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What would ACC football schedules look like with ‘power pairings’?

Nate Silver brought this idea along, and it’s not bad.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In early January, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver brought up the idea of how to improve college football scheduling. Specifically, improving it to remove the need for conference championship games, increase rivalry games and of course, remove the awful divisions we’re annually subjected to. This should be a very welcome sight for Syracuse Orange fans in particular, who must suffer through a gauntlet of an ACC Atlantic schedule we could very much do without.

So what would these “power pairings” Silver describes look like for the ACC? (he only breaks them down for the Big Ten) Some advance rules, as Silver spells them out:

  • Teams play rivalry games in weeks 2, 4 and 7.
  • The matchups in weeks 1 and 3 are based on the previous season’s standings.
  • Weeks 5, 6, 8 and 9 are flex or power-paired matchups, where teams are paired against others with similar records that they haven’t played previously and that they aren’t already scheduled to play against in the future.

First off, the rivalries, which the ACC has always sort of struggled to nail down:

Then using the second rule, we add two more opponents for Syracuse based on their 4-8 (2-6) record in 2015:

Florida State (high)

Wake Forest (low)

The other four — in this setup, we’re using a nine-game schedule — would be added as the season went on, accounting for win-loss records and pairing teams accordingly. Early struggles would be rewarded with easier opponents. Success at the onset would mean more tests as the schedule continued to lay out.

There are some obvious logistical flaws here in terms of team and fan travel, and those shouldn’t be discounted — both are integral parts of the college football experience. But the hope is that a more compelling scheduling model may help work to offset those concerns somewhat.

A look at the schedule, keeping in mind that the shaded weeks are locked in beforehand, while the non-shaded weeks are those dictated by the standings. We used the latest S&P+ ratings to determine winners and losers, to make it cut-and-dry.


The standings, as well, for those curious. While S&P+ dictated much of this, real-world results were used wherever possible to make it as true to the actual season as it could be.


Because teams played all other conference opponents in their general area of the standings, there are few if any tiebreakers needed, and no championship game required either. Clemson takes the ACC at 8-1 because of their real-life win over Louisville — though you could argue that their final week loss to Pitt would’ve done more potential damage than their real-life early November loss to the Panthers.

You also see some changes based on how this schedule plays out vs. the real one. Wake’s win over UVA gets picked off, and as a result, they only end up at two on the year. North Carolina and Virginia Tech get killed by easy wins falling off the schedule in return for tougher opponents, too. Playing similar squads gives us a more accurate picture of which teams are actual contenders in the conference, and which are pretenders getting fat on lesser schools.


Again, plenty of logistical issues here, especially for the ACC. Along with aforementioned concerns around travel, there’s bye weeks, the Notre Dame deal and of course, the lost revenue from removing a conference title game. That last reason alone would guarantee this doesn’t happen. Still, it’s something fun to look at as an alternative method to scheduling.