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Ranking the ACC’s Toughest Non-Conference College Football Schedules in 2017

Deondre Francois

Deondre Francois

How has the ACC remodeled its football product in recent years? By playing the best.

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And eventually beating the best.

Clemson is the defending national champion, the league’s second title winner in the past two years. Few have embraced the take-on-all-comers mentality in the non-conference season like Dabo Swinney’s crew.

Florida State is on the short list of favorites to win it all in 2017, and the Seminoles have perhaps the biggest non-conference challenge of all this fall.

Related: Way Too Early Ranking of the Most Intriguing ACC Non-Conference Games of 2017

Here is a ranking of the ACC’s non-conference schedules, from most difficult to easiest.

1. Florida State

Sept. 2 vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)

College Football Top 25 Rankings: FSU

Sept. 9 vs. ULM

Nov. 18 vs. Delaware State

Nov. 25 at Florida

FSU-Alabama on opening weekend? It’s tough to envision a more intriguing Week 1 game in recent memory. The Noles’ season-ending trip to Florida is nothing to sneeze at, either, considering Bama and UF have met in the SEC Championship Game in each of the past two seasons.

2. Georgia Tech

Sept. 4 vs. Tennessee (in Atlanta)

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Sept. 9 vs. Jacksonville State

Sept. 16 at UCF

Nov. 25 vs. Georgia

The Yellow Jackets get a pair of SEC East teams and, for good measure, travel to UCF, which experienced one of the biggest turnarounds in the nation last season under first-year head coach Scott Frost. JSU, meanwhile, is consistently one of the best teams in the FCS. (Whose top half is regularly better than lower-end FBS programs.)

3. Pitt

Sept. 2 vs. Youngstown State

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Sept. 9 at Penn State

Sept. 16 vs. Oklahoma State

Sept. 30 vs. Rice

Speaking of FCS, Youngstown State was the FCS runner-up last season. Of course, the headliners here though are rival Penn State and Oklahoma State, the latter of which could be the Big 12 favorite. The Nittany Lions will undoubtedly have revenge on their minds at home after the Panthers essentially kept them out of the College Football Playoff last season.

4. Clemson

Sept. 2 vs. Kent State

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Clemson

Sept. 9 vs. Auburn

Nov. 18 vs. The Citadel

Nov. 25 at South Carolina

Two SEC teams, including an Auburn team that could be a sleeping giant in the SEC next season? Few teams consistently challenge themselves the way Clemson does, and this year is no different. South Carolina won’t be a pleasant environment, either, after last year’s 56-7 embarrassment in Death Valley.

5. NC State

Sept. 2 vs. South Carolina (in Charlotte, N.C.)

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Sept. 9 vs. Marshall

Sept. 16 vs. Furman

Oct. 28 at Notre Dame

NC State has taken all sorts of flack for its non-conference schedule under head coach Dave Doeren era, as it hadn’t even played a Power Five team under him until last season’s Notre Dame game — which was mandated by the ACC. The Pack get the Irish again (hopefully in non-hurricane conditions this time) and also open with a neutral-site SEC foe.

6. Wake Forest

Aug. 31 vs. Presbyterian

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Sept. 16 vs. Utah State

Sept. 23 at Appalachian State

Nov. 4 at Notre Dame

Wake is moving up in the world under head coach Dave Clawson, and it faces a stiff challenge here outside of ACC play: Two road games — and don’t think for a second that Appalachian State is a pushover. Utah State has been one of the tougher Group of Five programs as well.

7. Miami

Sept. 2 vs. Bethune-Cookman

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Miami

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Sept. 9 at Arkansas State

Sept. 23 vs. Toledo

Nov. 11 vs. Notre Dame

No one plays more random road games than Miami — see: Appalachian State last year — and this year’s trip to Arkansas State falls in line with that. Notre Dame will be better — although it still beat Miami last year — and Toledo provides a nice MAC challenge.

8. Virginia Tech

Sept. 3 vs. West Virginia (in Landover, Md.)

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Virginia Tech

Sept. 9 vs. Delaware

Sept. 16 at East Carolina

Sept. 23 vs. Old Dominion

The Sunday primetime opener against WVU is a terrific headliner, but there’s not a whole lot of punch elsewhere for the defending Coastal champs. East Carolina has historically played the Hokies well, and Delaware is among the better FCS programs, but neither of those wins would move the needle.

9. Boston College

Sept. 1 at Northern Illinois

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Sept. 16 vs. Notre Dame

Sept. 30 vs. Central Michigan

Nov. 18 vs. UConn (at Fenway Park)

Nothing jumps off the page here for Boston College, but there are also no FCS teams or bottom-of-the-barrel FBS teams. BC should take care of Central Michigan and UConn, but neither are layups for the Eagles, who seem to have found the right mix this season for a program of their stature.

10. Virginia

Sept. 2 vs. William & Mary

Virginia: college football picks against the spread

Sept. 9 vs. Indiana

Sept. 16 vs. UConn

Sept. 22 at Boise State

That trip to Boise State looks frightening — especially after what the Broncos did in Charlottesville in 2015 — and it undoubtedly puts the Cavaliers’ slate over the top when compared to other lower-ranked ACC teams here. But the rest of this? Largely a snoozefest.

11. Duke

Sept. 2 vs. NC Central

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Sept. 9 vs. Northwestern

Sept. 16 vs. Baylor

Nov. 11 at Army

Duke plays two Power Five teams, which, like last year, is a step up from most previous years. Still, Baylor will likely be rebuilding in head coach Matt Rhule’s first year, so we don’t know what to expect from the Bears. That trip to much-improved Army could be challenging, though.

12. North Carolina

Sept. 2 vs. Cal

North Carolina Football Schedule 2019

Sept. 16 at Old Dominion

Oct. 7 vs. Notre Dame

Nov. 18 Western Carolina

Much like Virginia Tech, potential Coastal threat UNC doesn’t have much to show here. Hosting Notre Dame is juicy, and a trip to Old Dominion is, well, something, but the general slate doesn’t really move the needle.

13. Louisville

Sept. 2 vs. Purdue (in Indianapolis)

College Football Top 25: Louisville

Sept. 23 vs. Kent State

Sept. 30 vs. Murray State

Nov. 25 at Kentucky

The Cardinals play two Power Five teams. They are Purdue and Kentucky. Be better, Louisville. You’re all grown up now.

14. Syracuse

Sept. 2 vs. CCSU

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Sept. 9 vs. Middle Tennessee

Sept. 16 vs. Central Michigan

Sept. 23 at LSU

You have to praise Syracuse for traveling to Death Valley, but the other three games are so underwhelming that the LSU trip just isn’t enough to push the Orange out of the bottom spot here.

— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.