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What Could a Hypothetical ACC vs. Big Ten Football Challenge Look Like?

What Could a Hypothetical ACC vs. Big Ten Football Challenge Look Like?

What Could a Hypothetical ACC vs. Big Ten Football Challenge Look Like?

The men's basketball teams from Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big Ten have paired off against each other on an annual basis since 1999. The meetings have occurred at campus venues for the most part. This arrangement livens up the non-conference schedules as well as helps settle the question about which conference is superior. After 20 years, fans in both conferences deserve the same arrangement for their football teams.

The following list proposes some contests. Some of these games have an appeal due to teams being located in bordering states. Others include matchups that have never occurred for the football programs. Finally, some are resumptions of series that ended due to conference realignment. This exercise also ignores some familiar pairings (such as Pittsburgh vs. Penn State).

Clemson vs. Michigan

Promotional Slogan: Why Didn't We Do This Sooner?

Series history: no previous meetings

Clemson vs. Big Ten: 4-1

Michigan vs. ACC: 16-3

These are among the most successful programs in their conferences. Both hold the highest number of conference titles within their respective conferences. Both seem to appear in the Top 25 polls every year, at least in the preseason versions.

Interestingly, they have never faced each other on the gridiron. All five times that Clemson has faced an opponent from the Big Ten, those occurred in bowl games. Michigan has only played at two ACC venues, both times in the 1960s. Three of Michigan's four most recent meetings with a team from the ACC happened in bowls.

Florida State vs. Nebraska

Promotional Slogan: Anyone Remember the '90s?

Series history: Florida State leads 6-2

Florida State vs. Big Ten: 9-2

Nebraska vs. ACC: 9-8

These two highly successful programs dominated during the 1990s. Both were perennially ranked in the top 10 of the major polls. Florida State won consensus national titles in 1993 and '99 plus shared or won outright every ACC championship after joining the ACC in '92. Nebraska won the consensus national title in 1994 and '95 along with the coaches' title in '97 plus seven conference titles.

Since the calendar flipped to 2000, FSU has resembled a roller-coaster ride. The Seminoles have won seven more ACC championships. They won the final BCS national title in 2013. They won 10 or more games in eight seasons. However, they finished 7-6 four times in addition to going 5-7 in 2018, their first losing season in four decades (1976).

In the current millennium, Nebraska has ranged from respectable to awful. The Cornhuskers have logged six seasons with 10 or more victories. Despite those, they not won a conference championship since 1999. They have lost seven or more games in five seasons. They have suffered four non-winning seasons.

Nebraska has never played in Tallahassee. The first four meetings between these programs occurred in Lincoln which they split. The last four were played in bowls. These programs have not faced each other since the consecutive Orange Bowls following the 1992 and '93 seasons. FSU won both.

Nebraska has faced nine ACC members. Seven of the Cornhuskers' matchups against an ACC team have happened since 2000. Those have occurred in both bowls and home-and-home series.

Will fans need to don flannel shirts and crank up some grunge rock to make this matchup feel nationally relevant?

Duke vs. Michigan State

Promotional Slogan: From the Hardwood to the Gridiron

Series history: No previous meetings

Duke vs. Big Ten: 16-24-1

Michigan State vs. ACC: 4-3-1

These two universities have enjoyed much success in men's basketball going back decades. Their basketball teams had faced each other in the NCAA tournament six times in the past 25 years. Duke holds a 4-2 edge in those matchups.

Their football programs have improved over the 2010s as well. David Cutcliffe has led Duke to five winning seasons and a divisional title. Under Mark Dantonio, the Spartans have enjoyed six seasons with 10 or more wins plus three conference titles.

Neither of these programs has much experience facing a variety of teams from the other's conference. MSU has only faced four ACC opponents. The Spartans have played just one game vs. an ACC team since the late 1980s. Nearly half of Duke's games vs. Big Ten competitions have come against Northwestern.

For the halftime entertainment, men's basketball coaches of the two universities, Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo, should suit up for a game of one-on-one. They would play on a court that's brought out onto the field. Whoever does not break a hip or throw out his back first would be declared the winner.

Pittsburgh vs. Ohio State

Promotional Slogan: The Brawl on Interstate 70

Series history: Ohio State leads 19-5-1

Pittsburgh vs. Big Ten: 26-63-2

Ohio State vs. ACC: 10-8

This series started in 1929. That first meeting began a string of meetings between these two programs in 18 of 26 seasons, ending in 1954. Thirty years later, they finally resumed playing against one another, this time in the Fiesta Bowl. They have not faced each other again since a four-year-long home-and-home series which ended in 1996.

Considering their campuses are separated by less than 200 miles, this matchup would allow plenty of visiting fans to attend. Maybe some the animosity between fans of the Browns and Steelers will spill over into this series?

