The College Football Playoff committee sent a pretty clear message last season that scheduling was a crucial factor in how teams were evaluated -- with Florida State slipping down the rankings despite an undefeated record, and the Big 12 left out of the playoff altogether. With that in mind, ESPN Stats & Info put together its rankings for each Power 5 school’s nonconference strength of schedule for the next five years, and there are a few big takeaways for the ACC.
ACC Nonconference Schedule Ranking
The number associated with each team is the percentage of games an average FBS team would be expected to lose if it faced that schedule; the higher the number, the harder the schedule.
Clemson and Georgia Tech are in good shape: According to ESPN’s rankings, the Tigers and Yellow Jackets -- the favorites among many early projections for ACC division titles -- also have the league's two toughest non-conference slates for the foreseeable future. Clemson ranks seventh nationally and Tech checks in eighth. That could prove vital in the short-term, with this season far less likely to produce an undefeated champion, thus requiring a more nuanced case for the playoff.
The SEC floats all boats: At least according to ESPN’s Football Power Index -- which was used in evaluating the non-conference slates -- the ACC teams with SEC foes on their schedules got a nice bump, even if the rest of the remaining slate wasn’t exactly stellar. Take FSU, for example: The Seminoles rank 11th in ESPN’s rankings, but this year's non-conference slate is lackluster (Chattanooga, USF, Texas State) and future schedules contain few marquee matchups other than with SEC foes Ole Miss and Florida.
Virginia has it rough again: The Hoos certainly had the talent of a bowl team last season, but a brutal schedule left them with just five wins. So what happens in 2015 and beyond? More of the same, really. ESPN has Virginia with the 10th-toughest non-conference slate. Its 2015 campaign -- with UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State all coming in the first month of the season -- might be the league's toughest. All three spent time ranked in the CFP top 20 last season. Looking past next year, Oregon, Stanford, Boise State, BYU and Notre Dame are all on the docket.
Timing and matchups matter: ESPN’s rankings are based on a four-year average of each team’s FPI, but of course there’s much more that could be factored into the equation. Last season, Virginia Tech toppled national champ Ohio State, but lost to Wake Forest -- arguably the worst Power 5 team in the nation. The reason was timing (the Hokies caught Ohio State in an early transitional period) and matchups (Wake’s defense was a nightmare scenario for Tech’s struggling offense). So while tough matchups abound, some may be timed better than others (a young FSU getting Florida in the final week of the season, for example) and others illustrate some lopsided matchups (Clemson's big-play offense against South Carolina's dubious pass D this year). In other words, Virginia Tech reminded us that the games on the field don't always look like how we draw them up on paper.
Taking it easy: NC State is hoping it's building toward contention in the Atlantic, and a weak non-conference slate (13th among ACC schools) should help boost win totals. But will it reflect poorly for potential New Year's Six games? North Carolina is in a similar boat, ranking 12th in the league in future non-conference schedule -- a slate that includes a matchup against fellow ACC member Wake Forest that will be played as a non-conference game. Louisville's schedule also isn't overwhelming for a program that considers itself on the fringes of playoff contention already, while BC brings up the rear with among the least impressive slates in the Power 5 over the next five seasons. Each of those programs is currently in a building stage, but it will be interesting to see if at least a few will take steps to improve the scheduling -- and, ideally, committee perception -- as they gain better footing in the ACC.