Friedlander: Ranking the 5 most difficult ACC football nonconference schedules in 2023
Let’s talk about schedules.
It’s the hot topic of conversation heading into the 2023 ACC football season.
Gone is the 2-division system and the Coastal Chaos it helped create. That’s the downside. But it’s a small price to pay for a more equitable divisionless format that will allow the league’s 2 best teams to play for the championship.
Winning the league crown is only half the equation, though.
Those 4 nonconference games that fill out the schedule will also go a long way toward determining which, if any, ACC teams get a chance at ending the league’s 2-year absence from the College Football Playoff. They’ll also help determine how many bowl bids the conference will get and in some cases, which coaches will and won’t keep their jobs.
These are 5 teams that have given themselves the most difficult nonconference tests:
- Charleston Southern
- Florida Atlantic
- Notre Dame
- at South Carolina
The Florida State game in Week 4 might be the most anticipated matchup of the ACC regular season, but it’s the nonconference tests against Notre Dame and South Carolina during the final month that will ultimately determine the Tigers’ postseason fate.
Those are the same 2 teams that ended Clemson’s Playoff hopes a year ago. Although the rematch with the Irish won’t be any picnic, at least Dabo Swinney’s team will have home-field advantage. That won’t be the case against the rival Gamecocks, who are on the rise under Shane Beamer and are feeling their oats after ending a 7-game losing streak in the Palmetto Bowl at Death Valley.
The other 2 nonconference games should be slam dunks, provided that Florida Atlantic’s football team doesn’t find inspiration from its Final Four basketball squad and turn into a giant killer. Charleston Southern is a replacement opponent for Wofford, which decided it would rather play Pittsburgh than get manhandled by its Upstate neighbor.
- Tennessee (at Nashville)
- James Madison
- at Maryland
- William & Mary
Who Volunteered the Cavaliers for this assignment?
As if Tony Elliott’s job wasn’t already tough enough after a rookie season that produced only 3 wins and ended in tragedy, he gets to start Year 2 by taking his team to Nashville to take on Tennessee. Technically it’s a neutral site game. But when the stands at Nissan Stadium get filled with an orange wave, the only song UVA will be hearing in Music City is Rocky Top.
And that’s not the only tough nonconference task the Cavaliers will face. James Madison is no gimme after going 8-3 in its 1st season as an FBS member while former ACC rival Maryland was also an 8-win team, and it’s on the road. It’s their first matchup since the Terps joined the Big Ten in 2014. At least Elliott and his team can look forward to 1 breather in William & Mary on Oct. 7.
- at West Virginia
- at Notre Dame
The Panthers are 1 of 2 ACC teams that will play 3 Power 5 opponents outside of league play this season, so they can be excused for the late addition of FCS cupcake Wofford as their opening game. The rest of their nonconference schedule is an absolute bear. Or in the case of their Week 2 assignment, a Bearcat. Then after a home game against new Big 12 member Cincinnati, Pat Narduzzi’s team will make the short trip down Interstate 79 to Morganton for a traditional Backyard Brawl against West Virginia.
And it only gets more difficult from there.
The Panthers will head back on the road again on Oct. 28 when they play at Notre Dame, a place at which they haven’t won since a 4-overtime thriller in 2008. As if battling the Irish in South Bend wasn’t enough of a challenge, the game comes just 1 week before they return home to play what projects to be its most difficult ACC test when Florida State comes to Acrisure Stadium.
2. Florida State
- LSU (at Orlando)
- Southern Miss
- North Alabama
- at Florida
So you want to be a national power again, Seminoles? The kind that deserves a bigger cut of the ACC’s revenue than everyone else because you bring more value to the conference?
OK, then. Here’s your chance to prove it.
All that preseason hype means nothing if Jordan Travis, Jared Verse and their friends don’t back it up by beating a top SEC contender on Labor Day Sunday. FSU proved it has what it takes to beat LSU when it outlasted the Tigers in New Orleans last season. But this is different. The Seminoles do not have a Week 0 tune-up to help get ready this time and unlike last year, the expectations on them will be through the roof.
At the other end of the schedule, FSU will finish the regular season the same way it begins it. Against an SEC opponent. Florida has traditionally been a thorn in the Seminoles’ side and this year’s rivalry clash is at The Swamp.
The bookend tests would easily make FSU’s nonconference schedule the ACC’s toughest this season if not for the 2 directional schools sandwiched in the middle.
1. Georgia Tech
- South Carolina State
- at Ole Miss
- Bowling Green
This isn’t the kind of nonconference schedule conducive for helping a coach build a foundation in his 1st season after having an interim tag removed. For better or for worse, it’s what Brent Key gets.
Let’s start with the Ole Miss game in Oxford. The Rebels throttled the Yellow Jackets 42-0 in Atlanta last year in a game that proved to be the last straw for Key’s predecessor Geoff Collins. And it could have been worse. Lane Kiffin called off the dogs in a scoreless 4th quarter.
Then there’s Georgia. The Bulldogs aren’t just the 2-time defending national champions. They’ve won 5 straight in the rivalry known as Good Old Fashioned Hate by a combined margin of 217-49. Last year’s 37-14 UGA victory was the closest result of the bunch.
Beyond having to climb those 2 mountains, Tech also has to face a tricky tough game against Bowling Green, a Mid-American conference team that qualified for a bowl last season. At least Key has South Carolina State to look forward to.