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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

At Long Last, the 2012 A.C.C. Schedule

Contrary to popular thought — something I also believed — the delay in the release of the 2012 A.C.C. schedule wasn’t due to Florida State, which was digging deep in its search for a replacement for Big 12-bound West Virginia, but rather to Georgia Tech, which until last Friday had yet to find an opponent for its open date on Sept. 8. Technically, the primary issue for the Yellow Jackets wasn’t finding an opponent: the program has already agreed to terms with Middle Tennessee State on that Saturday. But after the A.C.C. opted to pit Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech on Monday, Sept. 3, the Jackets wanted to exchange the Blue Raiders for a F.C.S. opponent — due to the short week, the Jackets didn’t want to take the chance that a lower-tier F.B.S. team could pull the upset, as slim as that chance might be.

So here comes Presbyterian, the perennial whipping boy of the A.C.C., and with the Blue Hose comes the full, door-to-door conference schedule for the 2012 season. Now, instead of visiting Atlanta on Sept. 8, Middle Tennessee will visit Georgia Tech three weeks later, on Sept. 29.

Seven decades ago, Presbyterian head coach Lonnie McMillan gave Clemson’s Death Valley its name; 70 years later, the Blue Hose will find Bobby Dodd Stadium equally unkind. And scheduling Presbyterian will allow Paul Johnson and his staff to focus all of its attention on the Hokies, who have won three of four in the series.

Florida State’s replacement for West Virginia — a mutually beneficial split — is Savannah State, which means that the Seminoles will break into 2012 with back-to-back F.C.S. opponents; Murray State comes to Tallahassee a week earlier, on Sept. 1. Another four A.C.C. teams take on F.C.S. teams on the opening weekend of the season: Elon and North Carolina; William & Mary and Maryland; Richmond and Virginia, two names that belong together; and Liberty and Wake Forest.

Another pair of A.C.C. teams will participate in the two Kickoff Classic games, beginning with N.C. State and Tennessee on Friday, Aug. 31. At some point over the following 24 hours, the hard-working crews at the Georgia Dome will flip the color schemes to reflect Clemson’s date with Auburn, with that pair meeting for the third time in as many years.

The season’s toughest opening month belongs to Virginia, which follows Richmond — Mike London’s former stomping grounds — with a home game against Penn State on Sept. 8. Those looking for offense should look elsewhere, but this game, Bill O’Brien’s first test with the Nittany Lions, will provide Penn State with an up close look at London, a coach that was on the university’s post-Paterno short list.

From there, the Cavaliers christen its A.C.C. season with a road trip to Georgia Tech. Virginia travels to T.C.U. on Sept. 22, giving it three straight games in September against B.C.S. conference competition. The Cavaliers close a deadly opening month with Louisiana Tech at home. In short, London’s bunch will take on four potential Top 25 teams before the calendar turns to October.

But it’s not all bad for Virginia, which might take its lumps in September but has the good fortune of missing Clemson and Florida State from the Atlantic division. In a perfect world, a Coastal division team would pull Boston College, Wake Forest and Maryland from the Atlantic; the Cavaliers miss the Eagles, instead pulling N.C. State, but get the Demon Deacons and Terrapins at home in October.

It’s a tale of two seasons for Miami (Fla.), which gets most of its road dates out of the way before mid-October. The year begins with games at Boston College and Kansas State on Sept. 1 and Sept. 8, respectively. Two weeks later, after hosting Bethune-Cookman, the Hurricanes head to Georgia Tech. Two weeks later, after hosting N.C. State, the Hurricanes take on Notre Dame at Chicago’s Solider Field.

But Miami has the good fortune to close with four home games in six tries; these home games include U.N.C., Florida State and Virginia Tech, not to mention local would-be rival South Florida. Similarly, N.C. State plays three of its four November games at home, heading only to Clemson on Nov. 17.

Put Clemson in the same boat: the Tigers end the regular season with three straight homes games, capped by the in-state rivalry with South Carolina. But the Tigers go to Florida State, where the program has only won one game in 10 tries since the Seminoles joined the A.C.C. in 1992.

If only by default, the best weekend of the A.C.C. season is Oct. 20 — the only weekend with six conference games. Better yet, that doubles as the same weekend as Virginia Tech’s trip to Clemson, which might be a conference title game preview, and Florida State’s annual tussle with the Hurricanes.

The clear game of the year can be found three Thursday later, when Florida State heads to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech. A.C.C. game of the year? This may be one of the national games of the year: a must-see battle with conference and national title implications. I’m sure we’ll find time to further discuss this game. Like later this morning, for instance.

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