Today's announcement that the ACC will be moving to a nine-game conference schedule, combined with Syracuse and Pittsburgh's placement in the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions, respectively, is great news for the ACC's football schedule makers. This should help ease some current constraints on the annual ACC schedule.
Here's how I'd like to see the annual ACC schedule set up:
Week 1 -- Non-conference games, including 1-2 matchups with the SEC in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic
Week 2 -- Non-conference games
Week 3 -- Optional non-conference game for programs that play their regular season finale against a conference opponent (e.g. BC, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maryland, N.C. State), start of ACC play for the rest (four games, eight teams)
Weeks 4-12 -- Eight conference games over nine weekends (or ten weekends if there are two bye weeks in that particular year), front-loaded with Atlantic vs. Coastal matchups and back-loaded with intra-divisional matchups
Week 13 -- Non-conference game for programs with season-ending, non-conference rivalry games, intra-divisional matchups for BC, Syracuse, Maryland, N.C. State, North Carolina, Duke, Virginia and Virginia Tech
The schedule for the final weekend of the regular season becomes very straight-forward, and will consist of:
Clemson vs. South Carolina
Florida State vs. Florida
Georgia Tech vs. Georgia
Miami vs. USF
Wake Forest vs. Vanderbilt
Pittsburgh vs. West Virginia
Atlantic: Boston College vs. Syracuse
Atlantic: Maryland vs. N.C. State
Coastal: North Carolina vs. Duke
Coastal: Virginia vs. Virginia Tech
With nearly half the conference playing a non-conference game the final weekend, this increases the chances that both the Atlantic and Coastal division champs will be decided at least a week early, which will help ticket sales for the ACC Championship Game. This also avoids any Atlantic vs. Coastal division matchups during the final weekend of the regular season, which eliminates the disastrous possibility of a ACC Championship Game rematch the following week.
It's a very cut-and-dry scheduling format that conferences like the Big Ten and Pac-12 have used for a few years now -- three or four non-conference games at the start of the season, eight or nine conference games and a non-conference game towards the end of the season to cater for rivalry games.
While this schedule format works well for the ACC, it's not very good news for Notre Dame. The Irish currently play their Big Ten rivals Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue at the beginning of the year, USC and Stanford towards the end, and fill the rest with games against programs traditional rivals like Syracuse, Pittsburgh and BC (and also games against Maryland, Wake Forest and Miami).
But if you ask me, the conference should be primarily focused on maximizing its own television revenue (setting up the conference schedule) before worrying about fitting Notre Dame onto the schedules of BC, Pitt and Syracuse. With other conferences following this blueprint (i.e. the Big Ten and Pac-12), the ACC scheduling in this way just might be the one development that could threaten Irish independence and force them to join either the Big Ten or the ACC.