With the ACC football season only 12 days away, we here at Blogger So Dear decided to sit down and look over the ACC's non-conference schedule. Each team plays four out of conference games, beginning with N.C. State's season opener against Tennessee on August 31.
For the most part the ACC has a challenging slate of games, as each team plays at least one BCS school in their non-conference portion of the schedule. Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech are locked into their traditional final week duels against their SEC rivals, while Wake Forest, Boston College, and Miami will each take on Notre Dame in games which promise to be fun for their respective fan bases.
Click on through the jump to see an analysis of each ACC team's non-conference schedule and how each team stacks up against one another in terms of rigor of non-ACC matchups.
I started by looking at a general overview of the ACC's 2012 non-conference season. For the most part teams are putting together a good schedule. In my opinion a solid OOC schedule for the typical ACC team is as follows:
1. An FCS School
2. One bad-to-mediocre FBS school
3. A lower tier BCS school
4. A big game for the fan base to get excited about (rivalry game, top 10 opponent, traditional powerhouse, etc)
The upside to this schedule is that it allows a school to make a serious run at a bowl game while balancing an exciting schedule for the fan base and players. Taking on an FCS school is a good way to start the season, a guaranteed win, and an overall morale booster. A bad-to-mediocre FBS school provides a better challenge, but is still going to push a team towards bowl eligibility which should be the goal for most ACC schools. The one lower tier BCS school is going to be against a team who will most likely play a home and home, in which you can get attendance up which is very important for most schools. Finally, the game against a big team is going to get the school solid publicity, boost attendance, bring a lot of excitement to the players and fan base, and if the other games are scheduled accordingly won't damage hopes of a bowl season for your team.
I analyzed all the schedules based on several criteria to keep in mind to rank each schedule. For the most part there were no extreme outliers and most teams are grouped together which makes picking Team A over Team B a little challenging so there is a little subjectivity in that regard, but there were also some clear-cut tiers which placed each team within a bracket of spaces pretty well. I would say that each position is within one place in either direction of where they actually should be. For example if Clemson is ranked 7th, their actually ranking of difficulty is somewhere between 6 and 8 with very little exception.
Here's the criteria:
1. Sagarin ranking of scheduled teams from last year
2. Number of FCS teams played (I basically considered all teams except FSU equal since everyone plays one FCS team except for the Seminoles who inexplicably in 2012 still play two. State's game against South Alabama drops them as well since they're the worst team they play even though South Alabama is technically an FBS school)
3. Number of top 30 teams faced (based upon the top 25 of the AP poll, plus the next five spots which is roughly the top quarter of the 124 FBS schools)
4. Number of top 10 teams faced
5. Road versus home games
After these were considered I placed the teams into tiers and then ranked them. Without further ado here are my person rankings from the easiest to hardest non-conference ACC schedules:
12. North Carolina
Elon, @ Louisville, East Carolina, Idaho
Elon is a gimme game for UNC but everyone plays at least one gimme game in the conference. Despite the fact that UNC does play one top 30 team (Louisville) and it is on the road, East Carolina and Idaho are just pitiful. After dropping Elon's stats from the final rankings from last year and only using Louisville, East Carolina, and Idaho, UNC was a full three points clear of any other team's schedule in the ACC. The top two in difficulty of Louisville and East Carolina simply doesn't stack up when considering everyone else's top two games. UNC should cruise through this non-con, best case 4-0 worst case 3-1. When the toughest game on your schedule is one you "might lose," your schedule is too easy. Step up the scheduling next year Larry.
Florida International, @ Stanford, NCCU, Memphis
This schedule really isn't that much better than UNC's and if you take away the fact that Stanford was so good last year and it skews the numbers without Andrew Luck, the two are almost identical. The only reason I have Duke as a slightly harder schedule is because Florida International and Memphis are both going to be better than last year whereas East Carolina will show some improvement and Idaho will continue to be terrible. NCCU and Elon are a wash even though Elon is certainly a tougher team than NCCU. Both of those games will be gimmes. Duke and UNC bring up the bottom and it's really not that close. This is a schedule that's more forgivable for Duke given their football past, which is another reason I throw them in at 11 instead of 12. Neither of these teams have much to write home about non-con wise though.
