When putting together Athlon Sports' college football magazine and preseason Top 25 each year, a huge part of the process is scheduling. Non-conference games, crossovers, home-road splits and timing all play a role in determining order of finish.
And don’t forget that the College Football Playoff Committee made it very clear in its first season that it values scheduling.
So who has the toughest schedule in the ACC this fall? Who has the easiest path?
Not many teams favored to win a division have to deal with the toughest schedule in the conference but that is what Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets must do this fall. Tech will have to face the best two teams from the Atlantic Division in Clemson (road) and Florida State (home), as well as two potential top-10 teams in the non-conference in Notre Dame (road) and Georgia (home). Georgia Tech’s only comfort is that key swing games in the division (which is all of them, really) against North Carolina, Pitt and Virginia Tech do come at home.
Along with Georgia Tech, Miami must face both Florida State (road) and Clemson in crossover play — giving the Canes and Jackets the toughest interdivisional schedules in the ACC. Add to it road trips within the Coastal to Pitt, North Carolina and Duke and Al Golden must deal with one of the toughest ACC slates in the league. Top it off with non-conference games against Nebraska and at Cincinnati.
With Georgia Tech and Miami in crossover as well as Notre Dame and South Carolina in non-conference, the Tigers face one of the hardest schedules in the ACC. Florida State has to come to Death Valley but road trips to Louisville, NC State, rival South Carolina and the Hurricanes offer plenty of speed bumps for Dabo Swinney. The only comfort for Clemson is that the three biggest games of the year (Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Florida State) come at home.
No team in the ACC will play a tougher non-conference schedule than Virginia. Home dates with Notre Dame and Boise State as well as a long road trip to UCLA give the Wahoos three ranked foes before even reaching ACC play. Toss in a road trip to Louisville in crossover play and the toughest Coastal Divisional schedule (since there’s no Virginia) and there are few guaranteed wins for Mike London. Virginia will be favored in two games — William & Mary and Syracuse at home.
Dave Clawson doesn’t get to face Wake Forest, so by definition, the Demon Deacons have one of the toughest schedules in the Atlantic Division. The only real winnable game in divisional play comes on the road at Syracuse. Facing Notre Dame, Army and Indiana in the non-conference isn’t crazy for Florida State but could be devastating for Wake Forest. The Deacs also get in-state rivals North Carolina and Duke from the Coastal Division.
Wake and Cuse play similar schedules but Syracuse’s big non-conference game comes at home (LSU) and crossover play could be slightly easier with Virginia and Pitt. Road trips in the division to Florida State, Louisville and NC State are impossible so Wake Forest and Boston College at home might be the best chances for wins for the Orange. Even road trips to South Florida and Virginia will be tough.
Steve Addazio has three wins in the non-conference schedule and then Notre Dame. Crossover with Virginia Tech and Duke isn’t as tough as it could be but isn’t easy. Home games with Wake Forest and NC State provide chances for wins while getting Florida State at home is big for the turnstiles. However, road trips to Clemson and Louisville make competing in the division extremely difficult.
The Cardinals must face two SEC foes in Auburn (Week 1, Atlanta) and Kentucky (road) and a split would be considered a success. Crossover with Virginia is great but a road trip to Pitt will be tough. Within the division, getting Clemson, Boston College and Syracuse at home provides opportunity while road games with Florida State and NC State will be exceptionally tough.
Related: 2015 ACC Football Schedule Analysis
By definition, the Noles get one of the easier Atlantic Division schedules because they don’t have to play themselves. However, road trips to Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida could keep Florida State from making the College Football Playoff. Other key swing games with Miami, Louisville and NC State will come at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The non-conference slate is tough (Ohio State) but also provides chances for solid wins (East Carolina, Purdue). Crossover play will feature two tough but winnable games in the form of a road trip to Boston College and a home game with NC State. Getting Coastal Division contenders Pitt, North Carolina and Duke at home helps as well. However, the biggest game of the year could be the road trip to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech. There is no Florida State, Clemson or Louisville on the schedule this season.
The non-conference slate is comically easy for Dave Doeren and NC State: Troy, Eastern Kentucky, Old Dominion and South Alabama. Crossover (at Virginia Tech, home vs. North Carolina) won't be easy, but a split is very reasonable. Key swing games with Louisville and Clemson come in Raleigh while winnable road games with Wake Forest and Boston College give the Wolfpack a shot at winning their division. The road trip to Florida State, however, likely keeps NC State from claiming the Atlantic.
Facing Notre Dame and Iowa in the non-conference isn’t easy but the rest of the schedule sets up nicely for Pitt. There is no Florida State, Clemson or NC State on the schedule and road trips include visits to Syracuse and Duke. Two huge games in the division with Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech will come on the road but the schedule overall sets up for Pat Narduzzi’s first romp through a wide-open ACC.
South Carolina is the toughest opponent in the non-conference but that game will come in Charlotte. Crossover play with the Atlantic involves Wake Forest and at NC State — avoiding all three of the best teams in the division. Winnable games within the division with Miami, Virginia and Duke all come at home. Road trips to Georgia Tech, Pitt and Virginia Tech are the toughest games on the slate for Larry Fedora.
Northwestern at home is the toughest non-conference game on the schedule for the Blue Devils. Crossover with Boston College (home) and Wake Forest (road) is the easiest of any team in the ACC. And key division games with Georgia Tech, Miami and Pitt all come at home. A road trip to Virginia Tech might be the toughest game of the year for Duke.