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Five thoughts on the newly released ACC schedule

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger
NCAA Basketball: Duke at Syracuse
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Feb 1, 2014; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange forward Jerami Grant (3) drives the ball to the basket during the second half of a game against the Duke Blue Devils at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse won the game 91-89. (Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)

The ACC released its full schedule Wednesday on the eve of the start of college football. Here's a look at five of the things that stood out:

1. Feb. 18 is the can't-miss day on the schedule: That's when Duke and North Carolina square off in Durham for the first of two meetings and when Louisville visits Syracuse for the first time with both being members of the ACC. Since all four programs figure to be contenders for the league crown, those two games could go a long way toward shaping the conference race. Other dates to circle: Louisville at Wake Forest on Jan. 4 in the ACC opener for the Cards and Danny Manning, Duke at Virginia on Jan. 31 in the lone meeting between the two contenders and Duke at Syracuse on Valentine's Day in the next installment of their budding rivalry.

2. Syracuse's daunting finishing kick: Five of Syracuse's league games come against upper-echelon Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia. Remarkably, the Orange will play four of those five games between Valentine's Day and the end of the regular season. A Feb. 14 visit from Duke begins a seven-game finishing kick that also includes home games against Louisville, Pittsburgh and Virginia and road games against the Blue Devils, Notre Dame and NC State. Could the Orange be in jeopardy of another late-season fade like the one they endured a year ago?

3. A big break for the Tigers and 'Noles: Only two ACC teams avoid facing any of the league's presumed top five teams twice: Florida State and Clemson. Both drew Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia and Syracuse only once apiece, a notable advantage considering it's hard to imagine any of those programs being easy to beat this season. Florida State gets improved Miami, mid-tier Pittsburgh, Clemson and Virginia Tech twice next season. Clemson draws Notre Dame, NC State, Georgia Tech and Florida State.

4. Virginia's treacherous patch: Few teams nationally will endure a harder three-game stretch than Virginia, which faces Duke, North Carolina and Louisville in a seven-day span beginning Jan. 31. Two of those three games will be at home, but that's still a highly difficult stretch considering the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Cardinals are probably the Cavaliers' biggest competition in the ACC title chase. Last year, when Virginia made a late surge to capture the league crown, the Cavaliers did not have any back-to-back games as daunting as that. 

5. Pittsburgh's antidote for its soft non-league schedule: Though Pittsburgh's non-league slate again is lacking in heft besides its trip to the Maui Invitational, the Panthers' daunting ACC schedule more than makes up for it. The Panthers face Louisville and Syracuse twice apiece, they host North Carolina and they travel to Duke and Virginia. That's seven meetings against the ACC's presumed top teams, four of which will be on the road. Pittsburgh's schedule isn't necessarily the ACC's hardest — North Carolina and Louisville can both make a strong case — but the Panthers won't have any strength of schedule issues to worry about if the league performs as expected.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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