Strength of schedule has become more important than ever before in college football. With the College Football Playoff Selection Committee choosing four teams to compete for the national title every season, it's not just important to win as many games as possible, you want to beat the best teams to help boost your resume.
This is why we've seen Power Five teams scheduling more Power Five opponents in nonconference play over recent seasons. Some conferences, like the Big Ten, have even adopted policies stating that they don't want their schools scheduling any more games against FCS school. And then there are conferences like the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 that have moved to nine-game conference schedules rather than the traditional eight.
And they've done all of this in an effort to improve their strength of schedule in order to help ensure that their best teams have strong resumes worth considering for the CFP at the end of the season.
With all of this in mind, I wanted to figure out which teams were playing the toughest schedules in 2017 before the season even started. I went through each Power Five team's 2017 schedule and rated teams based upon how they've performed in my own personal rankings -- the same mathematical rankings I use to compile the Fornelli 50 and Bottom 25 -- over the last three years. This gave me a baseline, which I then tinkered with a bit.
It's one thing to play Alabama, but are you playing them in Tuscaloosa? At a neutral site? Are you coming off a bye?
These are all variables I considered and weighted. Road games are always more difficult, and having to play a team without having a Saturday off for the last month can wear on your team as well.
As no formula is perfect -- teams always surprise you, whether it's by exceeding expectations or failing to meet them -- I averaged each teams' individual ranking based on the last three years rather than just last season. This should give us a good idea of what to expect each team will be facing in the 2017 season. Here's how things break down for the ACC in 2017, from most to least difficult.
ACC Strength of Schedule Rankings
|Syracuse doesn't just have the most difficult schedule in the ACC but one of the most difficult schedules in the country. A fact made all the more remarkable considering the Orange open the season against Central Connecticut. Middle Tennessee and Central Michigan don't strike fear in the hearts of many, either, so where do things get difficult? Well, consider this: Cuse will play road games against LSU, Miami, Florida State and Louisville this season. There's also a home game against Clemson and another one with Pitt thrown in there.|
|Duke opens with North Carolina Central, and I assure you it gets more difficult from there. The rest of the nonconference includes Northwestern, Baylor and a road game against Army. In ACC play, the Blue Devils draw Florida State and Wake from the Atlantic Division while having to go on the road to play both North Carolina and Virginia Tech. The biggest problem is a September that sees Duke play Northwestern, Baylor, North Carolina and Miami without a week off and Miami on a short week. Then after a "breather" against Virginia on the road, it returns home for Florida State and Pitt before heading to Blacksburg for the Hokies. It's a tough stretch.|
|Boston College is helped by the fact it's one of only two ACC teams without an FCS opponent on the schedule. The nonconference is buoyed by Notre Dame, while games against Northern Illinois, Central Michigan and UConn provide something of a challenge, if not one that's too great. The real problems stem from the fact that while BC will have to play Clemson, Florida State and Louisville every season, this year it plays both the Tigers and Cardinals on the road. It also gets Virginia Tech from the Coastal, though at least that game will be at home.|
|As is typically the case, Georgia Tech has one of the more difficult nonconference schedules in the ACC, though this year it's not just due to the annual season finale against Georgia. No, this year the Jackets are dipping into the SEC twice as they'll open the season with a "neutral site" game against Tennessee in Atlanta. As if those two games won't be difficult enough, Tech will also head to Death Valley to face Clemson in late October. The good news is that Virginia Tech, Pitt and North Carolina all must come to Atlanta.|
|I was surprised by this ranking myself. How does a team that has to play Alabama, Louisville, Clemson and Florida this season finish ranked in the middle of the ACC? Well, of those four huge games, only one is an official road game (Clemson). Also, they're all spaced out pretty nicely. There's only a week between Clemson and Florida, but it's spent against Delaware State, and I don't imagine it proving to be much of a challenge. All in all, it's hard to imagine a schedule with this many marquee games being set up any better for success.|
|Wake's schedule is held up by its division more than anything else. The nonconference slate features road games against both Notre Dame and Appalachian State, but it also includes Utah State and Presbyterian. The killer portion of the schedule is the start of ACC play. In a six-week span from the end of September to early November, the Demon Deacons will play five games against Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville and the previously mentioned Notre Dame game. The landing is soft in late November, but this could be a banged up Wake team by then.|
|The Hokies will certainly have a couple of chances to make a statement early in the season. They open the year against West Virginia in Washington D.C. and finish September with a game against Clemson in Blacksburg. Things are relatively easy in between those two games, though, as the Hokies will take on Delaware, East Carolina and Old Dominion. The rest of the ACC slate sets up nicely too, as Virginia Tech will also be welcoming North Carolina and Pitt to Blacksburg. The toughest road trip on the schedule appears to be Miami in early November.|
|The first month of the season provides Virginia with a couple of reasonable challenges, as it will host Indiana in the second week of the season and then finish September with a road trip to Boise State. Then, after a bye, the ACC schedule kicks off with Duke in Charlottesville. The real difficulties begin after that as the Cavaliers have road games against North Carolina, Pitt, Louisville and Miami this year. At least the season finale against Virginia Tech is at home?|
|Clemson will not have a lot of time to celebrate its national title, as it will play five games in September, including games against Auburn, Louisville and Virginia Tech. Of those three, only Auburn will be at home. The good news for Clemson is that if it can get through that gauntlet to start the year, things soften considerably. Florida State comes to town in mid-November, and of course, there's South Carolina at the end of the year, but everything else is manageable.|
|The Tar Heels should be happy with the fact that they avoid both Clemson and Florida State this season, even if they do get Louisville. At least that game will be in Chapel Hill, as will the season opener against a California team that will have to travel across the entire country. The rest of the nonconference slate includes Notre Dame, Western Carolina and Old Dominion, but only that last game comes on the road. The toughest tests later in the season will be road games against both Virginia Tech and Pitt.|
|NC State's schedule is brought down by the fact that its nonconference schedule features games against Furman, South Carolina, Marshall and Notre Dame. Those latter three teams are all coming off seasons that they'd consider to be disappointments, which brought their standing down a bit in the ratings. Had NC State played this same schedule last year, it would likely be at the top of the list because it still includes games against Florida State, Pitt, Louisville, Clemson and North Carolina, too.|
|Pitt's nonconference schedule is pretty stout as the Panthers have to face both Penn State and Oklahoma State. The problem is that games against Youngstown State and Rice offsets those a bit, and in conference play, the Panthers have a manageable road slate. They'll leave Pittsburgh to play Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Duke and Virginia Tech. Only that Tech game seems like a steep mountain to climb. Also, the Panthers avoid Clemson, Florida State and Louisville from the Atlantic, instead getting Syracuse and NC State.|
|Miami's nonconference schedule sunk it in these rankings. It includes home games against Notre Dame, Bethune-Cookman and Toledo as well as a road trip against Arkansas State. Things get a bit more difficult in conference play as the ACC slate begins with a road game against Florida State, and will also have the Canes traveling to take on North Carolina and Pitt this season. They do get the Hokies at home though.|
|According to my numbers, Louisville doesn't just have the easiest schedule in the ACC this year, but it has the easiest schedule of any team in the Power Five. How does that happen to a team that has to play both Florida State and Clemson? Well, a nonconference schedule featuring Kentucky, Purdue, Kent State and Murray State doesn't do much to help strength-wise. Nor does drawing Virginia as one of its two games against Coastal opponents this season. Also, the road slate has one major challenge with Florida State, but the rest of it (North Carolina, NC State, Wake Forest and Kentucky) shouldn't be too difficult.|