August 19, 2022

ACC football: winners and losers of the new schedule

ACC Football

Notre Dame celebrates a 33-9 victory over Iowa State Saturday December 28, 2019 at Camping World Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

The ACC will start the season after the Big Ten, but before the Pac-12 and SEC.

With the addition of Notre Dame temporarily as a full-time member for 2020, the season’s going to be intriguing for College Football fanatics.

For a conference that has been plagued by parity in recent years, there are several teams looking to climb out of Clemson’s shadow this fall. Some programs will have the opportunity to accomplish that feat with a favorable schedule that was released Thursday. While others will have to roll with the punches and expect a bumpy road along the way.

Regardless of which teams received the short end of the stick, all 15 now have something to play for.

WINNERS

Clemson: Dabo Swinney has ruled the ACC with an iron fist. Clemson kept Florida State on the schedule, which is often the biggest game of the year in the league. However, the cherry on top for Swinney’s team was saving their road game at Notre Dame in November. It was a surprise to see Atlantic foes Louisville and NC State removed from the slate, but those games didn’t move the needle much. However, Miami, Pitt and Virginia Tech were added to the schedule, plus a non-conference opponent. The Tigers haven’t lost a conference game since October of 2017. In fact Clemson has won a jaw-dropping, 22-straight games against ACC opponents. The Tigers have two Heisman contenders on offense and a defense that’s always fierce. Judging from the preseason Coaches Poll, Clemson is scheduled to play only two ranked teams this fall. In hindsight, Swinney’s dominance will continue.

Duke: The Blue Devils didn’t have much shuffling take place with their schedule. Duke added Florida State, Boston College and Syracuse, but dropped Miami and Pittsburgh. Not to mention the Blue Devils got to keep eight of their original opponents on the slate. Opening up on the road at Notre Dame will make Duke fans cringe. However, the next five games are very winnable for Cutcliffe’s team. He’s the longest-tenured coach in the ACC and returns some talent, especially on the defensive line. The Blue Devils face a brutal six-game stretch to end the season and five of those opponents finished with a winning record last season. Cutcliffe hasn’t finished with a winning record in conference play since 2014. Still, with the talent Duke has on the roster and Cutcliffe’s decades of experience, the team will adjust just fine to the upcoming season.

Florida State: The new released schedule worked out well for the Seminoles. Florida State kept Miami, Louisville, NC State, Samford and Clemson on the slate. There is no more Wake Forest, Boston College and Syracuse. However, the addition of Notre Dame, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Virginia are all tasty matchups. What also benefits Florida State is the bye-week between Miami and Notre Dame. Playing the Fighting Irish, Tar Heels and Cardinals for a three-game stretch will be challenging for the Seminoles. Especially when those three teams combined for 26 wins last season. Mike Norvell’s team has a schedule that should provide a lot of answers to where the Seminoles stand in the ACC. There’s measuring stick games and clashes that’ll have Florida State battle-tested and better prepared down the line. Still, accomplishing those feats won’t be possible if Norvell doesn’t improve one of the worst defenses in the league.

Louisville: When you’re the reigning ACC Coach of the Year good things are bound to keep coming to you. Scott Satterfield received a gift wrap from the conference with the new schedule. First off, Clemson and NC State were removed. It’ll be the first time since 2013 that the Cardinals won’t be playing the Tigers and the Wolfpack. Miami, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech are the new foes from the Coastal on the slate. The Cardinals first three games are very winnable for a team with so much talent on offense. However, after the bye-week a brutal five-game stretch looms for Satterfield’s squad, that includes Notre Dame, Florida State, Virginia and Virginia Tech. If the Cardinals are able to walk away from those five games with three victories, it’ll be an impressive statement before the second bye-week. The Cardinal’s last three games won’t generate much buzz, but they’ll be the favorite.

