In a horse race, horses are judged by their race time. But to see how well they are doing, horses are timed at quarter-poles. Some horses are quick starters, others are closers. Very few excel at both. Much is the same with the newly-minted ACC football schedule for 2011. Some teams face a difficult 2011 ACC football schedule early on, while others start easy and must finish with a fury.
I took a look at each schedule and did a conservative "minimum season goal" estimate for the regular season. Then I looked at where each team would likely need to be at a certain date to stay on pace for that goal. We'll refer back to this piece in the middle of the season.
FSU | Minimum Season Goal: 9-3 | Benchmark: 5-1 or better after October 15th
FSU has an extremely challenging schedule featuring at least 8 bowl teams, including Oklahoma and Clemson. Through October 15th the 'Noles will have played Louisiana Monroe, Charleston Southern, Oklahoma Sooners, at Clemson, at Wake Forest and at Duke. Obviously the main competition here is Oklahoma and Clemson, and it goes without saying the 'Noles can't afford a slip-up to one of the other teams. If FSU can pull off 5-1 or better through its first 6 games, it can likely win 4 of these next six: Maryland, NC State, at BC (1,000mi road trip on 4-days rest), Miami, UVA, at Florida Gators. That would secure another shot at a 10-win season after a potential ACC Championship Game and a bowl game.
N.C. State Wolfpack | Minimum Season Goal: 9-3 | Benchmark: 7-2 or better after November 5th
NC State has a pathetic, but genius non-conference schedule. Through its first nine games, only three teams made a bowl in the previous year. The 'Pack will probably need to grab 7 wins from this group of nine: Liberty, at Wake Forest, So. Ala, at Cinci, Georgia Tech, Central Michigan, at UVA, at FSU, UNC. If the 'Pack grabs 7 wins through November 5th, it has a good shot to win two of its last three: at BC, Clemson, Maryland to secure a 9-win season.
Clemson Tigers | Minimum Season Goal: 8-4 | Benchmark: 5-2 or better after October 15th
With a new coaching staff, Clemson may be looking for a hot start. They should get it by opening with two cupcakes, but then must play a stretch of five tough games. But if Clemson can win five of these first seven: Troy, Wofford, Auburn, FSU, at VT, BC, at MD, then they stand a great shot of winning three of the final five: UNC, at GT, WF, at NCSu, at USCe. An eight-win season would be a big improvement for Clemson after losing seven games last year.
Maryland Terrapins | Minimum Season Goal: 7-5 | Benchmark: 4-3 or better after October 22nd
Maryland had arguably the worst off-season of any team in all of college football. With some personnel losses and a tougher schedule, they'll likely need to win four of their first seven: Miami, WVU, Temple, Towson, at GT, CU, at FSU just to have a shot at seven wins overall, finishing with: BC, UVA, Notre Dame, at Wake Forest, and at NCSU.
Boston College Eagles | Minimum Season Goal: 6-6 | Benchmark: 4-3 or better after October 1st
The Eagles lose a bunch, but if they can extend their decade-long bowl streak after losing nine starters and an upgrade in schedule difficulty, BC fans will likely be happy. BC has a rocky finish, so winning four of the first seven games is a must: Northwestern, at UCF, Duke, UMass, Wake Forest, at Clemson, at VT. If BC has four wins through October 1st, two wins in these final five is doable: at MD, FSU, NCSU, at ND, at UM.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons | Minimum Season Goal: 3-9 | Benchmark: 2-6 or better after October 29th
Wake is likely to be an underdog against every division-1 team it faces this year. Given that, is pulling two upsets a realistic goal for a 3-9 record? If so, Wake will likely need to win two of its first six games: At Cuse, NCSU, Gardner-Webb, at BC, FSU, VT, at Duke, and at UNC. Gardner-Webb is likely a must, along with another upset. Then can Wake pull one more upset in these final four: Notre Dame, at Clemson, Maryland, Vanderbilt.
Virginia Tech Hokies | Minimum Season Goal: 10-2 | Benchmark: 6-1 or better after October 15th
With the smartest non-conference schedule in college football, the Hokies should easily be able to win 10 games. But to get there, they probably need to win six of the first seven: App St, at ECU, Ark State, at Marsh, CU, UM, at WF. If the Hokies do that, they can probably close with four of these five: BC, at Duke, at GT, UNC, at UVA.
North Carolina Tar Heels | Minimum Season Goal: 9-3 | Benchmark: 6-1 or better after October 15th
Much like the Hokies, UNC probably needs to win six of its first seven to have the type of season UNC should likely have. Those seven: JMU, Rutgers, UVA, at GT, at ECU, Louisville, Miami. Closing with 3 of these 5 is doable: at Clemson, WF, at NCSU, at VT, and DUKE, requiring only one upset.
Miami Hurricanes | Minimum Season Goal: 8-4 | Benchmark: 4-2 or better after October 15th
We'll know a lot about the Miami Hurricanes under new coach Al Golden by October 15th. If Miami is to finish 8-4 or better, they'll probably need to grab four wins in these first six games: at MD, OSU, KSTU, Bethune Cookman, at VT, at UNC. If Miami can get to four, they should be able to reach 8 wins by winning 4 of the remaining six: GT, UVA, Duke, at FSU, at USF, BC. I'd even give Miami an outside shot at nine if they can start 4-2 or better.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets | Minimum Season Goal: 7-5 | Benchmark: 5-2 or better after October 22nd
There doesn't seem to be a lot of optimism in Atlanta these days, with the Jackets seemingly settling in as a consistent, good (but not great) bowl team. 7-5 or better is a reasonable goal, and starting 5-2 or better is a must against these seven: W. Car, at MTSU, Kansas, UNC, at NCSU, MD, at UVA. Tech should be favored in five of those seven, so no upsets are necessary provided the Jackets can avoid the upset themselves. Upsets will likely be necessary, however, in the last five games if Tech is to reach its goal, as the Jackets face: at Miami, Clemson, VT, at Duke, and UGA.
Virginia Cavaliers | Minimum Season Goal: 5-7 | Benchmark: 4-3 or better after October 22nd
Mike London's major rebuilding effort continues in Charlottesville. Many Hoos fans want to make a bowl, but I'm not sure how realistic that is. I do think increasing the win total from four to five is doable if the Cavaliers can start with wins in four of their first seven: W&M, at Indiana, at UNC, So. Miss, Idaho, GT, NCSU. They will probably need to as Virginia will be underdogs in four of its final five games: at MIA, at MD, Duke, at FSU, at VT. Still, if UVA starts 4-3, it doesn't need to pull a huge upset in the final five to finish with a respectable (by Virginia's standards) 5-win season.
Duke Blue Devils | Minimum Season Goal: 3-9 | Benchmark: 2-4 or better after October 15th
Duke won three games last season. This year the schedule gets tougher. A repeat season against a tougher schedule would seem like a minimum for success, to me at least. To do that, Duke will probably need to win two of its first six: Richmond, Stanford, at BC, Tulane, FIU, FSU. That won't be easy, as Duke will be an underdog to everyone but Richmond and Tulane. If the Blue Devils pull it off, look for them to perhaps steal one of these final six games: Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, at UM, at UVA, Georgia Tech, and at UNC.
Do these seem realistic to you?