Winners and losers of 10-game ACC conference schedule
Jeff Griffith (@Jeff_Griffith21)
July 31, 2020
It's time to knock on wood.
The ACC became the first power five league to officially announce its plan for the 2020 football season earlier this week. Its plan? A 10-game conference schedule, plus the allowance for one non-conference game, given that game is played in the home state of the ACC team playing it.
Depending who you are, you might love this plan; you might hate it, too. It's got its pros and cons depending how you access ACC football, whether as a fan of one of the teams or as an apathetic bystander.
You may also feel like it's wishful thinking to plan a college football season this fall, knowing it could get canceled. For now, we're going to approach this optimistically, and just talk football for a second.
If this season takes off, and if it's successful, and if it stays safe, here's who stands to be positively and negatively impacted by the ACC's matchups.
Notre Dame: This one feels obvious. With dominos falling left and right to move power five leagues to conference-only schedules, Notre Dame's opponents were falling by the wayside.
The way the 2020 schedule was poised to shake out before any COVID-induced alterations, the Irish will lose six opponents: Navy, Arkansas, Western Michigan, Wisconsin, Stanford and USC. Three of those are pretty noteworhty games. That's a con.
Not being able to play USC is especially a drag, but when you factor that the USC, Stanford, Arkansas and Wisconsin games were already almost locks to be canceled when the mass switch to league-centric slates began, the fact that Notre Dame even has a full schedule is the main reason they're winners in this plan.
The Irish will play 10 solid opponents, including Clemson at home and North Carolina on the road. They'll have a shot at a conference title game, too. If I'm a Notre Dame fan, I'm thrilled.
The ACC: There are many obvious reasons why the ACC wins by having this plan in place. For one, they have a plan. It's that simple. Further, their plan includes two more conference games per team than any other season — win. And, those conference games add a Notre Dame team — always a nationally-noteworthy program — to a league that's currently desperate for a quality No. 2.
But the biggest reason that I'd say the ACC wins with this plan is its championship game. All 13 teams competing will stack up in one division, with the top two teams playing for the title in Charlotte.
The ACC in particular has struggled with getting good matchups in its championship game. Part of that has to do with the league's Clemson-and-everyone-else nature, but it also has to do with a major disparity in divisions. The coastal division has been one of the most unpredictable in college football in recent memory; this is the division that sent 7-5 Pittsburgh to Charlotte in 2018.
Quality teams in Clemson's division, the ACC Atlantic, have missed out on a true top-two matchup as a result; names like 2018 Syracuse (10-3), 2016 Florida State (No. 8 nationally), 2015 Florida State (10-3) and 2013 Clemson (No. 8 nationally) all come to mind.
This conference is going to get its most ideal conference title game this year — at least, assuming the season makes it to December — and that's one of many reasons to enjoy this plan.
Fans: Think about it; almost every single week of football this season — except for, at most, one — is going to feature power five teams playing power five teams. If there's a gave of the Clemson-Charlotte nature, it's only going to happen once. That's the dream, right?
One has to wonder, why would power five teams go back to playing non-conference games — especially those they have to pay for against lower-tier group of five and FCS opponents — in the future if they know they can get away with a 10-game league slate?
Food for thought.
North Carolina: Many college football analysts — myself included — expect the Tar Heels to make noise this season.
It's been a popular take with gaining a lot of steam as the fall nears; Mack Brown's system made strides last season in year one and his team showed promise, winning seven games and coming two yards away from toppling Clemson. Sam Howell's return adds even more reason for optimism.
All of the hype surrounding UNC was poised to reach its peak in early September, when the Heels took on Auburn in Dallas. Nope.
Since that game wouldn't be played in North Carolina, it was immediately nixed when the league announced its plan. And if that wasn't enough, the SEC announced it would be a conference-only scheduled, period, soon after.
UNC still has plenty of opportunities — including an extra chance to shine against Notre Dame — but won't play Clemson.
Watch out, though. The Heels could be favorite in every game but one this season as a result.
Syracuse: The Orange, two years ago, were a Top 15 team, winning 10 games and earning a marquee bowl win. 2019 was a transition year and a struggle, but there's some talent there.
Expectations for Syracuse entering 2020 have been all over the map with a growing, unproven quarterback and a talent-laden defensive secondary, but if there was one saving grace, it's that Syracuse would be playing Liberty, Western Michigan, Rutgers and Colgate in its non-conference — four highly-likely wins — as well as home games in-league against NC State and Georgia Tech, two of the more beatable teams in the conference. 'Cuse wouldn't be playing North Carolina — the league's aforementioned popular No. 2 pick — either
Now, the Orange will have road games against all of the ACC's top teams — Clemson, Pittsburgh, Louisville and UNC — and Notre Dame. Winnable home games like the ones already mentioned, as well as bouts with Duke and Boston College, help Syracuse's cause, but that road slate is an absolute guantlet.
Countless Small Schools: There are too many to name, and they're not all just going to be affected by the ACC's decision. Group-of-five programs and FCS programs are not only losing out on exposure, opportunities to make headlines with upset victories — which really only come once a year for such schools — and experiences in iconic stadiums for their players.
They're losing money.
When (insert lower-tier program) plays (insert power-five program) without a home-and-home return game, they pretty much always get a paycheck. A 2018 USA Today article estimates $175 million was spent on "buy games" that season. The article also notes that Florida paid Colorado State as much as $2 million to come to Gainesville in the fall of '18.
For reference, $2 million is approximately 10 percent of CSU's 2017-18 athletics revenue. That's not nothing. And while every college athletic program is losing out on tons of cash this season, the "poorer" are going to get poorer for this reason.