2019 ACC strength of schedule rankings: Clemson gets easier slate, Florida State faces tough road

Scheduling matters more than ever before in the College Football Playoff era. As we've seen in the history of the CFP, it's one of the most significant factors in deciding who gets a shot to play for a national title and who does not. It's not just whether you win your conference, but who you play along the way. It's also proven that it's not just about who you have beaten, but who you lost to during the regular season. We've already seen numerous examples of teams missing out on the playoff not just because of who they lost to, but which teams they never gave themselves a chance to beat.

So it only makes sense that we try to get an idea of which teams will play the more demanding schedules before the season even begins, and that's precisely what we've done. Now, it isn't a perfect process, but it's one I think gives us a good idea of what to expect. I'll explain.

Methodology: Essentially, what I do is look at which teams each program is playing and how strong those teams have performed in my ranking system in past years. The history of a program is a better indicator of its future success than just about anything, though I did make a change this season.

In previous years, I ranked programs based on how they fared the last five seasons. This year, I've changed it to the last three seasons. Yes, the sample size is smaller, but what I noticed is that it's typically the same teams performing well over the last three as it was the previous five. By changing it to three, it shows a bit more accuracy for the upcoming season. For example, playing UCF last season wasn't worth as much as it probably should have been when considering UCF's previous five seasons. Now, considering only the last three, UCF is much stronger. On the flip side, there's a program like Oregon, which is the No. 27 team overall over the previous five seasons but is only No. 47 in the last three. Considering the Ducks haven't finished any of the previous three seasons ranked in the AP Top 25, that No. 47 ranking better reflects their overall strength at present than the previous five seasons ranking.

Finally, I consider other factors such as where the game is played as well as when it's played. For example, if you're playing Boston College on the road and it's your fifth game in five weeks, that's more difficult than if you were playing Boston College on the road following a bye. The same can be said if your opponent is coming off a bye while you've played a month straight. There's also the issue of playing on a short week.

I then crunch all the numbers, and in the end, I get something that gives us all a good idea of which teams are most likely to face the most difficult schedules in 2019.

Without further ado, here are your 2019 ACC strength of schedule rankings.

2019 ACC Strength of Schedule Rankings
1
Last season, the Tar Heels ranked as having the easiest schedule in the ACC, and they've turned things on their head in 2019. The Heels find themselves in an odd position, as they'll be playing Wake Forest this season in a nonconference game. That gives them a noncon slate of South Carolina, at Wake, Appalachian State and Mercer later in the season. They also draw Clemson from the Atlantic, and while they play the Tigers at home, it's their fifth game in five weeks. In fact, UNC's first bye isn't until Oct. 12.
2
The Yellow Jackets will open the season on the road against Clemson. Welcome to the ACC, Geoff Collins. The noncon includes a road trip to Collins' old school, Temple, and home games against The Citadel and the annual meeting with Georgia. The good news for the Jackets is that four of their final five games will be at home, but they'll also be playing those five games consecutively as their second bye is on Oct. 26.
3
Scott Satterfield's first season at Louisville shouldn't be easy. The Cardinals get Eastern Kentucky and are also playing Western Kentucky in Nashville. Why two Kentucky schools are playing in Nashville is anybody's guess, but the rest of the noncon includes the season-opener at home against a Notre Dame team that reached the playoff last season and the regular-season finale on the road against a Kentucky team that won 10 games last year. Also, while the Cards get Clemson in Louisville this season, they have to hit the road for Florida State, Miami and NC State.
4
While the Noles finish fourth here, there's a decent-sized gap between their schedule and Louisville's. The noncon has what should be a couple of cupcakes in UL-Monroe and Alabama State, but that's balanced out with an opener against Boise State in Jacksonville as well as the annual tilt with the Gators, with this year's meeting taking place in Gainesville. In other bad news, the Noles will hit the road to face Clemson this season, but at least they'll be doing so off a bye.
5
Duke will play two teams that were in the playoff last season, and neither is Clemson. It opens the season with Alabama in Atlanta, and also get Notre Dame at home in early November. So how does a team with those two games finish this low? Well, the Blue Devils will play both North Carolina A&T and Middle Tennessee to round out nonconference play, and they avoid Clemson, Florida State, NC State and Louisville from the Atlantic.
6
Pitt's nonconference schedule features two challenging games at Penn State and home against UCF, and a home game against Ohio that could prove tricky. Still, like Duke, the Panthers avoid Clemson, Florida State and NC State from the Atlantic, which hurts their overall score. Nor do they get Notre Dame like so many of their ACC counterparts.
7
Three of Boston College's nonconference games are against Power Five opponents. One of them is in South Bend against Notre Dame, but the other two are against Kansas and Rutgers. That drags its score down quite a bit, and a game against Richmond doesn't help much, either. However, a four-week stretch that sees the Eagles playing NC State, at Clemson, at Syracuse and then home against Florida State won't be much fun.
8
The Orange have a pretty weak noncon in relation to their ACC counterparts. They'll open the season with two road games against Liberty and Maryland, and then after playing Clemson at home (on homecoming!), they face Western Michigan and Holy Cross. The rest of ACC play won't be straightforward, as they'll have to play NC State, Florida State, Duke and Louisville all on the road.
9
Like North Carolina, the Deacons play nine ACC opponents this season, even if only eight are conference games. They also play Clemson, like the Tar Heels. The difference is that while UNC plays Appalachian State and South Carolina, Wake will be playing Utah State, Rice and Elon. Still, even with that, the Deacs finish the season with a tough five-week slate against NC State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Duke and Syracuse. Only NC State and Duke will come to Winston-Salem.
10
Clemson faces a problem a lot of highly-rated teams face: they don't get to play themselves. That hurts their overall SOS. So even if Clemson does play Texas A&M in nonconference, not having themselves on their schedule means it's more difficult to overcome games against Charlotte and Wofford. Still, they do have to play both NC State and South Carolina on the road this year.
11
The Cavs will play Notre Dame on the road, but the rest of the nonconference is pretty weak. It's William & Mary, Old Dominion and Liberty. They also avoid Clemson, but do draw Florida State and Louisville from the Atlantic. They'll also be playing Miami on the road, but will be coming off a bye.
12
Playing at West Virginia is a difficult nonconference game, but when so many of your conference mates are playing Notre Dame, Alabama and Georgia, just to name a few, it doesn't make a huge impact. When the rest of your noncon is East Carolina, Western Carolina, and Ball State, that doesn't help much, either.
13
Miami's season opener against Florida in Orlando could prove to be its most difficult game of the season. After that, the rest of the noncon is Bethune-Cookman, Central Michigan and FIU. Also, the road schedule is more favorable, as FSU will be the most challenging road test, and the Canes do avoid Clemson. Overall, it's not an easy schedule, but it's one of the easier slates in the ACC.
14
Who is excited about a nonconference schedule that includes Old Dominion, Furman and Rhode Island? Yeah, me neither. Two FCS opponents drag this schedule down quite a bit, but the Hokies do have to play Miami, Notre Dame and Virginia all on the road this season. Of course, they also avoid all the top teams from the Atlantic, too.
CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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