Ranking the ACC's Toughest Non-Conference College Football Schedules in 2018

Pittsburgh's out-of-ACC slate features three teams that finished in the top 11 of last season's final AP Top 25

When the College Football Playoff was introduced, much was made of its impact on scheduling. With strength of schedule supposedly being a major component in the selection process, many expected the top teams to play more quality opponents in different environments.

 

It is open to debate whether that has actually happened. For example, this coming fall no Big Ten West team will play a true non-conference road game. The ACC, on the other hand, has tough out-of-league games at home, at neutral sites, and on the road. Only one conference team doesn't play a non-conference game on someone else's campus and that's Louisville, who opens the season in Orlando against defending national champion Alabama.

 

Here's a ranking of the toughest ACC non-conference schedules for the coming year.

 

1. Pittsburgh

Sept. 1 vs. Albany

Sept. 8 vs. Penn State

Sept. 15 at UCF

Oct. 13 at Notre Dame

 

Thank goodness for the Great Danes of Albany from the FCS ranks. The Panthers play two of the country's traditional powers, including one that will be on many top 10 lists. Plus, there's a trip to Orlando to face the self-proclaimed defending national champions.

 

2. Florida State

Sept. 8 vs. Samford

Sept. 15 vs. Northern Illinois

Nov. 10 at Notre Dame

Nov. 24 vs. Florida

 

Willie Taggart's new-look Noles will be looking to rebound against a very challenging slate. Northern Illinois is a program that has challenged several Power 5 teams and November features a trip to South Bend and the rivalry game to close the regular season.

 

3. Louisville

Sept. 1 vs. Alabama (Orlando, Florida)

Sept. 8 vs. Indiana State

Sept. 15 vs. Western Kentucky

Nov. 24 vs. Kentucky

 

The Cardinals' schedule features games against two SEC teams including the big, bad Crimson Tide. And Louisville should not overlook the Hilltoppers, a solid group that would love to knock off an in-state Power 5 team.

 

4. Duke

Sept. 1 vs. Army

Sept. 8 at Northwestern

Sept. 15 at Baylor

Sept. 22 vs. North Carolina Central

 

The Blue Devils play two road games against Power 5 teams. If Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson is recovered from his knee injury, the Sept. 8 game in Evanston, Illinois, will be especially challenging. Throw in a game against a developing Army program and it's a difficult opening month for Duke.

 

5. Clemson

Sept. 1 vs. Furman

Sept. 8 at Texas A&M

Sept. 15 Georgia Southern

Nov. 24 vs. South Carolina

 

Like Louisville, the Tigers go away from home to play an SEC West team in September and host an SEC rival on Thanksgiving weekend. The game against Jimbo Fisher's Aggies is especially appealing.

 

6. Georgia Tech

Sept. 1 vs. Alcorn State

Sept. 8 at South Florida

Sept. 29 vs. Bowling Green

Nov. 24 at Georgia

 

The game in Tampa against South Florida won't be easy. The game in Athens versus those hairy Dawgs will be brutal.

 

7. Miami

Sept. 2 vs. LSU (Arlington, Texas)

Sept. 8 vs. Savannah State

Sept. 15 at Toledo

Sept. 22 vs. FIU

 

That season opener will essentially be a road game as LSU fans will take over AT&T Stadium. Butch Davis put FIU in a bowl game last year and then the Hurricanes will go to the Glass Bowl to play the defending MAC champs. Very few Power 5 schools would agree to play the Rockets on their home turf.

 

8. NC State

Sept. 1 vs. James Madison

Sept. 8 vs. Georgia State

Sept. 15 vs. West Virginia

Sept. 22 at Marshall

 

James Madison isn't your typical FCS team, but it's the date with West Virginia two weeks later that will really test the Wolfpack. Much is expected of the Mountaineers this season and the very next week the Pack will head to the Mountain State to play the New Mexico Bowl champs.

 

9. North Carolina

Sept. 1 at California

Sept. 8 at East Carolina

Sept. 15 vs. UCF

Nov. 17 vs. Western Carolina

 

The Tar Heels open the season with back-to-back road games on each coast. When they finally come home they will have to face McKenzie Milton and UCF.

 

10. Syracuse

Aug. 31 at Western Michigan

Sept. 8 vs. Wagner

Sept. 22 vs. UConn

Nov. 17 vs. Notre Dame (Bronx, New York)

 

There is a road game against the Broncos to start the season and a game at Yankee Stadium against Notre Dame in November. But other than the Fighting Irish, Syracuse is more talented than its other non-conference opponents.

 

11. Wake Forest

Aug. 30 at Tulane

Sept. 8 vs. Towson

Sept. 22 vs. Notre Dame

Sept. 29 vs. Rice

 

Wake Forest's non-conference schedule is similar to that of Syracuse: Notre Dame and three teams the Demon Deacons should beat. Tulane is making strides under Willie Fritz and the game is in New Orleans, so that would easily be Wake Forest's second-toughest game outside the ACC.

 

12. Virginia Tech

Sept. 8 vs. William & Mary

Sept. 15 vs. East Carolina

Sept. 22 at Old Dominion

Oct. 6 vs. Notre Dame

 

Tech also has an out-of-conference schedule that features Notre Dame and three less than stellar foes. The Hokies heading to the Tidewater area to face ODU in Norfolk will be a big deal but the Monarchs backslid last season.

 

13. Boston College

Sept. 1 vs. UMass

Sept. 8 vs. Holy Cross

Sept. 22 at Purdue

Sept. 29 vs. Temple

 

Depending on what happens at Purdue and Temple this season, Boston College could have a better non-conference schedule than the three teams that play Notre Dame and three patsies. Both the Boilermakers and the Owls should be improved in their head coaches' second year.

 

14. Virginia

Sept. 1 vs. Richmond

Sept. 8 at Indiana

Sept. 15 vs. Ohio

Nov. 10 vs. Liberty

 

The Cavaliers do go on the road to play a Big Ten team and host a perennial MAC contender. But they also host two in-state FCS programs.

 

-- Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.

Event Date: 
Sunday, May 6, 2018 - 13:53

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