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Proposed ACC Football realignment makes life tougher for Virginia

uva football entrance
Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

The ACC is about to do away with its football divisions starting with the 2023 season. Which makes it that much harder for Virginia to get back to the ACC Championship Game and, down the road, a 12-team College Football Playoff.

The move away from divisions is intended to get away from having another 9-3 Virginia (2019) or a 7-5 Pitt (2018) facing, well, Clemson, in Charlotte in December, in favor of having the two teams with the best conference, and it would be assumed, overall records in that game.

This honestly hasn’t been a problem for the ACC for some time now. Back when Florida State was still relevant, yeah, you’d like to have a rematch between a 12-0 Clemson and 11-1 FSU, vice versa, but of late, the best ACC title game outside of the one we can’t have again, the 2020 Clemson-Notre Dame matchup for the ages in our parts, was the 2017 Clemson-Miami clash, which pitted the #1 and #7 teams nationally.

The only time a fringe national title contender was kept out of the game because of the divisional alignment was way back in 2013, when #20 Duke faced #1 Florida State, leaving #6 Clemson on the outside looking in, though, you might remember, we didn’t yet have the College Football Playoff back in 2013.

The 2017 game featured two Top 10 teams, as did the 2015 game (#1 Clemson defeating #8 UNC).

Virginia, in 2019, was ranked 23rd going into its game with #3 Clemson.

Obviously, just the idea that you could get something akin to a repeat of the ’20 game with Clemson and Notre Dame, who both ended up in that year’s playoff, is enticing, and a side benefit of doing away with the divisional alignment is that you can open up scheduling.

The 3-5-5 model that came out of this week’s spring meetings would give each program three opponents that it would face each year, with the other 10 being rotated through every two years.

That itself is good for TV, giving the ACC more chances at matchups like Clemson-Miami, Clemson-UNC, Clemson-Pitt.

You probably notice the trend here. The problem is that the ACC is a one-program football league right now, and for the foreseeable future, so the ACC and its broadcast partner, ESPN, need to figure out a way to extract every ounce of value out of Clemson possible that they can.

The hope is that someone can emerge the way we saw Virginia Tech did there for a few years there in the 2000s, then Florida State did for a while in the early- to mid-2010s.

Miami was brought in to be the yang to Florida State’s yin, and has not yet lived up to those expectations, even flaming out spectacularly down the stretch in that one good year under Mark Richt, that 2017 year.

If you’re Jim Phillips, who I still think of as the new ACC commissioner, though he’s been in that job for (checks notes) 15 months, your best bets to get a second bid in a 12-team CFP are those schools – Virginia Tech, FSU, Miami, maybe North Carolina.

Virginia, eh …

The best bet from the Wahoowa! perspective was, win the Coastal with an 8-4 or 9-3 overall record, upset Clemson in Charlotte, get a bid because the newfangled CFP awards an automatic bid to the conference champ.

The ACC went to an eight-game conference schedule back in 1992. In the 30 seasons with eight ACC games, UVA has gone 7-1 just once, in 1995.

Are we getting into that game again under the new alignment that looks to be all but certain to pass? Probably not.

Story by Chris Graham

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