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Ranking the ACC football schedules from ‘easy’ to ‘brutal’

With a new schedule release for the ACC comes a new opportunity to break down schedule strength and a host of other elements. We have previously discussed which schedules became more or less difficult compared to the original slate and which new games stand out as the league’s best. We’ve also looked at the new updated championship odds and given our big takeaways from the new slate.

But what about pure schedule strength within the conference? Schedules don’t usually win a team a championship, but they can absolutely rob a team of an opportunity to win a title.

To that end, I broke down each team’s schedule strength into five categories: Easy, Light, Average, Challenging, and Brutal.

In order to do this, I used a Vegas-style power rating comprised of some well-known analytics and some tiny adjustments for recent off-season events (transfers, dismissals, injuries) which have not yet been incorporated into the models.

Easy: North Carolina, Duke, NC State

This category was a full standard deviation below the average schedule difficulty. And three teams make it into the Easy designation: North Carolina, Duke, and NC State. Cue the conspiracy theories about the ACC taking care of its triangle teams.

North Carolina’s schedule is by far the easiest according to my numbers. The reasons are rather obvious when looking at the schedule as UNC dodges Clemson, Louisville, and Pitt. Missing by far the best team and also two other top-half programs should set up North Carolina nicely.

NC State also misses Clemson and Louisville. And it also does not have to play Notre Dame! So why is its schedule not as easy as UNC’s? The Wolfpack must play the Tar Heels, while the Tar Heels get to play the Wolfpack.

Duke misses Clemson, Louisville, and Miami.

For North Carolina, this is an enormous opportunity. For NC State and Duke, it might not be as there are plenty of teams on its schedule against which it will be an underdog.

Light: Notre Dame, Clemson, Louisville

This category is more than half of a standard deviation away under average schedule strength. 

Notre Dame does not have to play Miami, NC Virginia Tech, or Virginia, but it does have to play Clemson. And with playing Clemson, it is almost mathematically impossible to end up in the “Easy” category.

Clemson dodges Louisville and North Carolina, which does not seem like that big of a break when compared to the above teams, but the Tigers also do not have to play Clemson, which is a huge factor.

Louisville dodges Clemson, Florida, State, and North Carolina. Many of the computer models are quite down on Louisville, but if the Cardinals can take another step forward after taking a huge one last year, they could make some noise.

Average: Syracuse, Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech misses Notre Dame, but does play Clemson, North Carolina, Miami, Louisville, and Pitt. Syracuse dodges Florida State, Miami, and both Virginia schools, but draws Clemson and Notre Dame.

Challenging: Miami, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Pitt

This category is made up of teams who are at least half of a standard deviation above average schedule strength but not close to a full one.

Not including itself, Miami plays six of the top seven teams, missing only Notre Dame. Georgia Tech dodges North Carolina and the Virginia schools, but does not get the luxury of playing itself.

Virginia dodges Notre Dame and Pitt but also does not get to play Georgia Tech or Syracuse.

And of the projected top seven teams, the only one Pitt does not play is North Carolina

Brutal: Boston College, Florida State, Wake Forest

Then there are three schedules which stand out above the rest: Boston College, Florida State, and Wake Forest. All are a full standard deviation tougher than the average schedule and Wake Forest’s is almost two full standard deviations overt the mean.

Boston College does not play Florida State or Miami, but it also does not get to play itself, Wake Forest, or NC State.

Florida State dodges Virginia Tech and … not much else (Boston College, Syracuse, Wake Forest).

The Seminoles were close to taking the No. 1 spot, but it goes to Wake Forest. Wake Forest has to play the top five or six teams in the league, dodging only Florida State, and it does not get to play Boston College or Georgia Tech. Yikes.

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