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Who has the toughest football schedule in the ACC this year?
The ACC preseason talking points were pretty clear.
“We are the champions and we broke a record by sending 11 teams to a bowl game.”
Unfortunately, conferences don’t win championships, teams do. So while Florida State is the defending champ, it means very little for the rest of the ACC. The rest of the league needs to win marquee non-conference games against both the SEC and Notre Dame to start bragging during the offseason.
Within the league, however, there are more than half-a-dozen (mostly, from the Coastal Division) teams who feel like they have a shot to reach Charlotte. So crossover play and home-and-road splits will play a huge role in shaping the ACC Championship Game matchup.
So which ACC team has the toughest schedule in 2014?
Crossover: Louisville, at Florida St
Non-con: UCLA, Richmond, at BYU, Kent St
Opponents’ ’13 Record: 102-54 (65.4%, 2nd)
Not only does Virginia play the toughest schedule in the Coastal (because they don’t get to face themselves) but it will also play two elite non-conference games and two of the top three teams in the Atlantic Division as well. Mike London is squarely on the hot seat and this schedule is one of the worst in the nation.
Crossover: at Louisville, Florida State
Non-con: Florida A&M, Arkansas St, at Nebraska, Cincinnati
Opponents’ ’13 Record: 96-60 (61.5%, 14th)
Sort of like Virginia, Miami plays two really tough non-conference games and two nasty crossovers in ACC play with the Seminoles and Cardinals. The divisional schedule is slightly easier with the Wahoos on the slate, but Miami has the toughest path to the Coastal championship of any contender in the division.
3. Boston College
Crossover: Pitt, at Virginia Tech
Non-con: at UMass, USC, Maine, Colorado St
Opponents’ ’13 Record: 95-61 (60.9%, 15th)
USC and Colorado State won’t be easy non-conference tilts but at least both come at home and a split is likely. In fact, BC should get halfway to a bowl (3-1) in the non-con. Facing the Hokies on the road and Pitt at home is going to be tough in crossover and the trio of Clemson, Florida State and Louisville within the division doesn’t offer too many chances for wins. This team will need to sweep the bottom half of the Atlantic to reach the postseason.
Crossover: Duke, at Pitt
Non-con: Villanova, at CMU, Maryland, Notre Dame
Opponents’ ’13 Record: 96-57 (62.8%, 8th)
Maryland and Notre Dame in the non-conference is going to be very tricky for the Cuse and living in the same division with Clemson, Florida State and Louisville will always be extremely tough. And while most aren’t facing any of the top three picks in crossover play, facing the defending Coastal champs in Duke and a trendy sleeper pick in Pitt won’t be easy.
Crossover: North Carolina, at Georgia Tech
Non-con: at Georgia, S. Carolina St, Georgia St, South Carolina
Opponents’ ’13 Record: 89-65 (57.8%, 28th)
Clemson should face at least three top 15 opponents this fall, two of which bookend the season against the top two teams in the SEC East. Toss in road trips to always pesky Georgia Tech and the defending national champs and the Tigers have one of the tougher slates in the league.
6. Wake Forest
Crossover: Virginia Tech, at Duke
Non-con: at UL Monroe, Gardner-Webb, at Utah St, Army
Opponents’ ’13 Record: 97-58 (62.6%, 9th)
The non-conference slate may not look like much but a road trip out to Utah State is likely a loss. Crossover with Virginia Tech and Duke won’t be easy either. And being the worst team in the Atlantic Division always means facing the toughest schedule within that half of the ACC. Missing Notre Dame is huge but the Demon Deacons will likely face at least nine bowl teams this fall.
7. North Carolina
Crossover: at Clemson, NC State
Non-con: Liberty, San Diego St, at ECU, at Notre Dame
Opponents’ ’13 Record: 92-62 (59.7%, 20th)
Having to face an in-state “mid-major” program that regularly upsets quality ACC teams is no easy task. And visiting South Bend could be ugly as well. Crossover play features a road game against the second-best team in the division and a much-improved in-state rival. That said, the key for the Heels is navigating a mid-to-late season stretch from Oct. 18 to Nov. 20 that features five straight divisional foes (three on the road).
