ACC commissioner John Swofford has said that the conference would prefer to have strength of schedule considered during the selection process for a four-team playoff. Well, just how strong are the ACC schedules this year? The league has some statement games against SEC opponents Auburn, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia. Three teams will face Notre Dame, and Maryland will travel to play what should be a top-10 West Virginia team. There are also 13 FCS opponents on the schedule. How do they all stack up? Here’s a ranking, starting with the most difficult:
1. Miami (at Kansas State, Bethune-Cookman, at Notre Dame, South Florida): Having to play on the road at K-State and against the Irish in Chicago won’t be easy for this young team, and South Florida returns 18 starters.
2. Clemson (Auburn, Ball State, Furman, South Carolina): Having two SEC opponents on the schedule, including the season opener in Atlanta against Auburn, carries significant weight.
3. Virginia (Richmond, Penn State, at TCU, Louisiana Tech): Nobody knows what to make of Penn State right now, but the Nits and a road trip to what should be a preseason top-25 TCU team earned Mike London some points in this ranking.
4. Maryland (William & Mary, at Temple, Connecticut, at West Virginia): Two road trips gave the Terps a boost in this ranking, and three of the four teams are now in BCS conferences, as Temple joined the Big East.
5. NC State (Tennessee, at Connecticut, South Alabama, The Citadel): The Pack loses some points for South Alabama and The Citadel, but a Friday night game in Atlanta against an SEC team, and a road trip to a Big East team balance it out.
6. Florida State (Murray State, Savannah State, at South Florida, Florida): Two FCS schools weigh the Noles down, even though West Virginia put FSU in this position by backing out.
7. Virginia Tech (Austin Peay, at Pittsburgh, Bowling Green, Cincinnati): The road trip to Pitt will be the most difficult of the four, but Cincinnati loses Big East Offensive Player of the Year Isaiah Pead and Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year Derek Wolfe.
8. Georgia Tech (Presbyterian, Middle Tennessee, BYU, at Georgia): BYU and Georgia lend credence to this schedule, but the Jackets beat Middle Tennessee 49-21 last year.
9. Wake Forest (Liberty, Army, at Notre Dame, Vanderbilt): It looks a lot like BC’s lineup, but the Deacs have to face the Irish on the road.
10. Boston College (Maine, at Northwestern, at Army, Notre Dame): The Eagles lost to Northwestern and Notre Dame last year, and should be challenged by both again.
11. Duke (Florida International, at Stanford, North Carolina Central, Memphis): The road trip to Stanford isn’t enough to outweigh NC Central and Memphis. FIU is a legitimately good team, but Duke should still be expected to win.
12. North Carolina (Elon, at Louisville, East Carolina, Idaho): First-year coach Larry Fedora needs to take advantage of this lineup. Never overlook ECU, though, and Louisville might be the best team in the Big East.