The ACC released its full 2014 football schedule on Wednesday. So Bud Elliott of SB Nation Recruiting and Tomahawk Nation, Ben Swain, the world's only living Duke football expert, and I took time to independently pick the winners and losers of every game for the season.
As one might expect, we disagree on quite a bit in the middle, but there's pretty substantial agreement that the league will be Florida State's to run yet again. And Virginia's Mike London might want to start updating that resume.
Below are all of our picks (with red slashes indicating predicted losses). Following our picks is a quick roundtable discussion of the upcoming ACC season based on the schedule.
|Mark Ennis||Ben Swain||Bud Elliott|
1. Which teams have the toughest and easiest schedules?
Bud: I think FSU has the easiest, given that it draws UVa from the Coastal and Clemson in Tallahassee, and doesn't have to face FSU. And yes, I know how that sounds.
The toughest is Wake, because it is in the tougher division, and it must play the defending Coastal champ in Duke, plus Virginia Tech.
Ben: Within the conference, I think you'd have to say Virginia Tech has by far the easiest schedule. They get Boston College and Wake Forest as their Atlantic crossover games, and they've got a bye before Duke, a bye before Pitt, and Miami at home on a Thursday night. They do travel to UNC, but they catch the Tar Heels during their toughest stretch of the season, right after road trips to ECU and Clemson, and right before a Heels trip up to South Bend to play Notre Dame.
I guess I'll stick right there with UNC for the toughest schedule. In addition to that four-game stretch, they play down in Miami, and then they've got two games in six days when they play Pitt on a Saturday and then travel to play Duke on Thursday night in Durham.
You can probably also look at NC State's ACC schedule with an opening stretch against FSU, at Clemson, at home against Boston College, and then at Louisville -- although it's hard to look at an NC State or a Virginia as having a tough schedule, because most every game will be tough for those teams. But man, Virginia's schedule is brutal. I'm not sure Mike London can survive it.
Mark: I think it’s Virginia. For a coach needing to show real improvement to justify getting another year at the helm, London’s AD hasn’t done him any favors. In the non-conference, Virginia faces UCLA and BYU, and while it is in the easier of the divisions, Virginia managed to pull Louisville as its permanent opponent and draw FSU for 2014. Ouch. Within the division they have to play at Duke, at Georgia Tech, and at Virginia Tech. Pete Lembo is going to look great in Charlottesville next year.
2. Which team faces the toughest individual stretch of games?
Bud: Syracuse in October. Louisville, FSU, a roadie at Wake, and then a trip to Clemson. Ouch. Going 0-4 is quite possible there.
Ben: With Clemson breaking in a new quarterback and a new receiving corps, it's certainly not easy to start off the season with Georgia, Florida State, and North Carolina. They do have a bye and a game against South Carolina State in there too, but that's a potential for disaster to start off the year.
Duke shouldn't have a problem getting to bowl eligibility again, but their November will be the difference between the Military Bowl and another blockbuster like they had this last season against Texas A&M. Duke has back-to-back road games against Pitt and Syracuse, then has Virginia Tech coming off of a bye week, a Thursday night game against UNC on a short week, and then the finale with Wake Forest. Duke and FSU are the only two ACC teams without byes in November.
Mark: I think it’s NC State, with a four-game stretch of FSU, at Clemson, Boston College, at Louisville. With no bye weeks in between. I’m beginning to feel more and more like FSU takes a physical toll on you, like Alabama or Stanford does. So to get them at the front end of a four-game bender is just brutal. Boston College plays just as physically, and Petrino at Louisville will as well. That’s going to be one sore group by the end.
David Manning, USA Today
3. How do you think the ACC did at building Louisville's initial ACC schedule?
Bud: Because its opponents were predetermined, I am not sure how much it could really change up, but I think the order is fair. There is an extra day of rest before Clemson thanks to a Friday contest, the Florida State game is not a short Thursday (something this league has done to teams previously), and there is even an open date before Notre Dame.
Ben: A Monday night home opener against Miami and a Thursday night home game against FSU should do wonders for ticket sales, and a trip to South Bend is a pretty nice perk for joining the conference as well. I think they did a great job of getting off on the right foot with Louisville fans, and I know it wasn't entirely intentional, but the rematch of the Russell Athletic Bowl in Week 1 is going to have a lot of build up.
Louisville might have the best schedule in the league from a fan's perspective. Not in terms of ease, by any means, but in terms of excitement.
Mark: Looking at this through the lense of the schedule Louisville just played in 2013, I couldn’t be happier. The best part is there are no long lulls with games no one will care about. Miami in the opener. Clemson in mid-October. FSU on October 30th, Notre Dame two weeks later, and then a new season-ender against Kentucky. It’s great.
4. Which games will be most important in determining who wins the each division next year?
Bud: Atlantic: Florida State at Clemson. This has determined the winner for the last five years, and will probably do so again. Do you really see the winner of this game dropping two others in league play?
Coastal: Virginia Tech at North Carolina. This is the Hokies' toughest road contest in the league, and if they win it, they'll be heavily favored to take the division, with Miami and Georgia Tech coming to Blacksburg.
Ben: For the Atlantic, I'm excited to see who wins the Thursday night game when Florida State travels up to Louisville. That's just one of those games that feels like it could be an upset, and we'll probably see a lengthy winning streak for FSU being put on the line that night. I really see it as the only opportunity for a conference loss for Florida State.
On the Coastal side, who knows? I'm going to go with Duke and Virginia Tech in Durham on November 15th, not because the winner will necessarily go on to win the division, but because it's one of those games where it could knock the Blue Devils or Hokies back into a three- or four-team tie, where UNC or Miami could jump up and win via tiebreaker. As odd as it sounds, it would be fantastic for the league if that Thursday night Duke-UNC game is for the Coastal, but ultimately I think that game just contributes to a tiebreaker as well, where a 6-2 team beats out two or three other 6-2 teams with the record-against-division tiebreaker crowning the champion.
Mark: The Atlantic is easy. It’s Clemson at FSU. It’s been the de facto Atlantic title game for the last five years, and I don’t see that changing this year.
In the Coastal, I actually think it’ll be Virginia Tech at Pitt. It’s purely intuition and some residual Big East love for Pitt, but I just have a sense they begin to take steps forward this year and are a factor in the Coastal.
5. Which of the new Thanksgiving rivalry games do you think will benefit most from being moved?
Bud: I'll go with UNC and N.C. State. I always wondered why this wasn't in place, and it just seems to be the rivalry that can most be enhanced due to proximity and existing hatred.
Ben: Louisville-Kentucky. Fans in ACC country don't really get that rivalry, especially in football, and nothing grabs the ACC's attention like a chance to beat an SEC team. If that game is buried in the middle of the season, it's still attention-worthy, but it probably would never catch on as an important rivalry like we all know Clemson-South Carolina and Georgia-Georgia Tech are.
Mark: It will make me a homer. But I think it’s Louisville and Kentucky. Both schools often have trouble maintaining fan interest late in the football season when basketball begins in earnest. Having the game be the final regular season game (especially if Kentucky improves like it seems it will) will give both schools a really great game to end the season and perhaps move the rivalry.