There are plenty of intriguing matchups throughout the ACC in 2014, and there are also a few fluff schedules that should make for some sleepy September lineups. Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich factored in opponent records, home and away games, and level of competition when trying to determine who had the toughest nonconference schedule in the ACC this year -- and who had the weakest.
Here's our lineup, starting with the most difficult (*denotes FCS opponents):
FLORIDA STATE: Oklahoma State (10-3), *The Citadel (5-7), Notre Dame (9-4), Florida (4-8)
Opponents’ 2013 combined winning percentage: 56.0
Toughest opponent: Notre Dame
Weakest opponent: The Citadel
2013 bowl teams: 2
Quick take: This schedule is more difficult than it was a year ago, when the Noles won the national title. Oklahoma State is a neutral site game in Arlington, Texas, but the Cowboys might not even be a preseason Top 25 team, and Florida still has something to prove. Having three games against quality opponents puts this one at the top and none of the other nonconference schedules are as tough. Still, the Noles should go 4-0 against these guys, with a home win over the Irish.
CLEMSON: At Georgia (8-5), *South Carolina State (9-4), Georgia State (0-12), South Carolina (11-2)
Opponents’ 2013 combined winning percentage: 54.9
Toughest opponent: South Carolina
Weakest opponent: Georgia State
Quick take: Playing Georgia and South Carolina again makes this one of the ACC's most difficult nonconference schedules, especially starting the season on the road against Georgia with a new quarterback. And will Clemson fans ever forgive Dabo Swinney if he loses to South Carolina at home, this time for a sixth straight loss against the in-state rivals?
NORTH CAROLINA: *Liberty (8-4), San Diego State (8-5), at East Carolina (10-3), at Notre Dame (9-4)
Opponents’ 2013 combined winning percentage: .686
Weakest opponent: Liberty
2012 bowl teams: 3
Quick take: The Tar Heels have a big challenge ahead of them in nonconference play. Nobody needs to be reminded that East Carolina beat this team in Chapel Hill a year ago; traveling to South Bend is always a difficult proposition and Notre Dame figures to be good once again; and San Diego State finished second in its division in the Mountain West last year. Sweeping nonconference is possible, but is it probable? Going 3-1 is most likely.
VIRGINIA TECH: *William & Mary (7-5), At Ohio State (12-2), East Carolina (10-3), Western Michigan (1-11)
Opponents’ 2013 combined winning percentage: .588
Toughest opponent: Ohio State
Weakest opponent: Western Michigan
Quick take: The Hokies have two difficult nonconference games against Ohio State and East Carolina and a tricky FCS opponent in William & Mary, which has thrown its share of scares into teams over the last four seasons (including an upset of UVa in 2009). They barely survived the Pirates last year, and that game has a tricky placement on the schedule -- the week after the game at Columbus and the week before a big ACC opener against Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech should go 3-1 but a victory over East Carolina cannot be considered automatic.
MIAMI: *Florida A&M (3-9), Arkansas State (8-5), at Nebraska (9-4), Cincinnati (9-4)
Opponents’ 2013 combined winning percentage: .569
Toughest opponent: Nebraska
Weakest opponent: Florida A&M
2013 bowl teams: 3
Quick take: Miami has another daunting nonconference schedule this year. Traveling to Lincoln, Neb., will be difficult, while Arkansas State and Cincinnati have been bowl teams for years now. Arkansas State presents a high-powered spread offense that is always difficult to defend, and new coach Blake Anderson has a familiarity with the Canes from his days as North Carolina offensive coordinator. Cincinnati got blown out in the bowl game, but the Bearcats are not going to be a cakewalk. It would be unrealistic to expect a sweep of all these games. Going 3-1 would be a big win.
VIRGINIA: UCLA (10-3), *Richmond (6-6), at BYU (8-5), Kent State (4-8)
Opponents’ 2013 combined winning percentage: .560
Toughest opponent: UCLA
Weakest opponent: Richmond
Quick take: The Hoos do not have an easy go of it in nonconference play once again. Though we have Richmond as the weakest opponent, the Spiders have played tough against FBS competition. Last year, they nearly upset NC State and back in 2011, they beat Duke. The BYU game is in Provo, Utah, this year and comes the week after playing Louisville. Kent State is not a gimme, either, the Golden Flashes won 11 games in 2012. Still, going 2-2 has to be the worst case scenario here.
