AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. – Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher says he brings the topic up at just about every ACC meeting, and he is usually met with blank stares.
Fisher wants the biggest ACC rivalry games on set weekends every year, just like Michigan-Ohio State, Texas-Oklahoma, Auburn-Alabama (and so on in the SEC).
For the Seminoles, does that mean a set annual date for Miami or for Clemson or …?
“All of the above,” Fisher says. “We have quite a few rivalries. It builds tradition. You build history, and how you play your season, how you plan your season, how you gauge your season of working up to it, how you set your timetables. When people know, they set their schedules based off that. They can set vacation, they can set off time. I know I’m going to Florida State-Clemson; I know I’m going to Florida State-Florida; I know I’m going to Florida State-Miami. Think about how many times you have to plan to go to that.”
Fisher coached for many years in the SEC, a league that has more set dates for rival games than most. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says he had a stronger belief in set dates when he was playing and coaching in the SEC.
“I did when I was at Alabama,” Swinney said. “Tennessee, I grew up it was third week in October. You played Auburn at the end of the year. That’s just the way it’s always been. I still feel that way about South Carolina. It ought to be an end-of-the-year game. I’m a traditionalist in that regard. But as far as the other games that we play, I’m sure there are other dynamics at other schools that might be more mitigating factors than what I have. But OK is Clemson-Georgia Tech always played on a certain day or Clemson-Florida State? I don’t know. Maybe it helps the conference in certain areas, but there’s games in the SEC that move around as well that are different places. When do Florida State and Miami play? Should there be a set time? There’s probably more circumstances at other schools than we have at Clemson.”
The only rivalry games that are set are the ACC-SEC games that close the season: Clemson-South Carolina; Georgia-Georgia Tech; Florida State-Florida; and Louisville-Kentucky, in addition to Virginia-Virginia Tech. Several years ago, the ACC decided to pair some of its other rivalry games to close the regular season to make it a much bigger weekend. Duke-Wake Forest, North Carolina-NC State, Boston College-Syracuse and Miami-Pitt played to end the regular season.
Only North Carolina-NC State remains on the final weekend for the 2016 season (the game is on a Friday this year). Duke-Wake Forest was moved to September; BC-Syracuse will play in October; Miami-Pitt will play in early November.
“I’m glad ours is set,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said. “It wasn’t my first year here. I think it’s good for the league if we’re a part of rivalry weekend.”
Fisher wants it to go beyond rivalry weekend. From the ACC perspective, the league likes having the flexibility to schedule its marquee games during more desirable times in the overall college football schedule. Ideally, the ACC wants the spotlight to be on Florida-State Clemson every single season given the magnitude of the game, so it places the game on a weekend that will most likely maximize the opportunity. That’s why the teams have played in September, October and November each of the past three years.
In 2016, they play Oct. 29. That’s three weeks after facing Miami (which happens to fall on Week 6 for the second consecutive season).
“Some of them would have to be close,” Fisher said. “We’re one of the unique schools that have a lot of rivalry games.”
As Swinney and Fisher mentioned, they have two major ACC rivalries. So do Duke and North Carolina. So if each of those schools had two of their eight ACC weekends locked in, it makes scheduling that much harder for everyone else. Other leagues have avoided that issue by having one set date for a rivalry game, and then placing the second rivalry game around the same general time every year. Michigan, for example, plays Michigan State somewhere between Weeks 6 and 8. This year, the Wolverines and Spartans play in Week 9 – the same day as Florida State-Clemson.
It certainly is an intriguing idea for the ACC, even if it’s one that doesn’t have much momentum. At least for now.