With less than six weeks remaining until the beginning of the 2011 ACC football season, team previews, conference prognostications, and bowl discussions are all in full swing. Perhaps one of the most important parts in determining the final portion of those talks, bowl games, is the four games each team will play outside the eight game conference slate. Non-conference games typically kick off the season for most teams and shed some light on the outlook of the season. If four easy games are scheduled, a team can go 2-6 in conference play and sneak into an, albeit mediocre, bowl game. Never has this been more true than the 2011-2012 season, where a whopping 70 teams from the NCAA will be making a postseason appearance, or an absurd 58% of FBS teams. With so many teams needed to fill the postseason schedule, the days of a a 6-6 team with a terrible non-conference slate being shunned are effectively over.
Click through for a complete listing and team-by-team analysis of the ACC's non-conference schedule
- @ Central Florida
- @ Notre Dame
Boston College has perhaps the hardest non-conference schedule in the ACC, with three of the four opponents having played in a bowl game in 2010. When UMass is added in, who went 6-5 in the hardest conference in the FBS, the Eagles are facing a daunting OOC schedule. Their season opens at home against a Northwestern team on September 3rd before heading south to face defending C-USA champion Central Florida who capped off last season with a 10-6 bowl win over Georgia. BC also travels to South Bend in November for their annual matchup against Notre Dame, a game with potentially major bowl implications for BC depending on how the Eagles perform in the ACC. In a time where many teams are content to play the easiest schedule possible outside the conference, the Eagles should be commended for taking on such a tough schedule.
- @ South Carolina
Clemson's non-conference opponents are headlined by their yearly end-of-season showdown against rival South Carolina, and a visit from the defending national champion Auburn. Auburn comes into Death Valley to repay the visit the (ACC) Tigers made to Alabama last year, a game which Clemson should have won multiple times including a drop in OT in the end zone which would have won the game. Auburn went on to run the table and win the title, while Clemson limped into a bowl game at 6-6 before losing to USF to end the season with a losing record. Early season matchups against Troy and Wofford don't really do much for Clemson's SOS, but two games against SEC opponents. Clemson may be able to knock down the former champions at home, and will hope to break a two year losing streak against the Gamecocks. Clemson should have a better team this year, but will probably need to break even in the ACC to get into a bowl game as I'd still place the SEC teams as favorites over the Tigers
- @ Florida International
Duke has a rather intriguing non-conference schedule coming up this year. They continue the trend of scheduling FCS opponents who are pretty good, and open the season at home against Richmond. The Spiders have won the last two meetings between the teams, a 13-0 victory in 2006 and a 24-16 win in 2009. Duke then gets a visit from Stanford in a game they will most certainly not win, and after Tulane comes to town inexplicably go onto the road to play FIU at the beginning of October. Duke should probably be able to go 2-2 against non-conference foes and will most likely be improved from last year's team. Duke has 8 conference wins since 2002, or less than a win a year, so it is vital for Duke to stock up on OOC wins for them to have any chance at going bowling.
- Charleston Southern
- @ Florida
Florida State looks to build upon last season's Atlantic Division championship and does so by starting off with a relatively easy schedule. Visits from Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern aren't going to trouble the Seminoles at all, who should be 2-0 when the Sooners roll into town on September 17th. The Noles are looking to get revenge for last season's massacre in Norman where Oklahoma won by four touchdowns. The final game of the year as usual features the FSU-Florida rivalry where FSU heads back to the swamp. While this isn't Tim Tebow's Florida the Gators should still present a challenge in the last game of the year in a game that could potentially have huge implications for a Florida State team which should be one of the best Seminole teams in recent history.
- Western Carolina
- @ Middle Tennessee
The Yellow Jackets also get the season off to a relatively easy start with FCS opponent Western Carolina, but the trip to Middle Tennessee is not one to be taken lightly. The Blue Raiders made it to a bowl last year (a 35-21 loss to Miami (OH)) and beat Maryland in both 2009 and 2010. It will be crucial for new starter Tevin Washington
to get comfortable in the offense and for the Jackets to be firing on all cylinders in case Middle Tennessee has visions of grabbing another ACC scalp. The third game of the year provides Georgia Tech the chance to take revenge against Kansas for a hideous loss last year (right after Kansas had lost to North Dakota State). The Jackets will be at home and Washington should be settled home so I would expect them to take care of business. Georgia is the final OOC matchup of the year as well as the Jackets' traditional season ending matchup. Georgia provides a staunch challenge from the SEC and provides consistent depth for Georgia Tech's OOC strength.
- West Virginia
- Notre Dame
Maryland manages to avoid going on the road for the entire OOC schedule. After opening on Labor Day Monday with a conference game against Miami, they play their first three non-conference games in their next three contests. West Virginia guarantees to be a tough game as they will be ranked in the Top 25 when they hit College Park, but Maryland should be able to handle Temple and Towson in their next two games. Temple will be a concern for Maryland, but at home they should be able take care of business. Notre Dame cruises into town the week after they take on Wake Forest in Winston-Salem and depending on how the Irish pan out could also pose a considerable threat to the Terps. This schedule could really be anywhere from somewhat easy to fairly challenging depending on how West Virginia, Temple, and Notre Dame pan out, but it's somewhat embarrassing to me that Maryland will play only four games on the road, including their last two contests of the year against Wake and N.C. State.
The other six schools should be up in the next day or so. Be sure to leave any comments or questions and we'll be sure to address them.