New ACC football format a hit, with one major miss

The 3-5-5 scheduling model that begins in 2023 will allow league teams to play more often but will force an end to the long-running rivalry between NC State and Wake Forest

NC State Wake Forest Football

CHARLOTTE — The ACC has decided to scrap its divisional format in football for a more equitable scheduling system that will allow schools to play more frequently and ensure that the best two teams meet in the league championship game.

The change will take effect for the 2023 season. As far as NC State coach Dave Doeren is concerned, that’s not soon enough.

“If it would have happened this year, it would have been great. But obviously that’s not realistic,” Doeren said Wednesday at the ACC’s annual Football Kickoff media event. “I’m glad it’s coming.”

The new scheduling model will feature three permanent opponents teams will play each season. The rest of the league schedule will be made up of two five-team rotations that will flip every two years.

This will allow ACC teams to play every other conference opponent both at home and away during a four-year cycle — a drastic departure from the old system in which non-divisional rivals could go as many as seven years without meeting.

State, for example, has played Duke only twice since 2009 with the Wolfpack’s most recent trip to Durham coming nearly a decade ago in 2013.

“I’ve always felt that you should play the teams in your league,” Doreren said. “For us, we’re unique being in the Triangle because one of those teams, Duke, we never play except once every six years. 

“That just doesn’t make sense. That’s not a good experience as a student-athlete when you don’t get to play every team in your league. And I also think having the best two teams play each other for the championship at the end is great. That’s how it ought to be.”

Not all the changes brought about by the new format are so positive, however.

A notable casualty is the series between State and Wake Forest. The in-state schools have played one another every year since 1910, making it the longest continuous rivalry between ACC schools and the third-longest nationally.

But because the Wolfpack’s permanent partners have been designated as North Carolina, Duke and Clemson, that streak will soon be interrupted.

“The 3-5-5 scheduling model has positives with it, but when you gain something you lose something,” Deacons coach Dave Clawson said. “To lose 110-year continuous rivalry is obviously a negative.”

Clawson said he would have an interest in scheduling future nonconference games against State, similar to those his team has played in recent years against soon-to-be-former cross-divisional foe UNC.

But Doeren immediately shot the idea down.

“You never want to see rivalries end, but our schedule is filled out,” Doeren said. “We don’t have any opportunities to add teams to the nonconference spots right now that match them. So that’s not a realistic thing for us.”

Even if it was a possibility, Clawson said that such a matchup might not be the best thing for the ACC given the current landscape of college athletics.

“For the ACC to get traction and get ahead, it’s beneficial for us to play nonconference games against SEC and Big Ten schools,” the Wake coach said. “If you start playing your ACC schedules and a game like that and Notre Dame, then you add a team like NC State and the schedule is getting to be too much.”

Waiting on the Wolfpack

State hasn’t shied away from its expectation to reach the 10-win mark and earn its first appearance in the ACC Championship Game.

It’s a goal that will likely require the Wolfpack to beat perennial power Clemson for the second straight season.

Unlike last year, when State finally got over the hump against the Tigers in overtime at Carter-Finley Stadium, the Wolfpack will have the even more difficult task of winning at Death Valley — something they haven’t done since 2002.

Complicating matters even further is that Clemson is itching to exact some revenge on the Wolfpack for a game offensive tackle Jordan McFadden said he and his teammates “let get away.”

“I’m super excited for that game,” McFadden said of the Oct. 1 showdown. “They’re coming into the Valley with a good team and it will definitely be a dog fight to the end, but it’s definitely a game we’re looking forward to.”

Good and smart

Over the past six seasons, Wake Forest has transformed itself from an ACC bottom feeder to a consistent winning program that goes to bowls every year.

“We went to Wake Forest. We’ve changed the culture,” quarterback Sam Hartman said. “The culture used to be, ‘It’s a great school, you must be smart because you go there,’ but now it’s because you are a good football player who is also pretty smart.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is the perception others have of the Deacons.

They’re rarely picked to finish high in the conference’s preseason rankings. They’re so used to being underdogs that Hartman is hoping they’re overlooked again — despite the return of many key performers on both sides of the ball from last year’s Atlantic Division championship team.

“I hope they rank us 12th or 13th, 14th, 15th,” he said. “That would be nice because that’s where we live.”