ACC returns to normal schedule; ND independent

  • ACC reporter.
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2010.
  • Graduate of the University of Florida.

The ACC plans to return to its normal eight-conference-game, divisional format — with Notre Dame as an independent — when the 2021 football season kicks off in September, the league announced Thursday.

In its release, the league noted that return to play and the schedule as released are contingent on COVID-19 guidelines. This past season, the ACC made changes to its schedule in order to be able to play during the coronavirus pandemic, including Notre Dame as a full-time conference member and playing 10 league games.

With an expected return to a more normal season, Notre Dame returns to its five-game scheduling partnership, and the league decided to play the 2021 season as originally scheduled. As a result, there are several repeat site games from 2019 and 2020.

Clemson, again expected to be the overwhelming favorite to win the ACC, opens the season against Georgia on Sept. 4 in Charlotte, North Carolina, in yet another return to normalcy in a highly anticipated marquee nonconference game with College Football Playoff implications.

Though the ACC did play one nonconference game in 2020, the SEC did not — and the various SEC vs. ACC matchups throughout the entire schedule will most certainly be welcomed. In addition to the four traditional ACC vs. SEC rivalry games to close the regular season, the schedule also features Miami against Alabama in Atlanta on Sept. 4 and Louisville against Ole Miss in Atlanta on Labor Day night, Sept. 6. Pitt plays at Tennessee in Week 2.

The Tigers open the ACC schedule against Georgia Tech on Sept. 18, and also have a Friday night game at Syracuse on Oct. 15. Their game against Florida State — which was canceled in 2020 hours before kickoff — is scheduled for Oct. 30 in Clemson.

Notre Dame opens the season at Florida State on Sunday, Sept. 5. The Irish will also play Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech in 2021 — and the game against the Tar Heels could provide yet another showdown between two teams with College Football Playoff hopes.

The season opens with five days of ACC football, starting with a Thursday night matchup between NC State and USF. The biggest conference game of opening weekend is North Carolina at Virginia Tech, two teams expected to compete for the Coastal Division title, to be played either Sept. 2 or Sept. 3.

North Carolina and Wake Forest will once again play a nonconference game on Nov. 6, in an arrangement that was made several years ago in order for the two teams to play each other more often.

The Atlantic and Coastal Division winners will play in the ACC championship game in Charlotte on Dec. 4.

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