8. NC State
Crossover: Georgia Tech, at North Carolina
Non-con: Ga. Southern, Old Dominion, at USF, Presbyterian
Opponents’ ’13 Record: 89-61 (59.3%, 23rd)
The non-conference should feature plenty of wins with the toughest test coming on the road against a team that lost 10 games last fall (USF). Crossover play is tough at UNC and Georgia Tech at home but could be worse. Road trips to Clemson and Louisville will be nasty but important swing games — ones key for bowl eligibility — against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech will come at home.
Crossover: Miami, at Virginia
Non-con: Murray St, at FIU, at Notre Dame, Kentucky
Opponents’ ’13 Record: 75-76 (49.7%, 80th)
In two odd twists, Louisville will play both crossover games with the Coastal Division by Week 3 with six straight divisional games to end ACC play. Then the Cardinals will play back-to-back non-conference games against Big 5 opponents to end the season. And in between, Bobby Petrino will have to face Clemson (road) and Florida State (home) in a four-week span to end October. There are wins to be had but some marquee showdowns as well.
10. Georgia Tech
Crossover: at NC State, Clemson
Non-con: Wofford, at Tulane, Ga. Southern, at Georgia
Opponents’ ’13 Record: 84-67 (55.6%, 43rd)
Playing at Georgia has been a miserable way to end the season for the Jackets for more than a decade but a 3-1 record in non-conference play feels like a low-water mark. Having to face Pitt, Virginia Tech and both UNC and NC State on the road is pretty tough in conference. In fact, crossover play will feature two of the top four teams from the Atlantic Division. This is a manageable but tricky slate for Paul Johnson in an important season.
11. Florida State
Crossover: Virginia, at Miami
Non-con: Oklahoma St, Citadel, Notre Dame, Florida
Opponents’ ’13 Record: 83-68 (54.9%, 47th)
First, it’s pretty clear FSU will be a double-digit favorite in probably every game it plays this fall. But Notre Dame, Clemson, Louisville and Florida will all make for interesting matchups. The non-conference slate is among the best in the nation but both Florida and Oklahoma State have seen better days. Crossover shouldn’t be an issue despite a road trip to archrival Miami. Look for another 13-0 mark from the Noles.
12. Virginia Tech
Crossover: Boston College, at Wake Forest
Non-con: William & Mary, at Ohio St, ECU, W. Michigan
Opponents’ ’13 Record: 83-71 (53.9%, 55th)
Facing BC and Wake Forest is one huge reason the Hokies are picked to win the Coastal by Athlon Sports. A road trip to Ohio State will be brutal but a great test for Frank Beamer's squad before three straight home games. Back-to-back road trips to North Carolina and Pitt to begin October might be the most important stretch of action. The final month could be a breeze for Virginia Tech.
Crossover: at Boston College, Syracuse
Non-con: Delaware, at FIU, Iowa, Akron
Opponents’ ’13 Record: 78-75 (50.9%, 74th)
A win over Iowa at home would be a nice feather in the cap for Paul Chryst’s squad, which should finish non-conference play no worse than 3-1 (if not 4-0). Crossover games with BC and Cuse features two bowl teams but neither is as good as it was last fall. The key for Pitt will be the final six games — all of which feature bowl teams and the five other Coastal contenders.
Crossover: at Syracuse, Wake Forest
Non-con: Elon, at Troy, Kansas, Tulane
Opponents’ ’13 Record: 69-82 (45.7%, 101st)
The Blue Devils got one of the few likely 4-0 non-conference slates and are facing two teams it should be beat in crossover play. That leaves road trips to Miami, Georgia Tech, Pitt and Cuse in a five-game span as November arrives that will define Duke’s Coastal title defense. If the Blue Devils survive, the two best teams in the Coastal will have to come to Durham (Virginia Tech, North Carolina) late in November.