Back in May, we got the official news that the NCAA was eliminating the rule that a conference had to have divisions or play a true round robin in order to hold a football conference championship game. That opened up the possibility of a conference sending it’s two best teams to their championship game, instead of teams from predetermined divisions, which could occasionally get uneven. (Insert certain people yelling about the ACC Coastal.)
On Tuesday, the ACC announced that it would be one of the conference opting to take advantage of this new rule and will change schedule formats starting with the 2023 season. Under the new format, every team will have three permanent opponents and and will play five of the other 10 teams, making an eight-game schedule. The two teams that finish first and second at the end of the regular season will qualify for the ACC Championship Game.
In addition to getting the two best teams in the title game, this also means that teams will see each other more often. Over the course of a theoretical four-year career for a player, they will get to play every other ACC team both home and away. Under the old format, there were six teams in the opposite division that you could go through an entire career without playing even once. That fact was the driving force in North Carolina and Wake Forest playing their non-conference, even though they’re in the same conference, home-and-away series that concluded last season. With 14 teams, the ACC is never going to be able to have a true round robin, but this new format is about as close as we’re going to get.
For UNC, their three permanent opponents will be NC State, Duke, and Virginia.
State was an obvious choice considering the game’s recent status as one of the conference’s marquee games during Rivalry Week. The game has often gotten its own time slot on Black Friday and will again this coming season.
Duke was another obvious choice. While the football game isn’t on the level of the basketball rivalry, it’s still an important game for both teams, with the Victory Bell rivalry trophy on the line.
The third could’ve been a couple different teams, but in the end the ACC went with Virginia. They opted to keep together the South’s Oldest Rivalry, picking that over a couple other options for UNC. The Tar Heels could’ve gotten in-state rival Wake Forest or even maybe Virginia Tech.
Here’s the full list, if you want to see the rest of the permanent opponents:
In 2023, the ACC will adopt a 3-5-5 football scheduling model and all 14 schools will compete in one division.— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) June 28, 2022
Teams will play 3 primary opponents annually + face the other 10 teams twice during the 4-year cycle, once at home and once on the road.
: https://t.co/7cvsuH48j3 pic.twitter.com/ne5TjwtfYd
In addition to the permanent opponents, the conference also announced the five rotating opponents and the home/away matchups for the first four years under the new setup. In the first year of it in 2023, UNC will host Duke, Virginia, Miami, and Syracuse, and will go to State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Pitt.
Here are the matchups for 2024-26:
2024 Conference Opponents: pic.twitter.com/a3DO4BlB4p— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) June 28, 2022
2025 Conference Opponents: pic.twitter.com/dr5m8nQgX2— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) June 28, 2022
2026 Conference Opponents: pic.twitter.com/j3jHriV5IQ— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) June 28, 2022
While there may not be a division crown to win anymore, seeing all of the opponents on a more regular basis will be better for making the conference feel like an actual conference.