New ACC scheduling model does away with two-division format

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei fumbles as he is hit by Georgia Tech defenders in the second half Sept. 18 in Clemson, S.C. For better or worse, Georgia Tech will not escape its annual meetings with powerhouse Clemson. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Credit: John Bazemore

Credit: John Bazemore

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei fumbles as he is hit by Georgia Tech defenders in the second half Sept. 18 in Clemson, S.C. For better or worse, Georgia Tech will not escape its annual meetings with powerhouse Clemson. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Seeking a way for its players to compete against every conference opponent home and away in a four-year career, the ACC has done away with its two-division format in favor of a one-division model with each team having three annual opponents. For better or worse, Georgia Tech will not escape its annual meetings with powerhouse Clemson.

The new format, adopted Tuesday by the conference by vote of the league’s athletic directors and faculty athletic representatives, will be used in 2023-26, making this coming season the last for the Atlantic and Coastal divisions. In the new model, aside from the three fixed opponents – Tech’s will be Clemson, Louisville and Wake Forest – teams will play the other 10 teams home and away (once each) over the four-year span.

The new model addresses one of the major complaints about the two-division format after the conference expanded to 14 teams, that teams played inter-divisional opponents (besides the permanent crossover partner) twice over a 12-year span. It also takes care of another bug with the model, that the conference championship game has not always matched the teams with the two best records. In the new model, whose acceptance had been expected since ACC coaches and administrators met at the conference spring meetings on Amelia Island, Fla., in May, the two teams with the best conference records will play for the conference title.

As for Tech’s three primary opponents, Clemson, Louisville and Wake Forest make for an interesting trio. Tech-Clemson has been one of the ACC’s prominent rivalries, a series that dates to 1898 and includes the legendary John Heisman (who coached at Clemson before Tech hired him away following the 1903 season). At 87 games, Tech has played Clemson more than all but three opponents – Georgia, Auburn and Duke.

However, the Tigers’ rise under coach Dabo Swinney has made the series a lopsided affair – Clemson has won the past seven games by an average of 27.1 points. While a rival, and Tech’s closest ACC opponent geographically, it’s doubtful that Tech officials were insistent on keeping the Tigers as a primary partner. At the ACC spring meetings, athletic director Todd Stansbury said one factor that the league should take into consideration was league members that have rivals outside of the conference, as Tech does with Georgia.

By car, Wake Forest is Tech’s third-closest ACC opponent (following Florida State, which was a notable omission). The Demon Deacons have one in-state partner (Duke) and can renew a series with Tech that had been infrequently played since the ACC’s expansion to 14 teams in 2013. Tech last played the Demon Deacons in 2017 and has not played in Winston-Salem, N.C., since 2010. The Jackets will go to Wake’s Truist Field in 2023.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the league spring meetings, ACC senior associate commissioner for football Michael Strickland may have offered a hint of Tech’s circumstances when he said that “you’ve got N.C. State, Wake Forest fans that are there in the driving region (to Atlanta),” he said. “Four, five hours (and) they’ve got tons of alumni that live down there.”

The Demon Deacons, it should also be noted, figure to present a formidable annual challenge. Wake Forest won the Atlantic last season and is 23-13 over the past three seasons.

Louisville does not have a clear rivalry or geographic connection with Tech. The teams may have been linked in part because the Cardinals were lacking obvious partners. Louisville’s two other primary opponents are Miami and Virginia.

Tech had at least three other logical options that went unfilled. Florida State is the second-closest ACC school to Atlanta after Clemson and has had a series of memorable games with the Jackets. However, FSU AD Michael Alford said at the spring meetings that he most valued rivalries with Miami and Clemson and, in reference to Tech and Atlanta, said that he wanted to “expand our brand to different markets, and I also think that’s better for the league.” Florida State’s partners are Clemson, Miami and Syracuse.

Tech and Duke have played every year since 1933, a streak that became the longest active run for Tech when the Jackets and UGA did not play in 2020. However, it does not seem to be valued as an important rivalry in large numbers on either side. Duke’s three partners are its in-state rivals: North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest.

Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech have been Coastal rivals and had a history of division-deciding games during the tenures of coaches Paul Johnson and Frank Beamer. The Hokies’ three-team set is Pitt, Virginia and Wake Forest. Virginia was a must for Virginia Tech, and Pitt is a rival from their previous Big East membership. Virginia Tech is the closest ACC school to Wake Forest (about a two-hour drive) outside of its North Carolina neighbors.

Geography appears to have been a significant driver, as Strickland mentioned in May.

“You’ve got the historical rivalries that are certainly critical, and you’ve got other kinds of geographic matchups that just make a lot of sense that may not have as rich a history or tradition as some other big-time regional or national rivalries but still are kind of obvious that you would want to play more frequently than others,” he said.

Tech will begin the new model in 2023 with home games against Boston College, Louisville, North Carolina and Syracuse and away games against Clemson, Miami, Virginia and Wake Forest. The schedule doesn’t flip cleanly year over year with the non-annual opponents. In 2024, besides their three primary opponents, the Jackets will play again against Syracuse (away), but then also pick up Florida State and Pitt at home and N.C. State and Virginia Tech on the road.

Tech’s league opponents 2023-26

2023: Home – Boston College, Louisville, North Carolina, Syracuse; Away – Clemson, Miami, Virginia, Wake Forest

2024: Home – Clemson, Florida State, Pitt, Wake Forest; Away – Louisville, N.C. State, Syracuse, Virginia Tech

2025: Home – Duke, Louisville, Miami, Virginia; Away – Boston College, Clemson, North Carolina, Wake Forest

2026: Home – Clemson, N.C. State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest; Away – Duke, Florida State, Louisville, Pitt

Primary partners for each ACC team

Boston College: Miami, Pitt, Syracuse

Clemson: Florida State, Georgia Tech, N.C. State

Duke: North Carolina, N.C. State, Wake Forest

Florida State: Clemson, Miami, Syracuse

Georgia Tech: Clemson, Louisville, Wake Forest

Louisville: Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia

Miami: Boston College, Florida State, Louisville

North Carolina: Duke, N.C. State, Virginia

N.C. State: Clemson, Duke, North Carolina

Pitt: Boston College, Syracuse, Virginia Tech

Syracuse: Boston College, Florida State, Pitt

Virginia: Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech: Pitt, Virginia, Wake Forest

Wake Forest: Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech