evolved from an injury-riddled 2017. The back half of the schedule (road games at Syracuse, Virginia and Duke, home vs. Georgia Tech, Western Carolina and NC State) is manageable, so if the Heels don't get thumped early, it's entirely possible they get back to the eight- or nine-win realm in 2018.

6. Is this NC State's year?

I know, we say that every year. But the Wolfpack get five of their first six games at home, including a crucial showdown with West Virginia. They'll also get Florida State and Wake Forest in Raleigh. Sure, the road date at Clemson will still be a defining matchup, but two years ago, Dave Doeren's crew was a chip-shot field goal away from winning in Death Valley.

7. Virginia can take another step

The nonconference scheduling is hardly a grueling task, with home dates vs. Richmond, Ohio and Liberty and a road game at Indiana. The Cavaliers also get the defending division champs, Miami, along with Louisville at home. Are we picking Virginia to win the Coastal? Let's not get ahead of ourselves. But this is a manageable schedule for Bronco Mendenhall's group to get to seven or eight wins.