10. N.C. State
Tennessee (N), @UCONN, South Alabama, The Citadel
I'm sure State fans will say "wait we play two BCS teams including taking on Tennessee in Atlanta in the opener, how can we have the 3rd easiest schedule in the ACC?" Well it's primarily because South Alabama and the Citadel are just downright terrible. South Alabama isn't technically FCS, but they're still a touchdown and a half worse than the Citadel who is FCS. State is one of only two ACC teams not to face off against a top 30 team in the out-of-conference portion of the schedule (Virginia Tech is the other) and a trip to Uconn is not particularly daunting even though it will probably be a good game. Tennessee will present a big challenge in the opener with a boatload of returning starters and that will be a good game, it's just not enough to overcome how weak the bottom half of the schedule is.
9. Virginia Tech
Austin Peay, @ Pittsburgh, Bowling Green, Cincinnati (N)
Virginia Tech has an interesting schedule but not a particularly challenging one. Austin Peay is a gimme as is Bowling Green and a trip to Pittsburgh won't be too difficult even if it might have been so when the game was originally schedule. Playing Cincinnati on a neutral site in Maryland will be a fun game, but once again that won't be too challenging. Virginia Tech should come out of their non-conference schedule 4-0 and bolster their chances at an at-large bid into the BCS if they should fall short of winning the ACC Championship. They clearly have a more difficult schedule than the bottom three teams from the ACC do, but there's not too much to talk about for fans other than a trip to Pittsburgh (if that's even exciting).
8. Florida State
Savannah State, Murray State, @ South Florida, Florida
Ah yes Florida State's schedule. By Seminole standards this is awful. In fact if we were ranking on what the easiest schedule for each team would be, FSU would take the cake by far. Florida is barely ranked, but will probably be a decent team, while South Florida might present a challenge since FSU is on the road, but the fact that FSU is playing two FCS teams is unacceptable. I don't care if it was because another FBS team backed out, FSU can easily pay a team to come in and play them. Not only are they playing two FCS schools, they're playing two TERRIBLE FCS schools. Last year Savannah State ranked 245th out of 246 in Sagarin's predictor. Regardless of how much they improved since last year, that game is going to be an absolute romp. The line based on last year's teams (which FSU is almost indisputably better in 2012 than 2011) would be 10 touchdowns...that's right, FSU would be -70 after taking into account homefield advantage. That's all that needs to be said about this schedule. It sucks. The only reason it's not last is because they have a yearly matchup with Florida who I expect will be top 20 by the end of the year and I think South Florida can upset them.
7. Georgia Tech
Presbyterian, Middle Tennessee, BYU, @ Georgia
Tech has put together a slightly challenging schedule, based around their yearly tilt with Georgia which is in Athens this year. Presbyterian and Middle Tennessee are both terrible (but not Savannah State terrible) while BYU is going to be a challenge and is an interesting team to bring into Bobby Dodd at the end of October. I think that Tech will most likely go 2-2 with this schedule. Georgia is probably overrated in the top 10 but I think BYU is going to be better than a lot of people think which should balance this out. Tech needs to make sure they don't slip up against MTSU and get a guaranteed two wins out of the OOC. Since they play BC and Maryland in the inter-division matchups, they should be set to go to a bowl game with two wins OOC and these two games in their pocket. I like the way this schedule fits with my earlier criteria of a "good schedule."
6. Boston College
Maine, @ Northwestern, @ Army, Notre Dame
I think any schedule would be challenging for Boston College, but I think that this one is a good example of the schedule I pointed out as a good schedule earlier, much like Georgia Tech's. There is an FCS game against Maine, a game at Army which should be a win for Boston College, plus a road game with Northwestern following their home game last year and then Notre Dame comes to Chestnut Hill. I fully expect BC to be terrible again this year but this is a solid schedule for the Eagles. Notre Dame and Northwestern will be tough games for BC to win but they could pull one of them out. Solid scheduling by the BC athletic department.
