GREENSBORO, N.C. -- While Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford was diplomatic Sunday with most of his responses to college football's hot topics, he wasn't shy about proclaiming one thing.
"Our league is playing the toughest non-conference schedule of any league in college football," Swofford said at his opening news conference at ACC media days.
Swofford has plenty of reason to boast -- teams from his league are certainly playing an impressive non-league slate.
From Virginia Tech's neutral-site opener against Alabama, to Clemson's season bookends against other Southeastern Conference powers Georgia and South Carolina, the ACC is testing itself out of conference this season. Even Boston College, which has struggled the past few years, will head to Los Angeles to face Southern California.
To really earn respect, though, the ACC teams have to win some of those games.
"All the talk is about the SEC, but we have great teams in the ACC," said North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner, whose team opens the season against South Carolina. "Not to make it a league battle -- because it's not -- but I think we're looking forward to the opportunity to put the ACC on the map and put our school on the map."
The SEC has established itself as the king of college football conferences, but ACC players are eager to prove their league has elite talent, too. Clemson struck a big blow for the ACC's reputation last season by beating LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
This year, the Tigers likely will carry the baton as the league's best chance at a national championship.
"I enjoy playing the big games on the big stage," Clemson linebacker Spencer Shuey said. "If we could play one like that every week, I think it'd be fine. That's pretty much what you dream of as a little kid, being able to play on a stage like that."
Quelling the Irish concerns
The first question Swofford faced Sunday was about Notre Dame's status as a partial ACC member. Some coaches, including Duke basketball's Mike Krzyzewski, have been critical of the Irish joining in every sport except football.
Swofford noted that if Notre Dame does decide to join a football conference before 2027, the contract dictates that it must be the ACC.
"I'm really pleased, and I know the vast majority of people in our league are very pleased that Notre Dame is a member of our ACC family under the conditions that they're currently under," Swofford said.
Pay-for-play not on to-do list
Swofford said he was not in favor of paying players, but that the league was actively exploring ways to "enhance the financial well-being of the student-athletes."
Specifically, he said he was in favor of exploring a full cost-of-attendance solution.
"I'm not for paying players," he said. "I don't think that's what college athletics is about. I am for looking very diligently at a way to enhance the scholarship itself."
Rippy on the move
Former Pitt linebacker Deaysean Rippy is close to finalizing a transfer to Colorado, according to a report by CBSSports.com.
Rippy was a four-star prospect out of Sto-Rox but redshirted his only season with the Panthers and decided to transfer this spring.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG