As we look forward to another college football season, we’ll see consistent debates about schedule quality. Teams can’t control their conference schedules. They can, however, control the non-conference portion. So I’m here to judge every Power Five team on how well they’re challenging themselves in the non-conference portion of their schedules. I’ll start with the ACC Atlantic.
A few notes before I begin. First of all, this is a highly subjective process, because it has to be. I have general outlines, but every team has to be judged on its own merits. It would be foolish, for example, to expect the exact same schedules out of Alabama and Kansas. Obviously, a College Football Playoff contender has to be held to a higher standard.
Second of all, I’ll give a grade for each game and an overall grade. The overall grade is not simply an average of the individual grades. It’s a grade in its own right looking at the totality of a team’s non-conference schedule. Every game against an FCS team earns an automatic F. But if a Power Five team schedules one FCS team and two other really good games, the one FCS game won’t really hurt the overall grade.
Lastly, the ACC and SEC present a bit of difficulty. I expect every team — even from the Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac 12 — to play at least one Power Five opponent. If I was being fair, I would expect the ACC and SEC teams to play two, since they play one fewer conference game. However, since almost none of them do that, it would feel like I’m capriciously lowering the score of every team in those conferences. On the other hand, it isn’t fair to the Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac 12 to judge them all evenly. Therefore, as a compromise, I don’t knock down the scores of ACC and SEC teams for playing fewer conference games, but it will be tougher for me to give them the highest grades.
ACC Atlantic Nonconference Schedule Grades
Boston College Eagles
Sept. 1, UMass
Boston College is a dark horse ACC contender to some, and the Eagles start out with a game against an FBS independent that has struggled mightily since moving up from FCS.
Sept. 8th, Holy Cross
Boston College takes a second virtual bye to start the season, this time against an FCS team. Hopefully pollsters won’t see lopsided wins in Boston College’s first two games and vote them high for it. Hopefully.
Sept. 22nd, @Purdue
Now this is a good non-conference game. Both Purdue and Boston College have struggled in recent years but seem to be improving. My favorite thing in college football is when two P5 teams of relatively equal stature schedule each other. Well done.
Sept. 29th, Temple
I’m really okay with this game. I think it’s great when P5 teams schedule good Group of 5 teams. Temple might not be what it was when Matt Rhule was coach, but the Owls have won 27 games over the last three years.
I’m not happy about the two real cupcake games, especially to start off the season, though UMass being local mitigates this a bit. This isn’t a non-conference schedule that will do the Eagles any favors if they’re on the fringe of New Years’ Six contention, but it’s a decent overall schedule.
Sept. 1st, Furman
Clemson starts off with an FCS team. You’ll forgive that too once you see what’s next.
Sept. 8th, @Texas A&M
Jimbo Fisher just can’t get away from the Tigers. I don’t think that Texas A&M will be a CFP contender this year, but the Aggies are always a threat in the SEC West (well, as much of a threat as anyone but Alabama is), and playing them on the road takes guts.
Sept. 15th, Georgia Southern
Do you know what also takes guts? Playing Georgia Southern. The Eagles have been a good Sun Belt team since moving up from FCS, and their triple option offense always makes them tough. They may play in the Sun Belt, but they’re no cupcake.
Nov. 24th, South Carolina
It’s an annual rivalry game, but it’s a game against a team that’s probably Georgia’s biggest threat in the SEC East. Nothing to fault here.
Do you know what Clemson isn’t doing, that so many top SEC teams do? Clemson isn’t using its final non-conference game to play a bad team in November. Huge props to the Tigers for this. In fact, huge props to the entire ACC for reversing this trend. If it’s tight between Clemson and an SEC team for a CFP spot, the November schedule should matter. As should the fact that Clemson is playing two P5 teams and a good G5 team. This is just about as good a schedule as you’ll see from an ACC or SEC team.
Florida State Seminoles
Sept. 8th, Samford
This is just about the only time I’ll ever excuse a game against an FCS team. Florida State is starting its season against Virginia Tech on Labor Day, which means a very short turnaround before its second game. That can be very rough, as Virginia Tech learned back in 2010. If you can’t make Week 2 a bye after opening on Monday, at least play against a bad FCS team. It’s just common sense.
Sept. 22nd, Northern Illinois
The Huskies are a MAC team, but they’re a good MAC team that always seems to threaten P5 opponents. In fact, Northern Illinois is 6-9 against P5 teams this decade. Now, none of those teams the Huskies beat are quite Florida State (though they did give the 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes a real scare), but this opponent is far from a cupcake for the Seminoles.
