Friedlander: Ranking the 5 easiest ACC nonconference football schedules in 2023
Difficult nonconference schedules might be attractive to the fans and help schools sell tickets. But they’re not always conducive to a successful season.
It’s one thing for serious contenders like Clemson and Florida State to challenge themselves by loading up on tough tests outside the ACC.
But if you’re a team in the middle of the league hoping to find enough wins to become bowl eligible or a team at the bottom hoping to do enough to save your coach’s job, the last thing you want to do is make the task any more difficult than it has to be.
The art of sweetening the nonconference slate with cupcakes can be complicated in the ACC because of established rivalries and the league’s scheduling arrangement with Notre Dame.
Still, it can be done. And these 5 teams have done as good a job of it as possible. They have the easiest nonconference schedule in the league.
5. Virginia Tech
- Old Dominion
- at Rutgers
- at Marshall
Degree of difficulty is subjective. Case in point, the Hokies’ season-opener against Old Dominion. On paper, it’s a freebee for coach Brent Pry in his effort to take a step forward after going 3-8 in his 1st season in Blacksburg last year.
The Monarchs also won only 3 games in 2022. One of those, however, came against Virginia Tech. That notwithstanding, they’re a team Virginia Tech should beat. While that’s the only nonconference game in which the Hokies are likely to be favored, none of the other 3 should be considered unwinnable.
Purdue went 8-6 last season but will be regrouping with a new coaching staff and a new quarterback. Rutgers is on the road, but the Scarlet Knights were 4-8. Marshall, which won 9 games including an upset of Notre Dame, might be the toughest test of the bunch. And it plays in the Sun Belt Conference, which is where the Hokies might be relegated if they get their act together.
4. Wake Forest
- at Old Dominion
- at Notre Dame
The Deacons have to travel to South Bend for an uncomfortable reunion with former star quarterback Sam Hartman and Notre Dame. But the rest of the nonconference slate is perfectly suited for helping his former understudy Mitch Griffis ease into his new starting role.
The schedule starts with a Thursday night opener against Elon, a team Wake has beaten in all 3 previous meetings by a combined 125-17 margin. That’s followed by a home game against Vanderbilt, the dregs of the SEC before making a trip to Norfolk and a date with previously mentioned Old Dominion.
It’s a lineup tailor-made for a 3-0 head start that would get the Deacons halfway toward bowl eligibility for the 8th straight year under Dave Clawson.
- Western Michigan
- at Purdue
It’s fitting that the Orange will open their 2023 season against Colgate. The game will serve as an unintended tribute to the late, great Jim Brown. It was against the Raiders in 1956 that Brown, the Syracuse legend who died on Friday at the age of 87, set an NCAA record by scoring 43 points all by himself on 6 touchdowns and 7 extra points.
An added plus is that the Orange haven’t lost to Colgate in the 11 meetings since Brown’s tour de force. Western Michigan in Week 2 offers more of a challenge, although Syracuse would be wise to bring its “A” offensive game. In the 2 previous meetings, both Orange victories in 2018-19, the Broncos scored 33 and 42 points.
Purdue is on the road, but the Boilermakers will be breaking in a new coaching staff and Army is just 3-9 against ACC competition over the past decade. Like Wake Forest, a strong nonconference showing will greatly enhance Syracuse’s bowl chances. But in the Orange’s case, it will also greatly enhance Dino Babers’ still shaky job security.
- Miami (Ohio)
- Texas A&M
- at Temple
Texas A&M, even at home and even with the impending Jimbo Fisher-Bobby Petrino circus that should be in full chaos mode by Week 2, is certainly no pushover. But everything else on the Hurricanes’ nonconference schedule should be.
It starts with a matchup that was once dubbed “The Confusion Bowl.” Miami vs. Miami (Ohio) promises to attract plenty of attention, but only as a curiosity. Bethune-Cookman should be even more of a mismatch, considering that a Hurricanes’ offense that ranked 10th in the ACC still managed to put a 70-burger on the Wildcats last season. The Temple game in Philly, meanwhile, will be a good opportunity to enjoy some cheese steaks after putting a hurting on an Owls team that won only 3 times in 2022.
As soft as the schedule looks, there’s still no guarantee Mario Cristobal’s team will cruise through it without a slip. Miami did, after all, lose at home to Middle Tennessee State last year on the way to its disappointing 5-7 finish.
1. Boston College
- Northern Illinois
- Holy Cross
- at Army
The Eagles are the only ACC team that won’t play a nonconference Power 5 opponent in 2023. And that’s potentially a break for embattled coach Jeff Hafley, who is another losing season from seeking new employment. Not only is BC avoiding all the big boys, but the little guys on its schedule aren’t exactly championship caliber, either.
Northern Illinois is coming off a 3-9 season, its 3rd losing record in the past 4 years. Holy Cross won the Patriot League in 2022, losing only to South Dakota State in the FCS playoffs. But c’mon, it’s Holy Cross. Army could potentially create some problems because of its transition from the pesky triple option to a shotgun offense and while UConn has made significant strides under Jim Mora, getting to a bowl last season, it’s not as if the Huskies are the 2nd coming of Alabama.
Then again, neither are the Eagles.