Syracuse vs. Penn State

Promotional Slogan: Eastern Independents' Day

Series history: Penn State leads 43-23-5

Syracuse vs. Big Ten: 18-42-2

Penn State vs. ACC: 53-8-1

This was an annual matchup from 1922-90 (with the exception of 1943) when both were independents. Since then, they have only faced each other three times. The most recent game was played in East Rutherford, New Jersey, in 2013. Penn State has won the last five meetings.

The lapse in the series may have caused some fans and members of the media to forget how heated this rivalry once was. A brawl broke out in the final minute of the game in Happy Valley in 1953 that included fans leaving the stands to join in the melee. Syracuse took offense at Penn State's demand that the series would only continue after 1990 with more games at Beaver Stadium than in the Carrier Dome instead of home-and-home on an equal basis. In 1956, an incorrectly called penalty for illegal participation late in the fourth quarter against Penn State sabotaged any possibility of a last-minute comeback, dealing the Nittany Lions a 13-9 defeat. The contest in 1958 was marred by the allegation that the referee calling the game had graduated from Syracuse's law school, explaining why Penn State was flagged seven times for 55 yards while Syracuse's sole penalty was called in the final minute of the Orangemen's eight-point victory.

Joe Paterno and Penn State's administration blamed Syracuse for leading the opposition to Penn State joining the Big East for basketball in 1982. Syracuse's officials point the finger for the Big East's collapse as a football conference at Penn State for the Lions' refusal to join their fellow Eastern Independents in forming the football-version of the conference, leading to its inevitable failure. There is so much lingering animosity between these programs that it would foment highly entertaining contests between them.

NC State vs. Wisconsin

Promotional Slogan: Russell Wilson Bowl

Series history: no previous meetings

NC State vs. Big Ten: 9-6-1

Wisconsin vs. ACC: 7-1

These two programs share some commonalities despite being located nearly 1,000 miles apart. Both have the largest enrollment of any university in their states as well as being situated in their state's capital city. Plenty of red would be visible at this matchup. Additionally, Russell Wilson led both teams to success as the starting quarterback.

Despite some shared features, there is little history in common between the Badgers and Wolfpack. Wisconsin did not face anyone from the ACC until a bowl game at the end of 1994 season. All the subsequent games of Wisconsin have occurred this century, the last four in bowls. NC State did play two home-and-home series against Big Ten opponents in the 2000s.

Georgia Tech vs. Purdue

Promotional Slogan: Engineer Bowl

Series history: Purdue leads 1-0

Georgia Tech vs. Big Ten: 3-4

Purdue vs. ACC: 8-8-1

The sole meeting between these programs occurred in the Peach Bowl on Christmas day in 1978. Georgia Tech has only faced four other opponents from the Big Ten. The Yellow Jackets have played only one of those, Michigan State, more than once. The Jackets' last four matchups with anyone from the Big Ten occurred in bowl games.

Purdue has not enjoyed much success against anyone from the ACC during this

century. The Boilermakers have lost four of six games versus opponents from the ACC starting in 2002. Three of those were played in West Lafayette and two at neutral sites.

Virginia Tech vs. Iowa

Promotional Slogan: First Time for Everything

Series history: no previous meetings

Virginia Tech vs. Big Ten: 3-2

Iowa vs. ACC: 4-3

This matchup has a lot appeal for its novelty. That can help offset the extreme distance between Iowa City and Blacksburg. Before this current decade, Virginia Tech had only faced anyone from the Big Ten once. That sole occasion was against Indiana in the 1993 Independence Bowl. The Hokies have had four matchups versus Big Ten opponents in the past seven seasons, including two in 2015.

Iowa has faced someone from the ACC four times in the 2010s. The Hawkeyes won all of them. Out of the Hawkeyes' seven total meetings with ACC members, four have occurred at neutral sites.

Virginia vs. Maryland

Promotional Slogan: Border War Renewed

Series history: Maryland leads 44-32-2

Virginia vs. Big Ten: 7-11

Maryland vs. ACC: 212-196-4

These former intra-conference rivals first faced each other in 1919, a few decades before the founding of the Atlantic Coast Conference. They played each other from 1957 until Maryland left the ACC after the 2013 season. Nine of Virginia's meetings with Big Ten members occurred this century. Virginia has faced eight other opponents from Big Ten.

Miami vs. Northwestern

Promotional Slogan: Suburban Bowl

Series history: Tied at 2-2

Miami vs. Big Ten: 22-14

Northwestern vs. ACC: 17-14

Both programs are located in the suburbs of one of the 20 largest media markets. Both have to compete with an NFL franchise and other professional teams for fans' attention. Both have witnessed visiting teams' supporters outnumber their own in home games.

