This season marks a significant change in the ACC’s scheduling format as it becomes the fifth conference – along with the Big 12, American, Pac-12, and Mountain West – to eliminate divisions.
Instead of playing six games against fellow divisional opponents and two vs. cross-divisional foes (one permanent rival and one rotating opponent), ACC members will now play a 3-5-5 format. The new scheme assigns each club three permanent rivals, each to be played annually, with the remaining ten possible opponents rotating every other year.
While there are many ways to gauge the long-term impact of the new format, using the lens of the 2023 season as its own entity, where each member has its own unique set of eight league opponents, there are definite winners and losers.
Each case highlighted represents a significant difference in schedule strength that wields the power to alter the outcome of the season.
To measure the relative difficulty of each ACC opponent we’ve utilized ESPN’s ACC Conference Football Power Index for 2023.
ACC schedule: Pitt, at Florida State, Wake Forest, Syracuse, at Louisville, at Boston College, NC State, at Virginia
While Virginia Tech does draw Florida State – which ESPN has at No. 2 in its FPI – the only other 2023 opponents ranked in the top half of the league are (5) Syracuse, (6) Pitt, and (7) NC State. The Panthers are also the only of the Hokies’ three new permanent rivals included in the top 50 percent of the ACC, the balance coming with (9) Wake Forest and (13) Virginia. Virginia Tech completely avoids its annual dates with (3) North Carolina and (4) Miami Fla. – both of which would have been played as divisional foes in the previous format.
ACC schedule: NC State, at Boston College, at North Carolina, at Miami Fla., Georgia Tech, at Louisville, Duke, Virginia Tech
Virginia’s scheduled dates with two of the big dogs from ESPN’s rankings – (3) North Carolina and (4) Miami Fla. – is more than counterbalanced by the rest of their slate, all but one of which (NC State at No. 7) are ranked in the bottom half of the league. Included in the bounty of goodness are (10) Duke, (11) Virginia Tech, and (14) Boston College.
ACC schedule: vs. Georgia Tech (at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga.), Boston College, at NC State, at Pitt, Duke, Virginia Tech, Virginia, at Miami Fla.
Louisville has the distinction – and the absolute gift – of drawing the bottom five teams from ESPN’s FPI rankings: (10) Duke, (11) Virginia Tech, (12) Georgia Tech, (13) Virginia, and (14) Boston College. Though they do host Miami Fla. in the season finale, the only other “bigger hitters” are (6) Pitt and (7) NC State. All this for a Cardinal program that is used to playing Clemson and Florida State annually as members of the now defunct Atlantic division.
ACC schedule: Georgia Tech, at Clemson, at Virginia Tech, Pitt, Florida State, at Duke, NC State, at Syracuse
Where Louisville avoids playing its old Atlantic division foes (1) Clemson and (2) Florida State, Wake Forest keeps both. Add in (5) Syracuse and the Deacons will play three of the league’s top five teams. The good news? Moving forward, as their schedule rotates away from the Tigers and ‘Noles, their permanent rivals are a trio of programs that, at least for now, appear to be taking a ride on the struggle bus: (10) Duke, (11) Virginia Tech, and (12) Georgia Tech.
ACC schedule: at Duke, Florida State, at Syracuse, Wake Forest, at Miami Fla., at NC State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina
Top dog Clemson has its work cut out for it in ACC play by drawing all of its fellow FPI Top 5 members: (2) Florida State (one of its three permanent rivals), (3) North Carolina, (4) Miami Fla. and (5) Syracuse. Though the difficulty is somewhat metered by games with (10) Duke and (12) Georgia Tech, middle of the road teams like (7) NC State and (9) Wake Forest won’t provide much of a respite.
ACC schedule: Clemson, NC State, at Florida State, at Louisville, Wake Forest, at North Carolina, at Virginia, Pitt
Where Louisville has the advantage of drawing the ACC’s bottom five teams, Duke has the disadvantage of getting the top three: (1) Clemson, (2) Florida State, and (3) North Carolina – the latter two coming on the road. Add in (6) Pitt and (7) NC State and the Blue Devils will play 62 percent of their ACC schedule vs. the top half of the league. It will make matching its 9-4 mark from a year ago – the best outcome since 2014 – a taller order.
Historical data courtesy of Sports Reference/College Football.
Duke taking a ride on “the struggle bus?” Didn’t the Blue Devils win 9 games last year?
Winners and losers – isn’t that what football is supposed to be about? Stop over-analyzing and get ready to play.
Get ready to play? We don’t play, and you certainly don’t play either. We’ll stick to schedules and analysis.
Off the subject a little, but no one is leaving the ACC until 2036. They still are the #3 conference pay wise.
Actually, they ae #4. The Big 12 is just ahead of them.
Of course the X factor is 5 bonus games reach year with Notre Dame.