Strength of schedule used to be a big deal in college football.

Not anymore.

With an expanded Playoff and automatic bids to the 5 highest-ranked conference champions, at least for the time being, this year’s ACC champion won’t have to worry about suffering the same fate as Florida State a year ago.

Just win the conference and you’re in.

But that hasn’t stopped conference teams from once again putting together some of the nation’s most challenging schedules.

The league’s 17 teams – yeah, that still sounds strange – will combine to play 26 games against power conference opponents. Including 11 against the SEC and the standard 5 against Notre Dame. Eleven of those 17 teams will play multiple teams from other power conferences.

In all, there are 34 nonconference dates against opponents that played in bowl games last season.

It makes for a tough task for everyone.

Some more than others.

These are the 5 ACC teams that have given themselves the most difficult nonconference tests:

5. Virginia

  • Richmond
  • Maryland
  • At Coastal Carolina
  • At Notre Dame

As if Tony Elliott’s job wasn’t already tough enough, right? If his Cavaliers are going to improve on the 3 wins they’ve posted in each of his 2 seasons in Charlottesville – and perhaps save his job – they’ll have to do it without any nonconference gimmes.

The challenge begins right out of the gate.

True, a home game against Richmond isn’t nearly as imposing as last year’s opener against Tennessee in Nashville. But it’s a rivalry game. And the Spiders beat the Cavaliers as recently as 2016.

Things only ramp up from there with a renewal of an old ACC rivalry against Maryland in Week 3, followed by a road game at Coastal Carolina that will be anything but a day at Myrtle Beach. And then there’s a trip to South Bend, where no ACC team has won since 2016.

4. Louisville

  • Austin Peay
  • Jacksonville State
  • At Notre Dame
  • At Kentucky

The Cardinals won 10 of their first 11 games, including an upset of Notre Dame, on the way to a spot in the ACC Championship Game in Jeff Brohm’s debut season as coach. Repeating that success despite some significant personnel losses isn’t out of the question. But it won’t be easy.

Their 2 most challenging nonconference tests obviously stand out.

You can bet that Notre Dame will be looking forward to getting another shot at the Cardinals when they come to South Bend on Sept. 28. And then there’s the nightmare that is Louisville’s traditional regular season-ending rivalry with Kentucky. The Wildcats have won 5 straight in the series. And this year’s game is in Lexington.

At least the Cardinals will know what they’re getting into in those 2 games. They’ll have to be much more aware of the competition when they take on Jacksonville State on Sept. 7. The Gamecocks might only be in their 2nd FBS season. But after going 9-3 with a bowl victory in 2023, they’re an incredibly dangerous opponent – especially coming right on the heels of an opener against Austin Peay, the 1 soft touch on Louisville’s schedule,

3. Boston College

  • Duquesne
  • At Missouri
  • Michigan State
  • Western Kentucky

Why did Jeff Hafley leave to take an assistant coaching job with the Green Bay Packers after leading the Eagles to a winning record and bowl victory last year?

Maybe it’s because he took a look at the schedule he would have to face in 2024 and decided to get out while the getting was good.

It starts with a road game at Florida State on Labor Day Monday. Welcome to the ACC, Bill O’Brien. Then comes a more traditional home opener against FCS cupcake Duquesne, a team that lost its 2 FBS guarantee games last season by a combined margin of 122-24.

But then the fun begins. Over the next 3 weeks, O’Brien’s Eagles will travel to Missouri to take on an SEC team that won 11 games and beat Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl, return home to play Michigan State and a deceptively dangerous Western Kentucky team that averaged 31 points per game in winning 8 games, including the Famous Toastery Bowl, last year.

2. Georgia Tech

  • Georgia State
  • VMI
  • Notre Dame
  • At Georgia

The Yellow Jackets’ nonconference schedule is always going to be among the ACC’s toughest simply because of the end-of-season rivalry game against Georgia, which this year takes on added difficulty because it’s between the hedges in Athens.

But the Bulldogs aren’t the only obstacle standing between Tech and continued improvement in Brent Key’s 2nd season on the job. There’s also a home game against Notre Dame on Oct. 19.

The most pivotal game on the Yellow Jackets’ schedule, however, could turn out to be a Week 2 date against Georgia State – a team coming off a bowl victory that like Bowling Green a year ago, could be easily overlooked.

At least they have VMI to look forward to.

1. Clemson

  • Georgia (at Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
  • Appalachian State
  • The Citadel
  • South Carolina

Dabo Swinney and his Tigers won’t have to wait long to find out how good they are this season. Openers don’t get any tougher than playing Georgia in Atlanta at a neutral site that’s neutral in name only. The Bulldogs have won 4 of the past 5 meetings between the premier teams in their respective conferences.

No matter what happens at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Clemson can’t afford to take a deep breath. Its 2nd game is at home against Appalachian State – a program that has been to 8 consecutive bowl games and has a storied history of pulling off improbable upsets.

Fast forward to the end of the schedule where after an obligatory layup against The Citadel, the Tigers close the regular season out in traditional fashion with a Palmetto Bowl showdown against South Carolina – which despite being 1-sided in Clemson’s favor over the past decade is still a rivalry game.

One the Tigers can’t afford to take for granted.