These two programs have not faced each other since their four meetings during the 1960s. Despite the tremendous distance between southern Florida and the closest Big Ten campus, the Hurricanes have played 10 opponents from the Big Ten, all at least twice. The Wildcats have only met seven opponents from the ACC. Twenty of Northwestern's 31 matchups versus a member of the Big Ten have been against Duke.

North Carolina vs. Indiana

Promotional Slogan: We do more than play basketball!

Series history: North Carolina leads 2-0

North Carolina vs. Big Ten: 12-9

Indiana vs. ACC: 5-11

UNC has faced eight opponents from the Big Ten although none of them more than four times. Despite the long distance between Chapel Hill and the locations of the longtime members of the Big Ten, most of the Tar Heels' previous meetings with conference members have happened on campus. Only twice has UNC played anyone from the Big Ten in a bowl game.

The Hoosiers have a limited history versus the ACC. In addition to their home-and-home series during the late 1990s with UNC, they have played only four other opponents from the ACC. None of those happened more than four times. Six of Indiana's contests against teams from the ACC have taken place in the current decade.

The basketball theme could be expanded beyond the promotional slogan. Could an abbreviated scrimmage of their men's basketball teams take place during halftime? Roy Williams could serve as an honorary captain on behalf of North Carolina at the coin toss before kickoff. Maybe Bobby Knight could throw out a ceremonial first pass of the game, followed by a chair from the sidelines.

Wake Forest vs. Minnesota

Promotional Slogan: Struggle for Relevance

Series history: Minnesota leads 1-0

Wake Forest vs. Big Ten: 4-10

Minnesota vs. ACC: 3-4

These two programs have shared difficulties in drawing fans and keeping their attention, though for different reasons. Wake Forest suffers from the status as a “little fish in a huge pond”. Minnesota experienced plenty of success until it had to compete with a professional team for fans.

Wake Forest has the smallest enrollment of any of the members of the Power 5 conferences. Also, a severe lack of success (only two conference titles in its history) gives anyone with no connection to the university no reason to become fans of the Demon Deacons. Additionally, plenty of other football teams exist in the same state: six other FBS programs plus an NFL franchise located less than 100 miles away.

Minnesota has a highly successful past, one that includes ten Big Ten titles (third most in the conference's history). The Gophers have won four national titles during the era of the national polls, including the first awarded by the Associated Press. However, they have not won any titles since 1967.

The beginning of their decline coincided with the creation of the Vikings in 1960. The presence of an NFL team within the same media market has siphoned away much focus. Minimal success by the Gophers during this century, nine losing seasons with at least seven defeats per year and only one season with 10 or more victories also have squashed local interest.

The Demon Deacons have only played games against four other teams from the Big Ten. They have faced only two current members, Northwestern and Purdue, more than twice. All of those contests occurred during the regular season.

In contrast, the Gophers' previous meeting with Wake Forest in 1968 was their first versus an ACC opponent. It was the only time that Minnesota has ever faced an ACC team during the regular season. Since then, the Gophers have squared off with six other ACC members, none more than once, in bowl games.

Boston College vs. Rutgers

Promotional Slogan: Eastern Seaboard Series

Series history: Boston College leads 19-6-1

Boston College vs. Big Ten: 7-15

Rutgers vs. ACC: 8-10

The Eagles and Scarlet Knights faced off every season from 1981-2004. The last 14 of those contests occurred as both were members of the Big East. Boston College has dropped five of its six games during this decade against the Big Ten, half of which occurred in bowl games. Half of Rutgers' previous matchups with the ACC have taken place in the past 13 seasons.

Louisville vs. Illinois

Promotional Slogan: Battle for Abraham Lincoln's Hat

Series history: Illinois leads 3-2

Louisville vs. Big Ten: 5-10-1

Illinois vs. ACC: 3-6

A team from Abraham Lincoln's birth state facing a team from the state that launched his political career seems appropriate. The Fighting Illini and Cardinals have not faced each other since their four home-and-home matchups over the span of five seasons around the turn of the millennium.

Illinois is the Cardinals' most frequently played opponent from the Big Ten. Louisville has only played five other members of the Big Ten and none more than three times. The Illini played three ACC opponents in bowl games during the 1990s. However, Illinois has only had two games versus anyone from the ACC since then, a home-and-home series with North Carolina in 2015 and '16. The winner of the game will walk away with a replica of Lincoln's signature article of clothing: a stovepipe hat.

Fans might be disappointed with their team's proposed matchup. The desirability of seeing any particular contest varies on multiple factors. Nevertheless, would every fan, in either the ACC or the Big Ten, not prefer to watch a two-game series versus an opponent from the other conference? Is that not more entertaining compared to seeing their team face another rent-a-win versus an opponent from the Group of 5 or FCS ranks?

— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseurand read his viewpoints at and at