It’s still not certain whether North Carolina’s 2021 football season will kick off on Thursday, Sept. 2 or Friday, Sept. 3. But when it does, the Tar Heels will take on Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in a game that will go a long way toward shaping the race in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
The showdown between the Coastal contenders is one of the highlights of an opening week that also includes nationally relevant matchups between Clemson and Georgia, and Miami against defending national champion Alabama.
Like UNC, state rivals NC State and Wake Forest will also kick their seasons off on a weeknight, with the Wolfpack opening at home against South Florida on Sept. 2 and the Deacons hosting Old Dominion the following day. Duke, meanwhile, will begin 2021 on Saturday, Sept. 4 with a trip to Charlotte.
Schedules for each of the ACC’s 14 teams were announced Thursday, with the league going back to the traditional divisional format it waived in 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Here are some of the highlights for each:
UNC: While the Tar Heels face a challenging opener against Virginia Tech, its other most difficult tests will come in the second half of the season. It’s a gauntlet that starts on Oct. 16 with a home game against Miami and follows with an off week and then a trip to now-former ACC member Notre Dame.
Coach Mack Brown’s team will then play another nonconference game against an actual league opponent — Wake Forest — before finishing up with road games at Pittsburgh and State with a breather against Wofford sandwiched in between.
While the first half of the schedule isn’t nearly as demanding, UNC won’t have the luxury of coasting. Among the opponents are Virginia and Florida State, both of which upset the Tar Heels last year. The difference this time is that both games will be played in Chapel Hill rather than on the road.
NC STATE: The Wolfpack won’t have to wait as long as rival UNC to get to the meat of its 2021 schedule. After the opener against South Florida, coach Dave Doeren’s team will travel to Starkville, Mississippi, to play Mississippi State in what was supposed to be the return game for a meeting that was canceled last fall.
Following another nonconference home game against Furman, State will jump right into the teeth of the ACC Atlantic beast by playing Clemson at Carter-Finley Stadium on Sept. 25.
The Wolfpack will also have to travel to Boston College, a place that has not been kind to it in the past, along with Miami, Florida State and Wake Forest during a stretch in which it plays five of six games on the road before finishing out the schedule with two home games.
The rivalry game against UNC, back in its traditional season-ending slot, will be played the day after Thanksgiving.
WAKE FOREST: After getting saddled with by far the most difficult schedule of any ACC team during the patchwork 2020 season, coach Dave Clawson’s team will get something of a break in 2021.
While it still must play its usual Atlantic Division rivals, including a home date against Florida State on Sept. 18 and a trip to Clemson on Nov. 20, the Deacons’ crossover games are at Virginia on Sept. 24 and against Duke on Oct. 30.
Wake’s nonconference schedule is also benign, with games against Old Dominion, FCS Norfolk State and Army, along with the matchup against UNC in Chapel Hill on Nov. 6.
DUKE: Coach David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils have the most interesting schedule of the four state ACC teams. In addition to its first trip to Charlotte’s Jerry Richardson Stadium to start the season, Duke also has nonconference home games against NC A&T — in its debut season as a member of the Big South Conference — Northwestern of the Big Ten and Kansas of the Big 12.
Its ACC schedule kicks off with a rivalry game against UNC in Chapel Hill on Oct. 2 and doesn’t get much easier.
If there’s one plus to the Blue Devils’ 2021 slate, it’s that they won’t have to spend a lot on travel expenses. All of its games will be played in either North Carolina or Virginia, with their longest road trip covering only 184 miles from Durham to Charlottesville.