Dabo Swinney

For the second straight year, I will be grading the non-conference schedules of every Power 5 team. Grading teams’ schedules is always a bit of a subjective art. After all, it would be foolish to expect Kansas to schedule the same teams as Alabama. A team expecting to be in the Playoff picture has to schedule better than a team who can’t even expect to make a bowl game. Also, I try to take into account when the game was scheduled as much as possible. It wouldn’t be fair to expect Louisville, which is now a Playoff contender, to schedule the same as it did five years ago, when it was still in the dying Big East.

Also, the ACC and SEC provide an additional challenge. These two conferences play four non-conference games each, which means they play one fewer game against a P5 opponent in conference play. It wouldn’t be totally fair to the Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac 12 to judge all five conferences on the same scale, but it wouldn’t be fair to the ACC and SEC to expect too much of them. The compromise I try to reach is that I won’t give bad grades to the ACC and SEC just because of the fourth game they play, but getting an exceptional grade takes something extra special.

Just to review my format, I will grade each nonconference game that each team plays, with an explanation for that grade. Then, I will grade the entirety of the non-conference schedule overall.

ACC Atlantic Non-conference Schedule Grades

Boston College Eagles

Sept. 1, @Northern Illinois
I personally think that the Huskies are on their way down, but this is a good scheduling move by a middle-of-the-road power conference team. I wish that more middle-pack P5 teams would give top Group of 5 teams these kind of home-and-home deals.
Grade:A

Sept. 16, Notre Dame
This is another good game being played by the Eagles, even if it’s part of the ACC’s scheduling deal with Notre Dame. The Irish may have struggled last year, but this is still a nonconference game against a power team. Can’t complain in the slightest.
Grade: A

Sept. 30, Central Michigan
Many might view the Chippewas as an easy Group of 5 opponent, but Oklahoma State would have to disagree. Central Michigan will not be at its best this year after the departure of quarterback Cooper Rush, but CMU is still a solid Group of 5 program, and there’s no shame in playing them.
Grade: C+

Nov. 18 vs. UConn (at Fenway Park)
Honestly, this is a cool game. It’s two pretty local teams, and UConn played in a BCS bowl not too long ago. The Huskies might be a bit down since then, but still can pose a challenge to a decent P5 team.
Grade: B+

Overall:
Boston College is a program searching for its way towards the top of the ACC, and is stuck in one of the most top-heavy divisions in college football. This nonconference schedule is challenging, with no true cupcakes, and provides the Eagles good competition while still giving opportunities to get the wins they desperately need to make a bowl game and move the program forward.
Grade: A

Clemson Tigers

Sept. 2, Kent State
The Tigers start off their National Championship defense with a pretty easy cupcake game. I’m generally forgiving of one of these, but Clemson does play two.
Grade: D

Sept. 9, Auburn
Auburn might not be a national title contender, but is often in the picture. This is a great nonconference game to see from Clemson.
Grade: A

Nov. 18, The Citadel
I’m also generally forgiving of one FCS game against an in-state school, but playing both The Citadel and Kent State makes two true cupcake games. I expect better from Playoff contenders.
Grade: F

Nov. 25, @South Carolina
This rivalry might be one-sided in Clemson’s favor right now, but it’s hard to fault a team for playing a road game against an SEC school.
Grade: B+

Overall:
Clemson plays two P5 opponents, including one potential contender, which is really all I can ask of any team. I would be disappointed in any team playing two true cupcakes, but when it’s a Playoff contender coming off winning the National Championship, it makes it worse. This isn’t a bad schedule, but it’s not a particularly good one.
Grade: B-

Florida State Seminoles

Sept. 2 vs Alabama (in Atlanta, GA)
I don’t need to say anything. This is the best nonconference game of the season, with Oklahoma @Ohio State being the only other game in the same ballpark.
Grade: A+

Sept. 9, Louisiana-Monroe
It’s been a decade since ULM upset Alabama, and the Warhawks haven’t been anywhere near that good since (nor has Alabama been anywhere near that bad). This is a cupcake game, regardless of the program’s biggest win ten years ago.
Grade: D

Nov. 18, Delaware State
I have no idea why the Seminoles chose an FCS team from Delaware to face in their pre-Rivalry Week warmup.
Grade: F

Nov. 25, @Florida
Florida State is playing two contenders for the SEC title this year, though Alabama is honestly in quite a different league than Florida. Being in a yearly rivalry doesn’t change the fact that the Seminoles will be playing a road game against a potential SEC title contender in November.
Grade: A+

Overall:
This schedule is a little tough for me to judge. The Seminoles play one of the best nonconference games of the season, and a second game that’s probably in the top 15. On the other hand, the other two games are against true cupcakes. This schedule is great at the top, but just a tiny bit disappointing at the bottom. Still, the positives have to outweigh the negatives.
Grade: A-

