Like many of the leagues that the staff here at Crystal Ball Run has been previewing the last few weeks, the Atlantic Coast Conference has seen a shuffling of its membership that is actually not supposed to end until next year. After this season, Maryland shuffles off to the Big Ten. Notre Dame is joining the conference with its other sports, but football will remain independent. However, Notre Dame will play a select number of ACC teams each season as part of a partnership agreement with the league.
So welcome Syracuse and Pitt. You get to join Boston College as conference mates. Again. Although B.C. will no longer be a lonely northern outpost in a mostly Mid-Atlantic and Southern conference. So they have that going for them. Which is nice.
But who is going to have a slate full of tough games ahead of them? That is the question we aim to answer right now. Here is the ranking of the schedules for the ACC, from toughest to easiest:
1) Pittsburgh – Well, Pitt. You’re going to get to face possibly the best team in your league right off the bat. Nothing like a baptism by fire as you host Florida State on Labor Day for your inaugural ACC game. Hey, at least you get the game on your turf. That has to count for something, right? Actually, Pitt will have played half of their ACC league schedule by the time the beginning of October has rolled around, with New Mexico being the only out of conference game the Panthers will play in the first five weeks. Oh, and Pitt gets to finish the season with games against Notre Dame, North Carolina and Miami, although all of those games will take place at Heinz Field. Still, it’s not an easy debut for a program in a new league.
2) Virginia – The Cavaliers disappointed last season in Mike London’s third year, sliding to 4-8 overall and 2-6 in conference. If the Cavaliers are going to return to .500 and bowl contention, they will have certainly earned it. They host BYU and Oregon in the first two weeks of the season, so college football fans will learn a lot about where UVA stands quickly. The reward for surviving the Cougars and the Ducks is a game against VMI before traveling to Pitt. Ball State is the fourth non-conference game for Virginia. The Cavaliers also have a daunting conference schedule, especially the final four games against Clemson (home), North Carolina (road), Miami (road) and Virginia Tech (home).
3) Boston College – The Eagles finished dead last in the ACC last season. Not just last in their division, but last overall with a 2-10 record. It doesn’t start off easy for B.C., since they face a solid FCS program in Villanova to open the year before hosting Wake Forest on a short week and heading off to face Southern Cal in week three. The Eagles at least get Florida State at home. However, starting on October 12 against Clemson, the Eagles have only one game that they might be favored in, and that is a road trip to New Mexico State on November 9. It seems like another long season in Chestnut Hill.
4) Syracuse – Unlike the other new kid on the ACC block, the Orange are not going to start conference play in week one. In fact, they don’t face a conference foe until October 5. And they didn’t draw Florida State for the first game. They drew Clemson. Which means it’s a divisional game, so it’s a bit more important. The non-conference schedule for ‘Cuse is no walk in the park; the Orange will open with a neutral site game Penn State at MetLife Stadium and then travel to Northwestern for a game against one of the other top journalism schools in the country. Wagner and Tulane travel to the Carrier Dome to round out the non-conference schedule. And while they didn’t draw them to start the season, the Orange did draw Florida State in Tallahassee in mid-November. Syracuse will play two old Big East (now ACC) foes in Pitt and Boston College to round out the season at the Carrier Dome.
5) Maryland – The Terrapins start off with four straight non-conference games, a rarity in the league this season. Two home games against Florida International and Old Dominion precede a road trip to Connecticut (to face head coach Randy Edsall’s former employer) and then a visit from West Virginia. Maryland misses North Carolina and Miami, faces Florida State on the road and Clemson at home.
6) Virginia Tech – Last season was something of a lost year for the Hokies, as a preseason Top 20 team wound up staggering to 7-6 (4-4) record. In fact, it took a three game winning streak to close out the season to wind up over .500 overall. The Hokies are going to go big to open the season, facing Alabama in Atlanta at the Chick-Fil-A College Kickoff opening weekend. They follow that neutral site game up with a home game against FCS Western Carolina before hitting the road to take on East Carolina. The Hokies finish their non-conference schedule with a home game against Marshall, and then turn around for a Thursday night road game against Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech also has to travel to Miami, but they host North Carolina and manage to avoid both Clemson and Florida State.
