The first of two seismic seasons for the annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge opens in early December. This year the ACC welcomes newcomers Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh -- all of which were NCAA tournament teams last season.
The 2014-15 campaign will offer two new Big Ten teams, including current ACC member Maryland (and Rutgers). It's likely the Terrapins will be banished from this year's clash for the same reason Iowa and Nebraska football were separated from the Insight Bowl in 2010. The last thing a scorned conference wants is a high-profile infomercial about its departing team starting a new rivalry in its future league.
The ACC holds a 10-3-1 record in the challenge, but the Big Ten has not lost the last four (the schools tied 6-6 last year).
This year's challenge will debut in early December because of a late Thanksgiving. While it's the start of a new cycle where teams could play back-to-back games on the road or at home, it's generally frowned upon. This year's match-ups -- while not released -- could have some interesting flavor and it could keep the preferred home/road rotation in place.
The challenge match-ups were released May 14 last year, and they'll be released today. Here's an educated guess as to who will play whom in the 15th Challenge this fall:
Duke at Michigan State -- The teams met in the Sweet 16 and play fairly regularly. The Spartans rank second and the Blue Devils are fourth in Sports Illustrated's way-too-early rankings. It's a natural match-up.
Michigan at North Carolina -- The last time these teams played was April 5, 1993. Yes, the national championship game where Chris Webber infamously called a timeout that resulted in a technical. Now that Webber's 10-year disassociation with Michigan is over, this could have major build-up. Also, SI ranks Michigan fifth and North Carolina ninth entering next season.
Syracuse at Ohio State -- The Orange makes the transition to the ACC after a Final Four season. Ohio State played in the Elite Eight. Both have top-15 potential this year.
Notre Dame at Iowa -- The Fighting Irish were an NCAA tournament team (then s0undly beaten by Iowa State), and Iowa played for the NIT title. Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery coached at Notre Dame under Digger Phelps and John MacLeod and his wife, Margaret, was an Irish All-American player and former assistant. Of course I'd rather see Iowa host North Carolina so Cedar Rapids native Marcus Paige could face former AAU teammates Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury.
Indiana at Virginia -- The Cavaliers return probable ACC preseason player of the year in Joe Harris. Virginia was surprisingly discarded from the NCAA tournament before falling in the NIT quarterfinals to Iowa. Indiana was the nation's top-ranked team before losing in the Sweet Sixteen to Syracuse. I could also see this match-up flip with Syracuse-Ohio State.
Wisconsin at Pittsburgh -- Two gritty, defensive basketball programs that competed in the NCAA tournament last year. I'm sure there would be plenty of television shots of Pittsburgh football coach (and Wisconsin native) Paul Chryst in attendance.
Illinois at North Carolina State -- Both squads lost some valuable players off their NCAA tournament teams but will remain competitive in their leagues.
Miami at Purdue -- The Hurricanes lose a ton from its ACC championship team, while the Boilermakers have enough talented underclassmen to make a move in the Big Ten.
Here are the team records in the 143-game series: