As the Atlantic Coast Conference appears poised to adopt a new scheduling model for football, the biggest question looming for Clemson fans is simple: Who will be the Tigers’ three permanent annual rivals?
The short answer? We don’t know, and may not know until the league’s 2023 schedule is announced in January.
“There are a lot of moving parts, not only with Clemson, but with other teams and other rivalries,” Clemson athletics director Graham Neff told The Greenville News. “Do they need to play, do they not need to play? What about regional geography and travel?
“It truly has not been set yet, but there are variations of that and there’s trying to be a decision from the league and the athletic directors on what fits best for the league. So there probably are some variations on what that could look like for a lot of schools, Clemson included.”
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In the meantime, we can muster a few educated guesses.
The leader in the clubhouse for the ACC is a 3-5-5 scheduling model, which would include three permanent opponents and a rotating slate of home-and-home games with five other opponents.
Here are the leading candidates to be the Tigers’ annual rivals:
This one’s a no-brainer. Save for the 2020 COVID-year cancellation, Clemson and Florida State have played every season since the Seminoles joined the league in 1992, producing many memorable games, including the “Bowden Bowl” showdowns between father Bobby and son Tommy from 1997 to 2005.
Clemson and Florida State have been the ACC’s preeminent programs for the past 30 years and have split their past 22 meetings, with those games being decided by an average margin of 1.2 points.
“Certainly Florida State and Clemson is a prominent matchup that makes a lot of sense,” Neff said.
There can’t be an end to the “Textile Bowl,” can there? The Wolfpack’s recent resurgence and last season’s two-overtime win against the Tigers in Raleigh has added more intrigue to an age-old rivalry that dates to 1899.
Clemson and N.C. State have played 89 times since, which is the most games the Tigers have played against any ACC opponent. This season’s game at Clemson should have major implications, both on a regional and national level.
The Yellow Jackets are another longtime rival that seems a natural fit as a permanent opponent. Prior to Clemson’s current seven-game winning streak in the series, the teams split their 32 regular-season meetings since the Yellow Jackets joined the ACC in football in 1983.
There have been plenty of memorable games between the teams, including a stretch of six consecutive games decided by exactly three points between 1996 and 2001.
“Those (N.C. State and Georgia Tech) make a lot of sense and I don’t want to be coy, but by no means are those set or determined,” Neff said. “And there could be arguments made for other matchups, too, in the Carolinas or Louisville.
“There’s just all kinds of different ways that could make sense, competitive balance or otherwise. That may well be where we land, but that’s not determined yet.”
The dissolution of the Atlantic and Coastal divisions in football would help ensure that the two best teams advance to the ACC Championship Game. And the 3-5-5 format will mean that each team will play every other team in the league at least once every two years, which is another benefit that Neff likes.
“That’s the cool thing,” Neff said. “Right now there are schools that we see once every six years and we play home-and-home once every 12 years.
“Under the new plan, we’d play everybody in the league once every two years and play a home-and-home with everybody in the league every four years. From a recruiting standpoint, it’s good to be able to say that within a four-year career you’re going to play every team at least twice and play at least once at every other ACC school’s home stadium. The variety just really works.”