Yesterday I began ranking who had the best ACC “primary opponent” lineups beginning in 2023. As a quick reminder, the ACC is doing away with divisions beginning in 2023 for a 3-5-5 format, which will allow every ACC team to play every other ACC team home and away in a four-year span, with three “primary opponents” or “rivals” as they’re historically known. In this instance, some of these “rivalries” are foisted upon schools, and not built out of a traditional hatred or common history.
Yesterday covered 1-7. Let’s get to the bottom half of the ACC!
Pitt, a school that absolutely does not fit the ACC profile, gets to play two other schools that probably didn’t want to be in the ACC in Syracuse and Boston College. They’re also teams that the Panthers should regularly beat, provided either school doesn’t have a generational quarterback or something that boosts expected performance like that. That’s the good.
The bad is that Virginia Tech is a sleeping giant. With the right coach, good recruiting, and enough elite Virginia high school talent that doesn’t mind going to school in the middle of nowhere, the VT program could be reliably upper tier in the ACC.
Last season, Pitt won the ACC under the direction of tiny-handed Kenny Pickett with an 11-3 (8-1 conference) record. Pickett was a generational quarterback. Before that, the Panthers had lost a minimum of five games per season 11 times in a row. That’s more indicative of where Pitt is as a program. Their rivalry pod should net them two wins most seasons.
9.) Virginia Tech
The Hokies should not fear any of the teams in their pod—Virginia, Pitt, and Wake Forest—but their fans will not have much to celebrate on away days in the RV. Pitt is a five-hour drive north on I-79. Not great, but at least you get to sit anywhere you want in an NFL stadium.
The trip to Charlottesville is ho-hum. And if you had to have a North Carolina school in the mix, Wake Forest is the closest school, driving-wise. But Truist Field is small, and the Deacons are tough. If I couldn’t get UNC or NC State for the prestige and big stadiums, I’d just as well prefer playing at Duke to collect a win in front of my own fans and a few Duke students that got lost looking for Cameron.
The Orange get a small win by avoiding former Big East bully Miami, and instead get to visit sunny Tallahassee every other year to warm their bones from the frigid upstate New York winters. How Syracuse is able to land a single recruit that didn’t grow up 20 miles from campus is beyond me. Look at this!
Syracuse did have the good sense to build an indoor football stadium to combat this annual snow accumulation. Unfortunately, the two other rivals they got paired with are in cold weather cities. With outdoor stadiums.
Again. Why would you go to school at Syracuse??!!
11.) Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons were sold down the river in order to make the ACC’s 3-5-5 plan work. It would appear that Tobacco Road is now just 15-501 and I-40, but only up to exit 273. Winston-Salem is on another planet for football purposes.
Instead of being able to drive under two hours to three North Carolina schools, Wake Forest will have to go two hours north in “don’t break down no matter what” country to Virginia Tech and 5.5 hours to Georgia Tech. Personally, I’d rather drive to Atlanta than Blacksburg.
Will UNC or NC State continue to schedule Wake Forest as a non-conference game? If they don’t, Wake Forest risks a Bing-Bong type fate.
The Cardinals have a mixed bag in their rivalry pod. Most years, they should count Miami as a loss, Virginia as a toss-up, and Georgia Tech as a win. None of these teams are natural rivals, and if I’m a Louisville fan, these aren’t teams that are going to make me 1.) buy season tickets or 2.) travel. Except for Miami. If the game is scheduled for the dead of winter.
This is what happens when you shoehorn a team into the Atlantic Coast Conference that is over 500 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.
Louisville has never won an ACC championship, or even a division title (they lost out to Clemson for the Atlantic in 2016 on a tiebreaker). I do not see a path forward for them to win the conference crown anytime soon, especially since that Papa John’s money dried up.
13.) Georgia Tech
Running the Georgia Tech football program is not for the faint of heart. You’re an engineering school in the ACC that traditionally gets pummeled. You have Georgia picking the choicest morsels of talent in the state, and other SEC schools scavenging all the scraps. Florida has talent to spare, but now you don’t have either Florida State or Miami to showcase to recruits “you’ll be able to play right away.”
Instead, you get an annual whooping from Clemson, and a boring 6.5 hour drive to Louisville for the fans (an hour flight for the team). Additionally, you get the most boring stadium experience in North Carolina, Truist Field. Unfortunately, that boredom is broken up by the disciplined play of Coach Clawson’s army of 24-year-olds. Georgia Tech looks like it can reliably count on three losses from its “rivals.”
14.) Florida State
When the late, great Bobby Bowden was in his prime and leading Florida State to the top of the college football mountain, I hated most Florida State fans that I was in proximity with. They would do their tomahawk chant and brag on their defensive line and wide receiver play, and more often than not, win.
Modern politics has brought a powerful concept to my attention that has me changing my tune a little towards true, loyal Seminoles - status anxiety. The fear of loss of status is a powerful motivator, and it drives people to behave in dangerous ways.
I fear that by placing Florida State in a rivalry pod with Clemson and Miami, the ACC runs the risk of putting the Seminoles in a perpetual state of punishment. Having to travel to snowy Syracuse every other year won’t make up for the humiliation FSU will likely suffer at the hands of the Hurricanes and Tigers in the coming years. Including Georgia Tech may have suited everyone’s purposes better, as many more Florida State fans could hop in their trucks for the 4.5 hour drive to Atlanta than can afford the $500 airline ticket to Syracuse.
With the list complete, where do you think I’m right or wrong? Let me know in the comments below!