As you might’ve noticed earlier today, we linked to a piece from SB Nation’s Team Speed Kills entitled “How Much Will Schedule Strength Affect Playoff Selection?” — which effectively dissects the merits (or lack thereof) of scheduling tougher in order to get a playoff spot. The impetus for such an article, of course, is the flurry of recent news regarding the number of conference games. When announcing its divisional realignment the other day, the Big Ten upped its conference slate to nine games, while the Pac-12 is actually discussing moving down to eight (from the current nine). Even the SEC, which has been with the ACC in the “remain at eight” boat briefly mentioned a nine-game schedule during its SEC Network press conference today. So with two alternatives seemingly on the table again, what scheduling setup makes the most sense for the ACC if it hopes to place its top team(s) in the four-team College Football Playoff?
To start, the ACC obviously has two disadvantages when it comes to pursuing a nine-game conference schedule. One of these — out-of-conference rivalries — is a shared issue with the SEC. The other, unique to the ACC, is the Notre Dame scheduling agreement. As of 2014, at least four ACC schools will have annual in-state matchups with SEC schools on the books, effectively locking them (Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville) into a ninth game on top of the eight-game conference schedule. The Notre Dame arrangement, which has the Irish playing five ACC games per year, brings that total to 10 for those teams in select years. Those same teams will likely also be at five home games and five road games by that point, making for a less-than-ideal scheduling demand of two guaranteed home dates and little calendar flexibility. If the ACC were to add a ninth game, those teams would be locked into 11 games against major-conference competition, and might also need to take a hit on home games (hosting six total, instead of seven). For schools like FSU and Clemson, it’s a tough financial hit to take, especially without an ACC Network off the ground yet.