GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 22 North Carolina vs. No. 18 Georgia, in Atlanta. Three SEC-ACC matchups headline opening weekend, but the Tar Heels’ trip to Atlanta stands out because it’s the only one of them in which the ACC team is lower-ranked. North Carolina had a breakout 2015 season, reaching its first ACC championship game after winning the Coastal Division, and the best way for the Tar Heels to prove their staying power is by knocking off the Bulldogs in a de facto road game and in Kirby Smart’s debut as Georgia coach. “We understand the importance of it,” UNC fifth-year coach Larry Fedora said.
BEST MATCHUP: Clemson offense vs. Auburn defense. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson looks to give his Heisman Trophy candidacy a jump start when he faces an Auburn defense that offensive-minded coach Gus Malzahn has said could be the best of his four-year tenure at the school. That will be put to the test by Watson, the first player in FBS history with 4,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in one season. Auburn will rely on linemen Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams to contain Watson. “This group has a chance to be as good as we ever had on paper,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Eight current ACC players have rushed for 1,000 or more yards in a season. That’s by far the most in the league at one time. The previous high of five was set in 2009 and matched five years later. Seven of them did it last year, led by Florida State’s Dalvin Cook (1,691), while Pittsburgh’s James Conner did it in 2014.
LONG SHOT: Wake Forest is a 17-point favorite against Tulane in a matchup of teams coming off consecutive 3-9 seasons. The Green Wave figure to debut a run-heavy system that new coach Willie Fritz’s Georgia Southern teams used to lead the Bowl Subdivision in rushing in each of the past two years. If Tulane can control the ball and the clock, it will give itself a chance to win.
IMPACT PLAYER: It’s guaranteed to be emotional Saturday when Pittsburgh plays host to Villanova and Conner makes his return. The 2014 ACC player of the year suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 2015 opener and then was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in November. Working out through chemotherapy, and taking part in spring practice while wearing a surgical mask, Conner was declared cancer-free in May. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada, formerly at North Carolina State, has been tinkering with playing multiple running backs in an effort to get Conner on the field.
Compiled by AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, North Carolina.