NC State: The Wolfpack took a huge step back last year and suffered their first losing season since 2013. However, Dave Doeren should be excited about his team’s new schedule. NC State dropped Louisville and Clemson, two teams that had more talent. NC State replaced those two with Miami, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh and Virginia. It was a big shuffle, but should pay off for the Wolfpack down the line. The schedule is favorable and spread out. The Wolfpack will need to be prepared for that last five-game stretch, which begins with the Seminoles and the Hurricanes. NC State’s last three opponents combined for a 16-21 record in 2019. The opportunity is there for Doeren’s team to put together a winning season, but they might need a couple of breaks to accomplish it. Doeren knows the ACC and he’ll get his team to bounce back.

North Carolina: Mack Brown has created a lot of buzz in Chapel Hill after his successful first season back on the sidelines. Despite Florida State and Notre Dame getting inserted into the schedule, North Carolina caught a break by avoiding Clemson. Keeping Virginia Tech, Virginia and Miami on the slate was noteworthy, because all three played in bowl games last season. Dropping Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech won’t be a big deal. The Tar Heels will be entering the season as a ranked team and the ACC needs them to make some noise and bring credibility to the league. North Carolina can still fill a void in its’ schedule with a non-conference opponent. Everything starts off very favorable for Brown’s team and no one will know how good the Tar Heels are until their last two games of the season. By that time quarterback Sam Howell should have the offense rolling.

Notre Dame: The ACC gave the Fighting Irish mouth-to-mouth when the Big Ten and the Pac-12 left the program flatlined. Not only was Notre Dame able to salvage its’ upcoming season, but was also able to add the best the ACC had to offer to the slate. Although Wisconsin, USC, Stanford, Arkansas and Navy were removed from the schedule. Notre Dame got to keep Clemson, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Western Michigan, Duke and Wake Forest. Florida State and North Carolina definitely inflated the schedule. Now Brian Kelly’s team has a clear cut path to ACC glory. No Miami on the schedule though. However, the Fighting Irish will field more talent than all the teams they’ll face this fall besides the Tigers. Actually Notre Dame has won its’ last 10 games against ACC opponents during the regular season. Now the stage is set for quarterback Ian Book to draw in some Heisman consideration.

LOSERS

Boston College: The Eagles will be a completely different team this fall with no Steve Addazio strolling the sidelines. The workhorse A.J. Dillon is in the NFL now and veteran quarterback Anthony Brown transferred to Oregon. That’s a jaw-dropping, 6,679 yards from scrimmage and 60 total touchdowns over the last two seasons from the duo, gone. The new schedule didn’t do the Eagles any favors. Boston College kept Ohio, Clemson, North Carolina, Louisville and Syracuse on the slate. Four of those opponents are coming off of winning seasons. Not to mention Notre Dame, Pitt, and Virginia has been added to the schedule and are coming off winning campaigns. Boston College was able to drop Virginia Tech, NC State and Florida State as a consolation prize. That’s not a great start to the Jeff Hafley era, plus it’s going to be tough sledding for him to fix the ACC’s worst defense.

Georgia Tech: Geoff Collins first year was extremely rough as expected. After all, Collins was implementing a balanced attack with a roster recruited for the triple option. The Yellow Jackets’ offense was abysmal and the unit finished dead last in the ACC in passing and total yards per game. Not to mention Georgia Tech’s defense was flat out awful against the run. The ACC did the Yellow Jackets no favors with the scheduling either. Instead of opening the season against Clemson, Georgia Tech will now square off with a hungry Florida State team to start the season. UCF is projected as one of the best Group of Five teams this fall and will be Georgia Tech’s opponent for game two. After the Yellow Jackets first bye-week their schedule turns into a meat grinder. Louisville, Clemson, Notre Dame and Boston College is as tough as it gets for a four-game stretch.

Miami: Manny Diaz needed a positive spark after the lackluster year the Hurricanes had in his first season. There wasn’t much of a change to Miami’s schedule besides the removal of Duke and the addition of Louisville, Clemson and NC State. Miami got to keep its’ legendary rivalry with Florida State, along with high-profile games against North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech. The schedule will be very challenging and the Hurricanes won’t stand a chance if there offense hasn’t improved drastically. That’s how Houston transfer D’Eriq King comes into play. He’ll be playing in some marquee game and Diaz will need King in his 2018 form, when the quarterback threw for 36 touchdowns. Miami will have the defense to keep opposing offenses in check, but the team’s key to success will be how fast the offense matures as a unit. There’s no denying that Diaz has talent on the roster.

