Recently, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced a move to a new 3-3-5 scheduling format. This new format includes three protected rivalry games teams play every year and five other conference games assigned by the conference. In the 14-team ACC, a team will have 10, not annual opponents that they will rotate through; over the course of four years, they will play each team at least once, both home and away.
By shifting to the 3-3-5 scheduling method, the ACC is taking steps better to ensure competitive parity amongst all teams in the conference. In the past, it wasn't unheard of to see some of the top teams in the ACC getting favorable matchups on their schedule. Examples could be getting home-field advantage against better opponents and mostly playing inferior teams on the road. Historically, teams like Clemson have benefitted from this quite a bit, and the scheduling favoritism has mostly been fixed with the introduction of the 3-3-5 scheduling system.
While the competitive parity in the conference has been chiefly solidified, the protected games assigned to each team work in favor of some teams more than others. With that being said, let's look at what teams could be considered winners and losers with their assigned matchups.
If there is a clear winner of the protected matchup assignments, it is undoubtedly Wake Forest. Head coach Dave Clauson's Demon Deacons' protected matchups are Duke, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech. Both Duke and Va Tech have first-year head coaches, and Georgia Tech's coach could be on the way out if he has another bad season. On the other hand, Wake is coming off a year where they finished as the ACC runner-ups. Going into next season, Wake will be a solid favorite against all three of their matchups. Depending on how the rebuild goes at Duke, GT, and Va Tech, these assignments could become more competitive one day, but Wake will likely be at the top of these four schools for the foreseeable future.
The other winner of the protected matchups game is Pitt. Coming off of a year where the Panthers won the ACC championship, Head Coach Pat Narduzzi has to be happy with the teams that Pitt drew. Pitt's three protected matchups are Boston College, Syracuse, and Virginia Tech. While Boston College could be a challenging matchup this year, in general, none of these opponents will present a consistent threat to Pitt's dominance in the coming years.
When Duke's Head Coach Mike Elko saw the Blue Devil's draw, he probably wasn't surprised but likely wasn't satisfied. This is because the Blue Devils drew North Carolina State, University of North Carolina, and Wake Forest as their protected matchups. These three opponents have finished near the top of the ACC in the last couple of years.
All three of these teams have rosters that look competitive within the upper half of the ACC for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, Duke is in the beginning stages of a rebuild that will likely take a while before they are competitive within the conference. At this point, these matchups result in an expected three losses every season.
Florida State, a program that has been down in recent years, didn't get as bad of a draw as Duke. However, their draw will be extremely hard to win in. The Seminoles drew Clemson, Miami, and Syracuse. In recent years, Florida State and Syracuse have been very competitive against each other. On the other hand, Florida State has not been able to break through Clemson since they began their streak of brilliance in the ACC. Miami and Florida State have been competing against each other recently. Still, with the level Miami is now recruiting at under Mario Christobal, it will be hard to stay competitive.
Florida State has not recruited to its full potential in recent years, and while its classes are improving, it is not enough to match up against Miami consistently. Ultimately, until Florida State recruits as they have in the past, they will likely be left behind by their protected matchups in Clemson and Miami.