Who Has the Toughest Schedule in the ACC This Year?


The last of the preseason watch lists for college football’s awards came out on Friday morning, and with that, came a quick way to evaluate strength of schedule. 

Seventeen different awards released lists, naming the college football players at every position expected to be the best in the nation this year. 

Here’s a look at how many watch-list players each ACC team will face in the non-conference schedule: 

Virginia

33

BC

33

Clemson

32

FSU

29

Syracuse

28

UNC

27

Va Tech

26

MIami

26

Ga Tech

22

Louisville

21

Wake Forest

19

Duke

11

Pitt

11

NC State

7

The Pac 12 makes life difficult for Virginia and Boston College. UVa faces UCLA, which was responsible for most of the Cavaliers’ 33 watch-listed players. USC, a Boston College opponent, put the Eagles in a tie with Virginia for toughest non-conference schedule. 

On the flip side, NC State’s non-conference roster of Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, South Florida and Presbyterian means that the Wolfpack are the only ACC team in single digits on watch-listed opponents. 

Non-conference is only one piece of the strength-of-schedule picture, however. Here’s a look at how the teams rank in watch-listed players faced in ACC conference games

Virginia

90

Wake Forest

89

MIami

86

Syracuse

83

Ga Tech

76

BC

73

UNC

71

Louisville

68

NC State

66

Pitt

61

Va Tech

55

Clemson

53

FSU

52

Duke

45

It’s shaping up to be a long year in Charlottesville. In addition to facing the toughest non-conference schedule, the Cavaliers also face the most watch-listed ACC opponents. 

It also appears that we may be headed for a rematch in the ACC Championship Game as last year’s division winners–Duke and Florida State–have the easiest conference schedules, with Duke facing exactly half as many watch-listed players as Coastal rival Virginia. 

Combining both lists gives us a ranking of total strength of schedule

Virginia

123

MIami

112

Syracuse

111

Wake Forest

108

BC

106

UNC

98

Ga Tech

98

Louisville

89

Clemson

85

Va Tech

81

FSU

81

NC State

73

Pitt

72

Duke

56

The spread is huge and the results aren’t really close. Virginia has the toughest schedule in the conference, and Duke the easiest. Look for Pitt and NC State to benefit from soft schedules and post higher-than-expected win totals, while Miami and Syracuse could perform below expectations. 

By way of comparison, Notre Dame, who will face four ACC opponents this year, has a schedule that includes 141 watch-listed players.

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