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ACC Football: Ranking the Toughest Non-Conference Schedules in 2020

ACC Football: Ranking the Toughest Non-Conference Schedules in 2020

ACC Football: Ranking the Toughest Non-Conference Schedules in 2020

In recent years, the ACC has opened its football schedule with several of its members playing conference games. In week one of the 2020 season, Clemson will face Georgia Tech, Boston College will host Syracuse, and NC State travels to Louisville. But that does not mean that the league is devoid of meaningful non-conference games.

With six conference programs scheduled to face a Notre Dame team that will be ranked in the top 10, seven members squaring off with SEC powers, and four Big Ten opponents on the slate, ACC teams will be tested plenty this fall. Here is a ranking of the most difficult ACC non-conference schedules.

[Editor's note: This article was posted before the Big Ten (July 9) and Pac-12 (July 10) announced they would play conference-only schedules for all fall sports, including football. Several of the games mentioned below are no longer on the schedule and additional changes are likely.]

1. Georgia Tech

Sept. 12 vs. Gardner-Webb

Sept. 19 vs. UCF

Nov. 14 vs. Notre Dame (Atlanta)

Nov. 28 at Georgia

The Yellow Jackets will play two preseason top-10 teams away from Bobby Dodd Stadium, though the game with Notre Dame is still in Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Throw in a meeting with perennial Group of 5 contender UCF and you have the makings of a brutal non-conference schedule.

2. Florida State

Sept. 5 vs. West Virginia (in Atlanta)

Sept. 12 vs. Samford

Sept. 19 at Boise State

Nov. 28 vs. Florida

Florida State never backs away from a non-conference challenge and this year is no exception. West Virginia should be improved in Neal Brown's second year and playing on the blue turf in Boise is never easy. Plus, the Gators always are ready the last weekend of November.

3. Louisville

Sept. 19 vs. Murray State

Sept. 26 vs. Western Kentucky

Nov. 21 at Notre Dame

Nov. 28 vs. Kentucky

While many teams will schedule a tough non-conference game early in the year, Louisville will close the regular season with two brutal out of league games. Last season, Louisville lost the Notre Dame and Kentucky games by a combined 50 points.

4. North Carolina

Sept. 4 at UCF

Sept. 12 vs. Auburn (in Atlanta)

Sept. 19 vs. James Madison

Nov. 7 vs. UConn

There will be no ease-in time for the Tar Heels in 2020. UCF will again be pushing for a New Year’s Six bid and Auburn will attempt to reload behind developing quarterback Bo Nix.

5. Clemson

Sept. 19 vs. Akron

Nov. 7 at Notre Dame

Nov. 14 vs. The Citadel

Nov. 28 vs. South Carolina

Clemson will have three non-conference games and just one ACC tilt in the month of November. The Tigers' battle with the Fighting Irish will be one that everyone will be watching.

6. Pittsburgh

Sept. 5 vs. Miami (Ohio)

Sept. 12 at Marshall

Sept. 19 vs. Richmond

Oct. 17 vs. Notre Dame

The game against Notre Dame is the headliner, but the Panthers can't overlook the Sept. 12 trip to Huntington, West Virginia. Marshall returns the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year in running back Brenden Knox and the Thundering Herd crowd will be amped up for Pitt's arrival.

7. Boston College

Sept. 12 vs. Ohio

Sept. 19 at Kansas

Sept. 26 vs. Purdue

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Oct. 31 vs. Holy Cross

The Eagles play consecutive games against Power 5 teams in weeks two and three. Last year, Kansas came to Chestnut Hill and knocked off the Eagles and defending dynamic wide receiver Rondale Moore and Purdue will be no picnic.

8. Wake Forest

Sept. 4 vs. Old Dominion

Sept. 11 vs. Appalachian State

Sept. 19 vs. Villanova

Sept. 26 vs. Notre Dame (in Charlotte)

Wake Forest has much of its defense returning and they will be asked to do a lot in battles against two of last year's top 12 scoring offenses. Appalachian State returns their star quarterback Zac Thomas while Notre Dame will again be guided by signal-caller Ian Book.

9. Duke

Sept. 5 vs. Middle Tennessee

Sept. 12 vs. Elon

Sept. 17 vs. Charlotte

Oct. 31 at Notre Dame

Entering 2019, Duke had what was regarded as the ACC's most difficult non-conference schedule and they once again play Middle Tennessee and Notre Dame along with an FCS foe. But instead of facing Alabama, the Blue Devils get Charlotte this fall.

10. Virginia Tech

Sept. 5 vs. Liberty

Sept. 12 vs. Penn State

Sept. 19 at Middle Tennessee

Sept. 26 vs. North Alabama

Hugh Freeze will have Liberty prepared for the Hokies and the game in Murfreesboro could be tricky, especially for a team that has struggled against lesser opponents in recent years. But the Hokies' non-league schedule is all about the Sept. 12 date with Penn State.

11. Virginia

Sept. 7 vs. Georgia (in Atlanta)

Sept. 12 vs. VMI

Sept. 19 vs. Connecticut

Oct. 24 at Old Dominion

Even though one is a road game, the Cavaliers have three layups in non-conference play. Then there is the Labor Day evening season opener in Atlanta against the Bulldogs. Georgia has to replace much of its offense, but the new players are certainly skilled and the defense should once again be a force.

12. Miami

Sept. 5 vs. Temple

Sept. 12 vs. Wagner

Sept. 17 vs. UAB

Sept. 26 at Michigan State

Considering that Miami head coach Manny Diaz ran the Temple program for about 10 minutes and lineman Quincy Roche left Philadelphia for Coral Gables, the opener with the Owls should be interesting. The Canes will then close out the month of September by going to East Lansing to play the new-look Spartans.

13. NC State

Sept. 12 vs. Mississippi State

Sept. 19 at Troy

Sept. 26 vs. Delaware

Nov. 21 vs. Liberty

How Mike Leach can piece together Mississippi State in year one is a great mystery and the Wolfpack will see exactly what the Bulldogs look like in week two. Troy slipped last year in their first year post-Neal Brown, but it will be a road game for Dave Doeren's crew.

14. Syracuse

Sept. 12 at Rutgers

Sept. 19 vs. Colgate

Sept. 26 at Western Michigan

Oct. 17 vs. Liberty

The Orange will go on the road twice in non-conference play, but one is against a middle-of-the-road MAC program and the other is to play one of the worst Power 5 squads in America. Syracuse's home opener with FCS Colgate could be in jeopardy given the Patriot League's recently announced protocols surrounding the return of fall sports, which has already led to the cancellation of some of the conference's games scheduled against FBS teams.

— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.