SYRACUSE: *Villanova (6-5), At Central Michigan (6-6), Maryland (7-6), Notre Dame (9-4)
Opponents’ 2013 combined winning percentage: 57.1
Weakest opponent: Villanova
Quick take: The matchup against Maryland will be interesting because it will be the Terps' first season in the Big Ten, and Maryland will be looking to avenge last year's home Atlantic Division loss to the Orange. Maryland will be a much better team than last year, though, and Notre Dame should be a Top 25 preseason team. Overall, Cuse fans should expect a 2-2 finish, if not 3-1 with the lone loss to Notre Dame.
BOSTON COLLEGE: At UMass (1-11), USC (10-4), *Maine (10-3), Colorado State (8-6)
Opponents’ 2013 combined winning percentage: 54.7
Toughest opponent: USC
Weakest opponent: UMass
Quick take: This is a tricky schedule, but three of the games are at home. Obviously USC will be a tough task, and Colorado State proved it's no pushover in its bowl game. The Eagles should expect at least a 2-2 finish.
GEORGIA TECH: *Wofford (5-6), at Tulane (7-6), Georgia Southern (7-4), At Georgia (8-5)
Opponents’ 2013 combined winning percentage: .563
Toughest opponent: Georgia
Weakest opponent: Wofford
Quick take: This nonconference schedule is more manageable than it was a year ago, when BYU was on the slate in addition to Georgia. Though Tulane is improved and that game is on the road, the Jackets should be able to go 3-1 at worst against the teams they will face in 2014.
LOUISVILLE: *Murray State (6-6), At FIU (1-11), At Notre Dame (9-4), Kentucky (2-10)
Opponents’ 2013 combined winning percentage: 36.7
Toughest opponent: at Notre Dame
Weakest opponent: FIU
2013 bowl teams: 1
Quick take: This is a schedule Louisville should cruise through, with the exception of the road trip to Notre Dame. Last year, Louisville beat FIU 72-0, and beat Kentucky on the road. It's definitely a good setup for a team trying to break it a new coaching staff and quarterback.
WAKE FOREST: At Louisiana-Monroe (6-6), *Gardner-Webb (7-5), At Utah State (9-5), Army (3-9)
Opponents’ 2013 combined winning percentage: 50.0
Toughest opponent: Utah State
Weakest opponent: Army
Quick take: This is a very kind schedule for first-year coach Dave Clawson, and one that on paper, an ACC program should theoretically bulldoze. Don't forget, though, that the Deacs lost to Louisiana-Monroe last year. Nothing is a given for this team in transition.
PITT: *Delaware (7-5), At FIU (1-11), Iowa (8-5), Akron (5-7)
Opponents’ 2013 combined winning percentage: .429
Toughest opponent: Iowa
Weakest opponent: Delaware
Quick take: The Panthers have a much easier nonconference schedule, now that Notre Dame is no longer on the slate every year. Iowa is a solid team, but that game at home should be very winnable for the Panthers. FIU was abysmal a season ago, while Akron has made some strides under coach Terry Bowden. Still, Pitt has a realistic shot at going unbeaten in nonconference play for the first time since it began playing a conference schedule in 1993.
DUKE: *Elon (2-10), at Troy (6-6), Kansas (3-9), Tulane (7-6)
Opponents’ 2013 combined winning percentage: .367
Toughest opponent: Tulane
Weakest opponent: Elon
Quick take: Duke has one of the easiest nonconference schedules in the league, setting up the Blue Devils to go unbeaten in nonconference play for the second straight year. In fact, you could make the case that the nonconference schedule this year is easier than it was a year ago, even with a power five opponent in Kansas on the slate. Tulane is much improved, but anything other than 4-0 with this schedule would be a disappointment.
NC STATE: Georgia Southern (7-4), Old Dominion (8-4), At South Florida (2-10), *Presbyterian (3-8)
Opponents’ 2013 combined winning percentage: 43.4
Toughest opponent: At South Florida
Weakest opponent: Presbyterian
2013 bowl teams: 0
Quick take: Dave Doeren should be 4-0 heading into the Florida State game on Sept. 27. If a road trip to a 2-10 program is going to be his toughest challenge of the nonconference season, there's no reason the Wolfpack shouldn't exceed last year's win total in the nonconference schedule alone. Rival UNC beat ODU 80-20.