Louisville Cardinals

Sept. 2 vs. Purdue (in Indianapolis, IN)
This game was scheduled only two years ago, when it was clear that Louisville is in much better position than Purdue. Still, a virtual road game against a P5 team to open the season isn’t something to complain about, even if Louisville will be heavy favorites.
Grade: B+

Sept. 23, Kent State
This is Kent State’s second game against an ACC Atlantic contender. It won’t be a fun nonconference season for the Golden Flashes, who took two paychecks to get beaten down twice.
Grade: D

Sept. 30, Murray State
It’s an in-state FCS school, but playing an FCS team the week after Kent State? The Cardinals are following their game against Clemson with two virtual weeks off.
Grade: F

Nov. 25, @Kentucky
This is a rivalry game, but it’s a road game against a decent SEC team. That’s not bad by itself.
Grade: A-

Overall:
Louisville is a potential Playoff contender, and its best nonconference game is against Kentucky. There are two P5 games on this schedule, but neither is against a team likely to finish with a winning record in its conference (or at all, honestly), and that’s outweighed by two true cupcake games. Louisville could have done much better.
Grade: C

NC State Wolfpack

Sept. 2, vs South Carolina (in Charlotte, NC)
These are the types of games that I honestly love. Two middle-of-the-pack P5 teams squaring off in nonconference play tells us a lot about each team and influences the SOS of each other team that these teams play. These games are good for the teams, the conferences, and college football fans in general.
Grade: A

Sept. 9, Marshall
Last season’s struggles notwithstanding, Marshall has been a consistently good Group of 5 team for a long while now. When this game was scheduled, Marshall was the country’s most likely team to go undefeated in 2014. I think it’s great when middling P5 teams play top Group of 5 teams, so I have to credit NC State for scheduling this game, even if Marshall might be in the middle of a program tailspin right now.
Grade: A-

Sept. 16, Furman
NC State can have its one cupcake game. That’s fine.
Grade: D-

Oct. 28, @Notre Dame
A road game against Notre Dame? That’s a great nonconference game for any team, in any season.
Grade: A

Overall:
This is an impressive schedule. NC State plays two Power teams, neither at home, and will face a top Group of 5 team. I can’t ask for more from any middle-of-the-pack Power 5 team.
Grade: A

Syracuse Orange

Sept. 2, Central Connecticut State University
Syracuse has the most returning starters in the country, and it starts off with a game against an FCS team. If the Orange are going to have a great season under Dino Babers, this is the perfect way to start it off.
Grade: F

Sept. 9, Middle Tennessee
The schedule moves forward against a decent, but not great, Group of 5 team. This schedule is shaping up perfectly for a program in Syracuse’s situation to really have a breakthrough year.
Grade: B

Sept. 16, Central Michigan
The Chippewas are pretty similar to Middle Tennessee. CMU is a decent Group of 5 program, but this is still a game that Syracuse should win.
Grade: B

Sept. 23, @LSU
The Orange have one nonconference game that will be a real challenge this year, and it comes after three weeks to tune up. I don’t know if Syracuse has the talent to keep this game close in Death Valley, but it will not have a better setup to do it.
Grade: A+

Overall:
I really like Syracuse’s schedule. The Orange haven’t posted a winning record since 2013, and really need to do something to turn this program around. This schedule would be bad for a team like Clemson or Florida State, but it’s absolutely perfect for a program in Syracuse’s position.
Grade: A

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Aug. 31, Presbyterian
Wake Forest kicks off the season with the first game of the actual Week 1 (we will see five games on the Saturday before Week 1, though) by playing an FCS team that went 2-9 last year. Nice. College football fans can’t wait for kickoff.
Grade: F

Sept. 16, Utah State
These are not the Aggies of the Chuckie Keeton days. Still, Utah State is hit-or-miss and can often be a decent Group of 5 team. There’s not too much shame in a mediocre ACC team scheduling this game.
Grade: B-

Sept. 23, @Appalachian State
The Demon Deacons will be playing one of the better Group of 5 programs on the road. I happen to think that the Mountaineers will take a step back this year, but there’s never a guarantee of that, so scheduling this game took guts.
Grade: A-

Nov. 4, @Notre Dame
Yes, it’s part of the ACC’s agreement with Notre Dame. It’s still a November road game against a Power opponent. No fault for Wake Forest here.
Grade: A

Overall:
This is a solid schedule for a mediocre P5 team. Only one true cupcake, and both Group of 5 games are against above-average Group of 5 programs. I can’t complain about anything Wake Forest is doing here.
Grade: A-

About Yesh Ginsburg

Yesh has been a fan and student of college football since before he can remember. He spent years mastering the intricacies of the BCS and now keeps an eye on the national picture as teams jockey for College Football Playoff positioning.