Clemson vs. Florida State: Is That All There Is? Listening to the so-called college football experts would lead you to believe that there are only two team in the ACC. Unfortunately, Florida State and Clemson are both in the same division of the league, so only one will even have a chance of playing in the league championship game. Will the ACC title end up going to the winner of the regular season matchup between the Tigers and the 'Noles? And will that guarantee the victor qualification for the College Football Playoffs? Once again, the experts would have you thinking that there are only a handful of meaningful games in the ACC, and all of them involve the frontrunners in the Atlantic Division.
If it sounds like I'm about to make an argument against the conventional wisdom, you're absolutely on the right track. Do I believe that Clemson and Florida State have the best two teams in the league? Pretty much. Do I think they'll both come through the season unscathed with the exception of their game against each other? Not really. Why, you might ask? Because there is a little matter of scheduling, or more accurately, the discrepancies in the college schedules that can make a huge difference in how teams ultimately finish the season. And in the ACC this year, there is a significant delta between the teams Florida State faces and those that Clemson will play, not to mention other potential contenders, if indeed you can believe there are any of those.
I'll start with the two favorites. The Seminoles play three games against FBS opponents, two of them from the SEC. Clemson plays three games against FBS opponents, two of them from the SEC. The similarities end there. The combined 2015 records of Florida State's FBS opponents is 28 - 12. Those of Clemson's is 14 - 23. That's a very significant difference, plus the fact that FSU plays South Florida, a team that is picked to be better than last year's 8 - 5. Clemson takes on Troy, hardly a team in the same class as the Bulls. Clemson opens at Auburn, while FSU takes on Ole Miss in Orlando. Okay, true road game for the Tigers, a quasi home game, at least in terms of fan support for Florida State. But Ole Miss is probably better than Auburn right now. To go to the other end of the schedule, both teams finish with traditional in-state rivalry games. The difference is that South Carolina is trying to rebuild under new coach Will Muschamp, while Florida is hoping to build on last year's SEC East title.
The conference schedule offers the same kind of advantages in Clemson's favor. The top two teams in the ACC Coastal are projected to be Miami and North Carolina, the defending Coastal champ. Guess which opponents Florida State plays from the other division in the league? In contrast, Clemson plays Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh, projected by one publication to finish fifth and fourth in their division, respectively. When you factor in the non-conference schedules, Clemson clearly has the advantage in scheduling. But there's a team in the same division that could end up taking advantage of a favorable conference schedule, especially if they pull an upset of either of the favorites. Louisville draws Duke and Virginia, two of the bottom feeders in the Coastal. I had picked the Cardinals to fare very well last season, so there's a chance Bobby Petrino can get his team in contention for the title.
In the Coastal division, there's a lot of buzz around Miami, hoping to get re-energized by the hiring of alumnus Mark Richt as head coach. He's hoping to do for the 'Canes what he had trouble doing at Georgia by winning a conference title. New Va. Tech coach Justin Fuentes will be attempting to bring new life to the Hokies offense while allowing long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster to handle the other side of the line of scrimmage. From a scheduling perspective though, the Hokies have a big advantage over not only Miami, but also North Carolina. Va. Tech plays Boston College and Syracuse from the Atlantic Division, neither of which are even close to competing at a high level and picked to bring up the rear in the division. As mentioned before, the other two Coastal contenders take on Florida State. So as you can see, scheduling is likely to play a very big role in who contends for and ultimately wins the ACC title.
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