Ranking the ACC's OOC
After a few years of mostly boring OOC play in the ACC (apart from the traditional end-of-season ACC vs. SEC rivalries), we've finally got some good matchups this year. One man's ranking of the ACC's out-of-conference strength of schedule:
1. Florida State
Alabama-Birmingham (9/8), @Colorado (9/15), Alabama (9/29 - in Jacksonville), @Florida (11/24)
Brutal. Florida is, well, Florida--the Gators beat the Seminoles 21-14 last year in a game that was not as close as the score indicated, and beating them in Gainesville isn't going to be any easier, although FSU should be a much improved team and Tim Tebow still needs to prove that he can run Urban Meyer's offense on his own. The Alabama game should be a great neutral-site game against Nick Saban's squad, and while Colorado is coming off an awful year, they're still a team that made the Big 12 championship game the year before last and should be improved under second-year coach Dan Hawkins.
Marshall (9/1), @Oklahoma (9/8), Florida International (9/15), Texas A&M (9/20)
While the media attention will be focused on Brawl Bowl II, the mid-September matchup against the Golden Panthers, a pair of tough Big 12 opponents loom in Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Look for the 'Canes to split their tougher OOC games and handle the weaklings with ease.
3. Virginia Tech
East Carolina (9/1), @LSU (9/8), Ohio University (9/15), William & Mary (9/22)
Not much there other than a trip to Baton Rouge, but a trip to Baton Rouge is enough to earn the Hokies the ACC's 3rd toughest OOC slate. Forget Tennessee-Cal and Oregon-Michigan; this is the best intersectional matchup of the year. I think the Hokies are going to be a great team this year; but I think LSU wins the national title, so I have to go with the Tigers here. Eastern Carolina and Ohio are a couple of tough mid-major teams headed in the right direction under Skip Holtz and Frank Solich respectively; Virginia Tech won't be able to take them likely, but should be able to dispatch them, particularly the Pirates on what will be an emotional day in Blacksburg on September 1.
4. North Carolina
James Madison (9/1), @East Carolina (9/8), @South Florida (9/22), South Carolina (10/13)
No real screamers here, but three opponents that are getting better every year. Apart from the aforementioned Pirates, who are never easy to play in Greenville, South Florida was perhaps the unsung surprise of the Big East last year, going 9-4 last year with road wins over West Virginia and UNC. And of course the Steve Spurrier-Butch Davis matchup will be a classic. I think Davis is able to rehabilitate the Tar Heels fairly quickly and they navigate their way to a 3-1 record in this challenging slate, with the loss coming to a surprising ECU team.
5. Georgia Tech
@Notre Dame (9/1), Samford (9/8), Army (10/20), Georgia (11/24)
Notre Dame loses a lot this year, and I expect the Yellow Jackets to avenge last year's loss with a victory in South Bend. The big question mark is Georgia--Tech has dropped 5 in a row to the hated Bulldogs. The Jackets don't graduate many starters, but one of the guys they do lose, new Detroit Lion Calvin Johnson, is a big one (of course, the loss of QB Reggie Ball could be a case of addition by subtraction). Will this be the year they finally turn it around against a Georgia team that was talented but wildly inconsistent last year??
Villanova (9/1), Florida International (9/8), West Virginia (9/13), @Rutgers (9/29)
Maryland will benefit greatly from the opportunity to open against a pair of cupcakes, as they'll need to be clicking on all cylinders by the time the Mountaineers come to town. If new QB Jordan Steffy is even solid he should have no problem airing it out to stud wideout Darius Howard-Bey and lighting up the woeful WVU defense, but I'm even more skeptical about the Terripans' ability to stop West Virginia's dynamic attack. I'm calling this one for the Mountaineers right now, but reserve the right to change my pick if Steffy (or Josh Portis) can step it up. I do think Maryland will have better luck against a more traditional Rutgers team.
7. Wake Forest
Nebraska (9/8), Army (9/15), @Navy (10/20), @Vanderbilt (11/24)
Repeating last year's miracle campaign will be no easy task for Jim Grobe's crew, which faces two tough tests right off the bat; after opening up the season here in Chestnut Hill, they then head home to face a Nebraska squad that has steadily improved over the last 2 years under Bill Callahan. Of particular interest will be the matchup in Annapolis between probably the two best misdirection offense coaches in the game today, Grobe and Navy's Paul Johnson. Unfortunately for Wake, they won't be able to sneak up on anyone this year; but they're a good team nonetheless and they'll get their wins.
UConn (9/1), @Northwestern (9/15), @Navy (9/22), @Notre Dame (11/17)
The season-opener against the Huskies is a golden opportunity for Duke to get their first win since September 2005, and first against a D1A opponent since November 2004. I think they'll capitalize; but as for the other three games, forget about it.
9. NC State
Central Florida (9/1), Wofford (9/15), Louisville (9/29), @East Carolina (10/20)
This is one place where a BC fan might have more luck predicting NC State's outcomes than a Wolfpack fan would. When Tom O'Brien is in town, WTF losses are sure to follow; and Central Florida just reeks of "WTF game" to me. O'Brien will be too focused on BC the following week and won't have his team ready to go, they'll take the Golden Knights lightly, and NC State fans will for the first time realize that we might've been on to something for the last couple of years. Remember that TOB opened his tenure at BC by losing to Temple; so a loss to UCF is far from out of the question. Meanwhile, Louisville is a legitimate top 10 team; East Carolina is tough, but I do think the 'Pack will put them away.
Army (9/22), UMass (9/29), Bowling Green (10/6), @Notre Dame (10/13)
A bit of an odd schedule, as BC opens up with 3 straight conference games before knocking out all 4 OOC matchups in a row. While Bowling Green is not a team that should be taken lightly (particularly given who we play the following week), everyone knows that the big red circle is drawn around the following week, when the only Catholic schools in D1A resume playing after a 2-year hiatus. At risk of being hubristic, I don't think this will be the close, thrilling contest we've gotten used to in the BC-Notre Dame series. Notre Dame is losing a ton of talent to graduation; while they are a well-coached team, they're simply going to be too inexperienced next year to be a threat to the tougher teams on their schedule, and that includes one of the most talented BC teams in history. If Charlie Weis can win 8 games with the team he has next year, it will have been the best coaching job he's done to date in South Bend. Nonetheless, next year is not a good year for the Domers to resume this series (unfortunately, the situation looks to be reversed in 2008, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it).
@Wyoming (9/1), Pitt (9/29), @Middle Tennessee State (10/6), UConn (10/13)
Possibly the most bizarre OOC slate ever scheduled by a decent BCS program. Who the hell plays at Wyoming and Middle Tennessee State?? In any event, despite the bizarre scheduling, the only real threat here is Pitt; and I don't expect the Panthers to amount to much next year without Tyler Palko.
Louisiana-Monroe (9/8), Furman (9/15), Central Michigan (10/20), @South Carolina (11/24)
Central Michigan was a very good team last year, as BC found out, but graduated most of their best players along with their coach; Clemson should be able to take care of them. While I think this will be somewhat of a down year for the Tigers, I think they'll get their revenge on Spurrier in Columbia.
Projected ACC records vs. Conferences:
Sun Belt - 4-0
MAC - 3-0
MWC - 1-0
Independents - 6-2
Big East - 5-2
SEC - 5-2
Conference USA - 4-2
Big 12 - 2-2
Big Ten - 0-1
(D1AA - 7-0)
30-11 vs. D1A
15-7 vs. BCS/Notre Dame
Post your thoughts in the comments section.