The ACC will once again play one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country in 2014, but that should not be the biggest takeaway from Wednesday.
Difficult out-of-conference slates have become the norm for a league that has stepped it up more than any other power-five conference in the scheduling department. Games against Georgia, Oklahoma State, UCLA, Nebraska, USC and Ohio State in 2014 compare to games played against Penn State, Oregon, Alabama, BYU and Florida in 2013 (Georgia and USC were nonconference opponents last year, too).
What truly stood out with the complete ACC schedule release is what the league is attempting to do with the final weekend of the regular season. An idea tossed around to make it a “rivalry weekend” across the entire league appears to have come to fruition, at least for now.
In addition to longtime rivalry games Florida State-Florida, Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia-Georgia Tech and Virginia-Virginia Tech, the league has scheduled Boston College-Syracuse and Miami-Pitt to close the season for the second year in a row, and has added NC State-North Carolina, Wake Forest-Duke and Louisville-Kentucky to the mix.
One more highlight: Virginia and Virginia Tech will play in Blacksburg, Va., on Thanksgiving Friday for the first time since 1996 to kick off the weekend.
Give the ACC credit for trying to make the final weekend of the regular season even more meaningful. Not only are there now important out-of-conference games against SEC opponents -- always a huge measuring stick for the league -- there are now hugely significant conference games that should draw even more attention to the ACC.
Wake Forest and Duke will play for the 95th time this season; NC State and North Carolina will play for the 104th time, the fourth-most-played series in the ACC. While the argument can be made that bunching these games all together could detract from some of them, the bigger picture must be considered.
The ACC has taken heat for some of its scheduling decisions now that the league has grown to 14 teams and Notre Dame is in the mix for five games a year. Some teams will go years and years between meetings under the current scheduling format (Duke and NC State will not play again until 2020, for example).
Indeed, future conference scheduling will be a hot topic of discussion during the league’s winter meetings next week.
But at least the ACC is taking a step here to showcase its major rivalry games on one weekend. The ACC and SEC asked Louisville and Kentucky to move its rivalry game from the first month of the season to the last weekend for this reason; BC-Syracuse and Miami-Pitt were together in the Big East. We all know how the North Carolina schools feel about one another.
And there is the rub. Rivalries are part of what make college football so special. So many of them have gone away thanks to conference expansion, leaving some fans to wonder whether too much has been lost at the expense of big business.
The ACC should be commended for trying to make something like this work. Yes, Miami and Pitt have bigger rivals inside the ACC, but at least these teams have a history of playing one another. Their matchup here might seem a bit odd, but it works in the big picture. College football could use more rivalries.
More rivalries bunched together on one weekend ratchets up the excitement and interest. What could possibly be wrong with that?