GREENSBORO, N.C. — The Atlantic Coast Conference announced the 2018 football schedule Wednesday, and once again, it includes arguably the most challenging non-conference competition among the Power 5 conferences.
- ACC teams will play more games (19) against Power 5 competition (including Notre Dame) than any of their peers.
- ACC teams will play more games against non-conference teams (13) ranked in last year’s final Associated Press Top 25 than any other Power 5 conference.
- The ACC has the highest percentage (.232) of games against teams ranked in the final AP poll of any of its peer conferences.
- ACC teams will play 27 games against non-conference opponents that participated in bowl games last season, the highest total among Power 5 conferences.
- ACC teams will play 13 non-conference games against teams in ESPN’s 2018 Way-Too-Early Top 25, which is the most among their peers.
- ACC teams’ non-conference opponents had the highest combined winning percentage (.558) in 2017 of any of the Power 5 leagues.
“The 2018 ACC Football schedule provides our schools and programs the opportunity to build upon the numerous football successes that have been achieved in recent years,” said ACC Commissioner John Swofford. “Once again, our teams will be facing both a daunting conference schedule and what is collectively the most challenging non-conference schedule in the country. There will be no shortage of excitement for fans on a weekly basis.”
ACC teams will play two neutral site games on the opening weekend of the season, including Louisville facing defending national champion Alabama in the Camping World Kickoff in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday, Sept. 1. Miami and LSU will meet in the AdvoCare Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday, Sept. 2.
The ACC’s traditional Labor Day Monday game features Virginia Tech at Florida State.
The ACC will have four games nationally televised by ESPN or ESPN2 on Thursday nights, including Boston College at Wake Forest (Sept. 13), North Carolina at Miami (Sept. 27), Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech (Oct. 25) and Wake Forest at NC State (Nov. 8). The league also has five Friday night games, including Georgia Tech at Louisville (Oct. 5), Miami at Boston College (Oct. 26), Pitt at Virginia (Nov. 2), Louisville at Syracuse (Nov. 9) and Virginia at Virginia Tech (Nov. 23).
The schedule includes five games against Notre Dame, which finished No. 11 in the final 2017 AP Top 25 poll. Wake Forest hosts the Irish on Sept. 22, and Virginia Tech welcomes Notre Dame to Blacksburg on Oct. 6. Pitt (Oct. 13) and Florida State (Nov. 10) travel to South Bend. Syracuse and Notre Dame will meet in Yankee Stadium in The Bronx on Nov. 17.
In all, the schedule includes 56 regular-season conference match-ups over a span of 13 weeks and is capped off with the 14th annual Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game, which will be played on Saturday, Dec. 1, at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.
Q&A With Senior Associate Commissioner Michael Strickland
Senior Associate Commissioner of Football Michael Strickland discusses the construction of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 2018 slate of games and what fans can expect as they look ahead to next fall.
Q. This is the earliest the ACC has released its schedule in more than a decade. When did you begin work on this schedule and how was the conference able to put it together so quickly?
Actually, it is the first time since 2003 that the schedule has been released as early as January 17, and it has been 17 seasons – 2001 – since it was released earlier. I would attribute that to our football institutions and, in particular, the football administrators who are responsible for their non-conference schedules. That group has worked collaboratively and cohesively the last several years to make sure we place our non-conference games in as smart a location as possible to give the ACC the most flexibility to develop the conference schedule.
Our process gets better each season, too. We better understand and anticipate ESPN’s needs, our needs and desires, and we’ve had great dialogue with our football coaches and athletic directors about what they want and need out of the schedule. Knowing those priorities allows us to better and more efficiently attack the project. We were also probably fortunate that this particular season the scheduling stars aligned in terms of the weeks of the requests, our placement of non-conference games, and this season’s game rotation.
Q. What are primary things the schools want and need from the schedule?
Common requests are to have a bye week in the middle of the season, to be away or off during fall break, to have a home game on a particular week to anchor Homecoming or Parents Weekend, or to be away or off a particular week due to a venue conflict. As a group, we have quarterly conference calls and an annual meeting during the summer to foster communication. Collectively, we talk with one another about what is going on in the non-conference scheduling universe. What is important to us is that we have “even” weeks. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where it is week three, and 13 teams have a game and one doesn’t have a game. Obviously, the only solution you’d have then is for them to take their bye week. And it has been made very clear by our coaches and administrators that putting the bye week in the middle of the season – to maximize the break and kind of divide the season into two halves – is very important.
We allow non-conference games in weeks one through four, in the last two weeks of the season, or as approved by the conference. If you look at this year’s schedule, you will see that in week three we have three conference games. It’s not an accident that we ended up with that number of teams that needed a game. We work with all 14 schools to make sure if someone is left open (in the early weeks), someone else is left open (to schedule a conference game). The same with our Notre Dame games. On the weeks one of our schools play Notre Dame, we have worked very hard with our schools to place a second non-conference game there to make sure we stay “even,” giving us more flexibility.
Q. So when a school schedules a non-conference game, is it standard for them to run the proposed date by the conference office?
