As we look forward to another college football season, we will see consistent debates about schedule quality. Teams can’t control their conference schedules. They can, however, control the nonconference portion. So I’m here to judge every Power 5 team on how well they’re challenging themselves in the nonconference portion of their schedules.
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 will give a grade for each game and an overall grade. The overall grade is not simply an average of the individual grades. It is a grade in its own right looking at the totality of a team’s nonconference schedule. Every game against an FCS team earns an automatic F. But if a Power 5 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 5 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 Coastal Nonconference Schedule Grades
Duke Blue Devils
Sept. 1st, Army
Army is a weak Group of 5 team that has turned things in the right direction recently. This should be a good matchup to open the year for Duke.
Sept. 8th, @Northwestern
This is one of my favorite things in college football. I’ll always give full credit to P5 teams that schedule other P5 teams on similar levels.
Sept. 15th, @Baylor
This is another good matchup for Duke. Baylor is a P5 team that has been on a similar trajectory to Duke. It’s not Duke’s fault that the program has collapsed somewhat recently. This is still a second consecutive P5 road game.
Sept. 22nd, NC Central
It’s an FCS team to cap a good nonconference schedule. It could be worse.
There is only one true cupcake on this schedule, and two games against P5 teams. Good job of scheduling by the Blue Devils.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Sept. 1st, Alcorn State
An FCS school to start things off. Not much more to say.
Sept. 8th, @South Florida
USF is a good AAC team, and Georgia Tech is facing them on the road, to boot (hurricane-season permitting, obviously). It’s great when solid P5 teams play good Group of 5 teams.
Sept. 24th, Bowling Green
Bowling Green is a sometimes-competitive MAC school, and a decent way for Georgia Tech to head into its conference schedule.
Nov. 24th, @Georgia
It’s a rivalry game, but it’s still a road game against a CFP contender.
This schedule has two weak games, but two also really good ones. It’s hard to see SOS coming into play for Georgia Tech, for either the CFP or New Years’ Six, but this nonconference schedule will help if it comes to that.
Sept. 2nd, vs LSU (in Arlington, TX)
Once again, we’re getting a great Sunday game to open the season. JerryWorld is providing us a matchup between two potential top teams in their respective conferences. Well done.
Sept. 8th, Savannah State
Not only is Miami playing an FCS school, the Hurricanes are playing a bad FCS school.
Sept. 15th, @Toledo
Toledo is a dangerous MAC school, and Miami is going on the road for this game. Toledo has beaten good P5 teams in recent years, and traveling for a game is always tough. Huge props.
Sept. 22nd, FIU
FIU is not usually that good a team, but it’s had some decent years recently. The Golden Panthers are a cupcake, but there are worse cupcakes out there.
This schedule is solid, but not great for a potential CFP contender. The game against LSU is great, and the Toledo game is nice, but there’s not much more than that to this. It’s good, but it lacks meat.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Sept. 1st, @California
The Tar Heels open the season on the West Coast in a game that should be a lot of fun. My favorite thing is when two relatively equal P5 teams face each other in nonconference play. This is great.
Sept. 8th, @East Carolina
ECU gets two shots at ACC teams this year (see below). How those two games go will tell us a lot about both East and North Carolina.
Sept. 15th, Central Florida
North Carolina is also the second ACC team to take on UCF (again, see below). UCF is probably more of a contender than either North Carolina or Pitt, but kudos to both for scheduling a top Group of 5 team–even if that wasn’t the intention back when the game was scheduled.
November 17th, Western Carolina
UNC is the only ACC team to schedule an FCS team in November. I wish I could give less than an F for this.
This has three great games and one awful one. Overall, I’m happy with it, but that final choice of Western Carolina just leaves a bad taste.
Sept. 1st, Albany
Pitt starts off with an FCS team.
Sept, 8th, Penn State
This rivalry might be more heated after some of the offseason comments, and Penn State has to come into Pitt’s home stadium. This could be one heck of a game, or a blowout either way. This should be fun.
Sept. 29th, @Central Florida
Pitt will travel to face the defending national champions. At least, that’s what the banner in the stadium will say. Either way, this is a road game against a likely ranked team. Can’t ask for more than that.
Oct. 13th, @Notre Dame
This is part of the ACC’s scheduling agreement with Notre Dame, but this is still a great game.
Pitt might not be a CFP contender this year, but the Panthers absolutely have the nonconference schedule of one. There’s an FCS team on this list, but the other two are against top-level P5 teams, plus a Group of 5 team that should be nationally ranked. It’s hard to make a schedule better than this.
Sept. 1st, Richmond
Richmond was once a top FCS team, though they’ve fallen off recently. It’s not a bad opening game for Virginia, though.
Sept. 8th, @Indiana
The Cavaliers and Hoosiers are two P5 teams consistently towards the bottom of their respective conferences. Each has made strides recently, though Indiana may have stepped back a bit after Kevin Wilson left. Still, it’s a game between two even P5 teams. That’s what college football is all about.
Sept. 15th, Ohio
The Bobcats are a decent MAC team that can threaten a P5 team on occasion, but Virginia probably could have done better than this.
November 10th, Liberty
This is Liberty’s first season at the FBS level as the young program wants to rapidly rise to college football relevance. This team might be better than a lot of people expect.
Virginia is a program that is rebuilding with a new coach, so getting to six wins and a bowl should be the priority. This schedule has three games that should be wins, but aren’t fully guaranteed, and a fourth good game. As far as neutral fans should be concerned, Virginia picked the perfect balance between winning games and keeping them competitive.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Sept. 8th, William & Mary
Virginia Tech opens the season with a tough game against Florida State on Labor Day. The Hokies learned eight years ago that following up a Labor Day opener with even a good FCS team is trouble. I’ll excuse this game against a poor FCS team on five days rest.
Sept. 15th, East Carolina
ECU has a real history of causing Virginia Tech huge trouble. This semi-rivalry is always a ton of fun for college football fans.
Sept. 22nd, @Old Dominion
This road game is basically an in-state recruiting trip to Norfolk, but it’s still nice for the Hokies to travel to an in-state team.
Oct. 6th, Notre Dame
This game was scheduled by the ACC and not Virginia Tech, but it should still be a great game between two top teams.
Virginia Tech is often considered a dark horse CFP contender, partially because of its schedule. Well, this schedule may lead to a lot of wins, but it’s certainly not worthy of a team looking for a CFP shot. There is only one game on this schedule against a top-level team. Virginia Tech should do better.