Pittsburgh: After the release of the new schedule the Panthers will face all the legit teams of the ACC this fall. It’s bad enough Pittsburgh will be clashing with Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. However, adding Louisville and Clemson to the list is a tough pill to swallow for Pittsburgh fans. The Panthers plays seven-straight games to start the season without a bye-week, that includes the Cardinals, Hurricanes and Fighting Irish. If that wasn’t enough for Pat Narduzzi’s team, three of the Panther’s last four opponents are coming off winning seasons. The straw that broke the camel’s back with Pittsburgh’s schedule is traveling to Death Valley to play Clemson on Senior Day. Still, Narduzzi will field the most talented team of his tenure this fall and and they have a boat load of experience on both sides of the ball, which should help as they navigate through.

Syracuse: After a remarkable 2018 season, the Orange stepped back into the ACC cellar last year. The new schedule doesn’t help Dino Babers’ cause either. Syracuse dropped Atlantic foe Florida State, but added Notre Dame, North Carolina and Duke. Clemson, Wake Forest, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Boston College remained on the slate and all were bowl eligible teams last season. Opening up out of the gates against the Tar Heels and Panthers won’t be easy and the Orange will be underdogs in both of those games. After Syracuse’s first bye-week the schedule softens up before the clash with Clemson. However, two of the Orange’s last three games are against great teams. In all honesty the schedule is tough enough that Syracuse might be staring down the barrel of a second-straight losing season, especially if Babers doesn’t get his defense fixed. In hindsight, it looks like the Orange may garner four wins.

Virginia: The Cavaliers are coming off their first appearance in the ACC Title Game. Not to mention Virginia won nine games for the first time since 2007. However, momentum may come to a halt with the new schedule. Virginia still has to play Clemson, Miami, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia Tech. All of those teams were bowl eligible last season, as well as Wake Forest, Florida State and Boston College, which Virginia added. Bronco Mendenhall has figured the conference out though and his experience will be needed. Two of the Cavalier’s first three games will be high profile. The Hokies will be looking for revenge and the Tigers put 62 points on the board against the Cavaliers last season. At least Virginia gets to open up against VMI instead of SEC powerhouse Georgia. The seven-game stretch without a bye-week may take its’ toll on the Cavaliers. Fuente must be ready.

Virginia Tech: Justin Fuente is facing a crucial season in 2020 and needs to deliver something noteworthy. The Hokies have underachieved the last couple of years under his watch. Not to mention the new schedule will be tough. Virginia Tech caught a break by avoiding Notre Dame. However, Clemson was added to the schedule, along with Wake Forest, which are two teams coming off great seasons. Virginia, North Carolina, Louisville, Boston College and Pitt all remain on the schedule and all played in bowl games last year. Unfortunately, after the Hokies first bye-week they have to play eight-straight games. Having the second bye-week before hosting the reigning ACC champs on Senior Day helps, but the Tigers might be at their strongest by that time. Regardless of the matter Virginia Tech is one of four ACC teams ranked in the Coaches Poll, but has a tall mountain to climb this fall.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have arguably the toughest start to the season of any ACC team. Wake Forest kicks off 2020 with Clemson and Notre Dame in two of the first three games. Both teams are top-10 worthy and Playoff contenders. Despite facing a daunting schedule, Dave Clawson is one of the most underrated coaches in the ACC and has won 30 games over the past four years with the program. Wake Forest drops Boston College and Florida State, who combined for a 12-14 record last season. However, Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Miami combined for a 30-23 record in 2019 and all have been added to the slate. The Demon Deacons close the regular season out with four games, they’ll likely be underdogs in. As of now the only for sure win on the schedule will be against Old Dominion. Still, Clawson always finds a way.