All of our schools are great about communicating and trying to place games where they help the ACC process and also work for them, so it is a win-win. For example, this season, you have Virginia playing Liberty in week 11. That is a by-product of these types of conversations. That game is at that spot on the schedule because of Florida State playing Notre Dame in week 11. Had we not successfully also scheduled the Virginia-Liberty game in week 11, we would have been in an odd-number situation where someone had to take a bye week then. So kudos to Virginia as an example of putting that game where it is for the good of everyone.
Q. As it is, all of the bye weeks are at – or very close to – the middle of the season. How does this compare to what you have been able to do in previous years?
I think it’s the best we’ve ever had in a one-bye week season. I know that last year we had one in week five, and some had a bye in week ten. This year, we have them all in weeks six, seven or eight. Seven is perfect, and our average this year is 7.2. To have them all in weeks six, seven or eight is probably the strongest element of this year’s schedule. The coaches have been very consistent that they want their byes to be in the range of those three weeks. To be 14-for-14 on that this year is really good.
Q. How do you balance that with the ACC’s television partners and what they might be looking for?
We do our best to accommodate all requests, whether they come from an institution or for exposure purposes. However, many times we just are not able to accommodate a request due to restrictions placed upon us by our scheduling parameters. This year, as with previous years, we were able to accommodate a higher percentage of institutional requests than television requests. Our priorities in terms of television are to give our programs the best possible chance for maximum exposure, and we do that through key Saturdays and the non-Saturday games.
For our Thursday games, we do place restrictions on ourselves to protect the competitive equity of those contests when they are short-rest games. We try to set up the byes so that we can take advantage of them prior to non-Saturday games, but unfortunately this season we do have three Thursday night games where the teams play on short rest. We have very detailed protocol and scheduling parameters that govern what we can and cannot do:
- For Thursday night games, Conference shall make best efforts for both schools to have at least seven (7) days between games prior to a Thursday night game. If both schools do not have such rest, then both schools must have the same amount of rest (e.g. a short week game). For those short week games, Conference shall make best efforts for both teams to be at home the previous week. If this is not possible, the team that is the visitor in the Thursday night short week game shall be at home the week before and the Conference will make best efforts for the team which will be home on the Thursday night short week game to have traveled the previous week.
- Effective as of the 2018 season, no conference team shall play more than one (1) conference game in a given season with their opponent having an uneven bye placement the preceding week.
Q. Do those same parameters apply to Friday night games?
We do not have the same parameters for Friday night games that we have for Thursday night games, although we try to implement a lot of the same philosophies. But Thursday nights are given more special consideration.
Q. In terms of the actual Thursday and Friday matchups, do you feel like you achieved a good balance?
Twelve of our 14 schools are playing in at least one specialty game, so that’s pretty good. I think there have been years when we have had 13 or 14. Certainly, our goal is to try to get everyone involved in non-Saturday games. We see that as a benefit in terms of exposure, and we want everyone to participate in all aspects of the television package.
Q. When it comes to requests from the schools, what are their preferences on the specialty games?
Some of our schools prefer Fridays over Thursdays, so that’s another thing that helps in terms of timeliness in development of the schedule, and how well we understand what each school wants to do in terms of hosting or playing on the road. This year we had 32 institutional requests, and we delivered on 82 percent of those. That was probably our highest conversion percentage ever. Normally we’re in the mid-70s on conversion requests.
Q. In some cases teams play multiple home games on successive weeks or back-to-back road games. What are some of the factors that come into play there?
Quirks in the schedule like that can usually be attributed to some combination of the following: institutional requests, television exposure requests, who is available for them to play in a particular week and the ACC’s scheduling parameters. The job is to put all of that into the mix and come out with the best possible scenario for every team – individually and collectively.
Q. There is a lot for the ACC and its member schools to like, and do you feel your television partners are equally excited about what the 2018 schedule has to offer?
Absolutely. On a number of the dates and matchups, we visit with ESPN and get their mutual approval for those. We also work with them to understand what the key Saturday opportunities are for the ACC nationally, and how we can maximize the scheduling opportunities for our teams and their fans. This fall, I think you will see that the ACC is well-positioned for Saturday night primetime games on ABC/ESPN, and that we have really good depth in that there are a number of weeks in which we have multiple games that will probably be on the national radar.
Q. You have talked before about looking at a large number of (computer) scheduling models and how many it takes to find just the right fit. Did you go through a similar process this year?
It was a similar process but, again, I would say it was more streamlined for some of the reasons we talked about. We did run a total of 403 models, 164 of which were viable options. There were models we ran after the model that was ultimately selected, however, you don’t typically pick the last one; you always try to keep getting better until you realize the one you ran 10 models ago was the best.
Q. It is probably far too early to look ahead to 2019, but when it comes time to develop that schedule, what happens next fall will weigh heavily into that, correct?
A. Sure. One of reasons we develop the schedule annually is that you want the Thursday and Friday matchups to be as compelling as they can be, and you need to know what happened the season immediately prior to make a more informed decision. The 2019 season will coincide with the launch of the ACC Network, and for that reason it will be a very exciting and compelling schedule.
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