Going back to 2006, I've taken a look every August at the collective non-conference schedule of the ACC football teams. Over that time, we've basically seen games drift to two poles of opponents, the big name – typically from the SEC – and the FCS school, with less games going to the non-BCS schools of D1-A. Last year there were a good deal of complaints about the ACC's scheduling tanking the conference in the early weeks, so are we going to see a shift back to the middle in the coming years?
- Let's start, as always with the SEC, who appear on schedules only five times this season. The rivalry week games alone against Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina give the conference a fair amount of representation. In addition to that Auburn (Clemson, 9/17) comes to town and Vanderbilt (Wake Forest, 11/27) closes out their season with a game I wouldn't mind becoming a new rivalry.
- The Big East provides six opponents almost at a rate of one per week, beginning with Syracuse (Wake, 9/1), followed by Rutgers (UNC, 9/10), West Virginia (Maryland, 9/17), Cincinnati (N.C. State, 9/20), Louisville (UNC, 10/18), before finishing with USF (Miami, 11/19). Most of these games make sense either regionally or talent-level wise. The Big East provides the toughest two non-conference opponents for UNC, and while the Tar Heels maybe should have aimed higher when they were scheduled, based on how the team was going to look, now they look like good choices.
There are more Big Ten and Big 12 challengers than in years past, too something I'm very happy to see. The twelve-team Big 10 brings Northwestern (Boston College, 9/3), Indiana (Virginia, 9/10) and Ohio State (Miami, 9/17), all winnable games. The ten-team Big 12 sends Oklahoma (FSU, 9/17) Kansas (Georgia Tech, 9/17), and Kansas State (Miami, 9/24). The two Kansas games are also winnable, but FSU is going to have a tougher time with the top-ranked Sooners. But these are the types of games you have to play if you want to put the ACC back on the map.
Conference USA has more teams on the schedule than usual, working a couple of regional rivalries, and a few random meetings. They contribute six games, UCF (BC, 9/10), East Carolina (Virginia Tech, 9/10 and UNC, 10/1), Tulane (Duke, 9/24), Marshall (VT, 9/24), and Southern Miss (Virginia, 9/24).
- The only independent to make an appearance this season is Notre Dame, who adds Wake Forest (11/5) and Maryland (11/12) to its annual Boston College (11/19) game as it continues the quest to schedule everyone in the ACC.
- As for other conferences chipping in the occasional team, there's the MAC, with two teams in Temple (Maryland, 9/24) and Central Michigan (N.C. State, 10/8). The Pac-12 contributes Stanford (Duke, 9/10), and the WAC Idaho (Virginia, 10/1).
- But the big surprise is the conference that provides as many opponents as the SEC: The Sun Belt, conference of D1-AA escapees. The ACC will face five, Louisiana-Monroe (FSU, 9/3), Troy (Clemson, 9/3), Middle Tennessee State (GT, 9/10), Arkansas State (VT, 9/17), and Florida International (Duke, 10/1). All games scheduled as easy wins – although Georgia Tech and Duke at least go on the road – and understandable, except that their five ACC opponents join the rest of the conference in also scheduling...
- ...FCS Schools. There are thirteen on the schedule, all home games. N.C. State goes the extra mile, by not only scheduling two such teams, but making one of them South Alabama, a team in its third year of existence that has never played an FBS team before. I'm officially rooting for State to go 0-2 against the lesser football division. (The Jaguars are, however, on the fast track to FBS status. They'll hit it in 2013, when they'll be full members of... the Sun Belt.)
Overall the ACC has inched towards a more exciting schedule. There are seven opponents ranked in the preseason, which seems about right for a conference that could only put two there itself. #1 Oklahoma is facing #5 Florida State,as will #23 Florida; #6 Stanford will destroy Duke, #12 South Carolina and #19 Auburn will meet Clemson, #16 Ohio State has a decent chance of being beat by Miami, and #22 Georgia will probably handle Georgia Tech.
As for the truly embarrassing schedules, State's comes to mind, with its double-dip into the FCS and no team stronger than Cincy. But I truly shudder at Virginia Tech. They're the other ranked team outside of FSU, contenders for the ACC Championship, and they schedule East Carolina, Marshall, Arkansas State, and Appalachian State? The Hokies could go undefeated – they won't – and not make the national championship. Instead, we'd be subjected to weeks of analysis about how weak the ACC conference is. Of course, it is Tech, so possibly App State will knock them off or something.
Below the jump, a graphical representation of the last six seasons, plus a friendly message from the Marines.