5. Wake Forest
Liberty, Army, @ Notre Dame, Vanderbilt
Wake also has a very good schedule in that they have Liberty and Army as almost guaranteed wins followed by a good matchup with recent "rival" Vanderbilt, as well as a trip to South Bend to play the Irish. Even if the Irish are down this year this is still an incredible trip for the Demon Deacon fanbase and guarantees to get the team fired up. Wake will be heavily favored against Liberty and Army and will need to make sure they win both of those games to get close to bowl eligibility. The Notre Dame and Vandy games will be the last two of the year and the Deacs will almost certainly need one of them to get into a bowl game. I think the Deacs will be 5-6 entering the final game against Vanderbilt just because of the difficulty of this year's schedule overall. This will be a good OOC schedule for the Wake fanbase and will be a tough one.
Auburn (N), Ball State, Furman, South Carolina
I struggled a little bit over where to rank Clemson, BC, and Wake but ultimately ended up with this order because I do expect South Carolina is going to be a very good team this year which gives Clemson a top 10 game. I was hesitant to put them 4th though because even though Auburn is going to be good (top 25 team), Furman and Ball State aren't very good at all in addition to the fact that Clemson doesn't play any road games OOC. I don't like it when teams do this, but it's the reality of the current landscape where teams can stay at home and win OOC games while playing the occasional neutral site game or marquee road game for publicity. Clemson should handle this non-con schedule pretty well but the Auburn and South Carolina games will be real challenges. If Dabo doesn't have his team ready to play against Auburn, it could be ugly. Watkins is also out for this one which will hurt the Tigers.
Richmond, Penn State, @ TCU, Louisiana Tech
This is probably the schedule I had the toughest time with where to put. I absolutely love this schedule for a couple reasons. First and foremost they have Penn State coming into town. Even though Penn State is crippled following their four year sanctions from the NCAA, UVA had no way of knowing this when the game was scheduled and fans will come out in droves anyway. Also, the game at TCU is very interesting since it's a team which you wouldn't normally expect an ACC team to play and is a fascinating matchup. Louisiana Tech is going to be very good this year as well (I mean borderline top 25 good) and this is not a walkover for the Cavaliers. Richmond is bad, but they're an FCS school so it is what it is. UVA doesn't have too tough of a schedule in the conference so with three wins OOC I could see them easily winning seven or eight games even though I don't know if they will actually be any better than they were last year. I love London as a coach and this is a soli schedule for the fan base.
William & Mary, @ Temple, UCONN, @ West Virginia
This is a brutal schedule for Maryland, especially since C.J. Brown went down and is lost for the year. Maryland is the only ACC team other than Miami to play three BCS opponents in the out of conference schedule and there are really no gimmes at all on the schedule except for William & Mary. Temple is going to be a very good team again this year while Connecticut will also provide a challenge when they come into College Park. The West Virginia game will probably get pretty ugly for the Terrapins and I fully expect that to be a blowout. I have this schedule so high because even though it doesn't look that difficult, it does not provide the opportunity for two solid wins like most other schedules do. Temple, Uconn, and West Virginia are all going to be better than Maryland, and with two games on the road this season is probably going to be a long one.
@ Kansas State, Bethune-Cookman, Notre Dame (N-Chicago), South Florida
It doesn't really get much harder than Miami's schedule if you're looking at the typical schedule that a BCS team plays in 2012. Kansas State in Manhattan will be a tough one as the Wildcats are a preseason top 25 team. Bethune-Cookman is the throwaway game and is very easy, but then games with Notre Dame in Chicago and South Florida back at home in the second to last week of the year really provides a challenging schedule for the Hurricanes. I like that Miami is taking on Notre Dame again in a battle of traditional powers. The matchup with South Florida is a good local battle which I always like to see, and the Kansas State trip is the second straight year Miami will face the Big 12 team. Kudos to Miami to having a difficult schedule in addition to their brutal run in the Coastal division. In an eight week span the Hurricanes play @ Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Notre Dame (N), UNC, Florida State, Virginia Tech, @ Virginia, and then South Florida. The only real saving grace in all of this is that they have a lot of home games in the middle of the stretch since they open the season with three of four games on the road.
These rankings are all completely based on my own opinion and how I think teams will perform based on last season, their returning starters, and the number of road games. We'll have to look back at the end of the year and see how the rankings line up with how most of the non-con teams finished up overall! If there are any questions/comments/criticisms just let me know as always. Only 12 days until the ACC football season kicks off! I can't wait.