Nov. 10th, @Notre Dame
This isn’t quite a non-conference game, as it’s part of the ACC’s scheduling agreement with the Irish. Still, Florida State playing in South Bend in November? I’m not complaining. Not one bit.
November 24th, Florida
An annual rivalry game, but Florida State absolutely still gets credit for playing it.
If I thought Clemson had a good November schedule, this is a great one. Florida State plays three quality teams out of conference, with two of those games being against elite competition. The only way this schedule could be any better was if that FCS team at the top was replaced with a bad Group of 5 team, but I explained why I’ll give it a bit of a pass.
Sept. 1st, vs Alabama (in Orlando, FL)
I am actually of two minds about this game. On the one hand, I kind of blame Louisville for this. If Alabama is only going to play one decent non-conference opponent a year, then that opponent better make sure they’re top notch. A weaker P5 team playing Alabama to open the season robs college football fans of the chance to see Alabama challenged (I will absolutely give Duke a bad grade for doing exactly this next season). On the other hand, Louisville has been a very good ACC team the past few years and has challenged for the division title. It’s no one’s fault that Lamar Jackson left early and that this will be a rebuilding year. I don’t expect a good game, but I’ll give Louisville the benefit of the doubt here.
Sept. 8th, Indiana State
It seems totally fair to follow Alabama with an FCS team.
Sept. 15th, Western Kentucky
Western Kentucky is another one of those consistently good Group of 5 teams that it takes guts to schedule. I don’t know how good Louisville will be this year, but this should be a pretty decent game.
November 24th, Kentucky
This annual rivalry has been a bit one-sided recently, but it’s usually a good game between two teams giving it their all. It’s great to see.
This schedule will be very good if Louisville ends up as a CFP competitor. That seems highly unlikely, but the early game against Alabama will set a real tone for the season.
NC State Wolfpack
Sept. 1st, James Madison
I usually hate playing FCS teams, but the defending national runner-up should provide a solid game.
Sept. 8th, Georgia State
As Sun Belt teams go, Georgia State might not be at the bottom of the league this year, but they’re still a complete cupcake for any decent P5 team.
Sept. 15th, West Virginia
This should be a good game between two evenly-matched P5 teams. No complaints about this one.
September 22nd, @Marshall
This may seem weird, but props to a P5 team for traveling to face a usually-decent Group of 5 team on the road. The game might not be an amazing one, but kudos to NC State for scheduling it.
There is only one actually good opponent on this schedule, but we’ll give a little bit of a bonus for playing Marshall on the road.
Aug. 31st, @Western Michigan
As Dino Babers looks to continue to rebuild this program, the Orange travels to face a potentially-dangerous MAC team. Not a bad way to open the season.
Sept. 8th, Wagner
Syracuse needs wins, so playing an FCS team isn’t the worst thing.
Sept. 22nd, UConn
UConn has been up-and-down in recent years, but this should be a good judge of where Syracuse is at. I’ll (almost) never complain about P5 teams playing AAC teams.
November 17th, @Notre Dame (in Yankee Stadium)
This is technically a road game, though the venue is closer to Syracuse than to South Bend. Yes, it’s part of the scheduling agreement. But Syracuse is still losing a potential cupcake game to face Notre Dame.
It’s hard to really judge Syracuse right now because it’s hard to know what it needs as a program. This schedule should give us some decent games, though, which is all fans (or neutral fans, at least) can ever ask for.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
August 30th, @Tulane
Wake Forest opens up the season by
making a recruiting trip to playing a road game in Louisiana. This game probably won’t be competitive, but road games are always fun.
Sept. 8th, Towson
There was no FCS team closer than northern Maryland to schedule?
Sept. 22nd, Notre Dame
It’s part of the scheduling agreement, but this game should tell us a ton about Wake Forest as the Demon Deacons head into the meat of their season.
Sept. 29th, Rice
Fun fact: Rice’s only victory last season came against UTEP, whose only victory came against… no one. That’s right. Rice went 1-11, with a victory over a winless team. Ouch.
Wake Forest ended 2017 well, and could be somewhat competitive in 2018. With a schedule like this, though, I hope voters and selection committee members will be able to look past a likely gaudy record. Wake Forest is the only team in this entire division that scheduled three automatic wins in nonconference play.