7) Wake Forest – After reaching incredible heights in the mid-2000s, including an Orange Bowl Berth after the 2006 season, the Demon Deacons have sunk back into mediocrity with four consecutive losing seasons. 2013’s schedule starts out with FCS cupcake Presbyterian on opening Thursday before a trip to Boston College the following Friday to start conference play. Other non-conference games include a visit from Louisiana-Monroe and a trip to Army early, and a visit to Vanderbilt to close the season. Wake Forest travels to Miami, Clemson and Syracuse and host Florida State.
8) North Carolina – The Tar Heels have a chance to win the Coastal Division for real this season (since they were ineligible last season), but will have to navigate a schedule that features an opening game at South Carolina on Thursday night. Middle Tennessee State comes to Chapel Hill the following Saturday before the Heels visit Georgia Tech on September 21. East Carolina rounds out the September schedule for North Carolina. Road trips to Virginia Tech and NC State and a home game against Miami will determine if the Heels make the trip to Charlotte to play in the ACC title game.
9) Clemson – The Tigers have one of the more curious schedules in the league. They start and end the season with games against FCS opponents (South Carolina State and The Citadel) and against SEC East contenders (Georgia and South Carolina). Three of these games take place in Death Valley, with the game against the Gamecocks taking place up the road in Columbia. In between these bookends, the Tigers will play their ACC schedule. They do not play North Carolina and Miami, and get Florida State at home in mid-October.
10) Georgia Tech – The Yellow Jackets have a couple of tough conference road games facing them, with trips to Clemson and Miami potentially affecting the conference race in both divisions. A trip to BYU a week after the game against the Hurricanes is a spot that the Jackets will have to be very wary of. The game of Clean, Old Fashioned Hate against Georgia is always worth watching. Georgia Tech also has two FCS opponents on their slate, opening the season versus Elon and facing Alabama A&M in the penultimate game of the season.
11) Florida State – The Seminoles have the honor of welcoming Pitt to the ACC, as they will play the Panthers on Labor Day. Florida State will then not play again until September 14 when Nevada comes to Tallahassee. The Seminoles will end the regular season with their annual game against the Gators (in Gainesville). However, cupcakes Bethune-Cookman and Idaho also feature in the non-conference schedule. Florida State will not face North Carolina, but they will get Miami in Tallahassee.
12) Duke – The Blue Devils finished last season with a losing record at 6-7. Yet that was progress, because the Blue Devils received that seventh loss in a bowl game, a place that the program had not been in 20 years. Duke is rebuilding a bit after quarterback Sean Renfree’s graduation and it might be difficult for the Blue Devils to adjust. Games against FCS opponent North Carolina Central and at Memphis could be confidence builders before conference play begins with Georgia Tech in mid-September. Games against Navy and Troy (both in Durham) round out the non-conference schedule. Duke doesn’t leave the state of North Carolina for the entire month of November, including a November 30 tilt against archrival North Carolina, and they manage to miss both Florida State and Clemson.
13) Miami (FL) – The ‘Canes won’t leave Coral Gables until late September, and don’t even leave the state of Florida until they head to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech on October 5. Of course, one of those first four games is against Florida, but with the likes of FAU, Savannah State and South Florida, the ‘Canes could easily be 3-1 heading into conference play. Miami has to travel to Tallahassee to play Florida State, and have to hit the road to play North Carolina, but they will skip Clemson in the cross-divisional schedule. A Black Friday trip to Pitt could be problematic weather wise.
14) NC State – The Wolf Pack definitely were graced by the schedule gods a bit. NC State plays two games outside of the state of North Carolina—at Florida State on October 26 and at Boston College on November 16. Otherwise, NC State is staying comfortably within range of home. Clemson and North Carolina both have to travel to Raleigh, as does Syracuse.