After discussions earlier this summer about scraping divisions, the ACC officially announced on Tuesday that they will be doing just that in the near future. Starting in 2023, the Atlantic and Coastal divisions will be disbanded after 17 years. Moving forward after this coming season, the ACC Championship Game will feature the top two teams in the conference based on conference records. The conference joins the Big 12 (top two teams have met in title game since its revival in 2017) and the Pac-12 (will abandon division starting this season) as the power conferences without divisions.
With the scrapping of the divisions, the conference will also navigate from the previous 4-6-2 scheduling model to the 4-3-5, otherwise known as the 3-5-5 model. This format gives the teams three protected rivals that they will play each and every season and will allow the other ten teams to be alternated home and away over a four year span, meaning they will never go more than two years without playing a team in the conference.
The Tar Heels' three yearly opponents are the three that many expected them to be. In-state rivals Duke and NC State never really seemed to be up for debate, but some were questioning whether or not it should have been Wake Forest that filled that final spot. Instead, as it should be, the South’s Oldest Rivalry will continue to live on as Virginia takes that final spot amongst the protected rivalries.
Along with the official announcement, the conference also released the home and away distinctions for the next four seasons. Here is a year-by-year assessment of what the Tar Heels have lying ahead.
2023: A lot of what goes into this is projection moving forward, but this certainly appears to be the toughest conference slate that the Tar Heels will have over the next couple of years. Trips on the road to Clemson, NC State and Pittsburgh will all be tough and Georgia Tech can’t be overlooked after what happened this past year. Getting Duke and Syracuse is a break, as is getting Miami in Chapel Hill. Those trips to what may be the top three teams in the ACC in 2022, though, make this an extremely difficult task.
2024: This one won’t be quite as tough of a task as 2023, but there are certainly some challenges here. Florida State and Virginia Tech have been major thorns in the side of the Tar Heel football program for years and are both on the schedule. Drawing Pittsburgh for a second straight season will also be difficult. The good news is that two of those games will take place in Chapel Hill with the Hokies and Panthers taking trips there and NC State joining them, but Louisville and Virginia could be toss-up games depending on where the programs are at. This is a rather manageable slate for the Tar Heels considering the two seasons that it is sandwiched between.
2025: This slate isn’t nearly as tough as the 2023 one, but this looks like it could be another tough one to navigate. Clemson will make the trip to Chapel Hill this time and the rest of the home slate is winnable, but the road draw is a tough one. NC State is joined by a Miami team who could definitely be seeing the effect of NIL success and Mario Cristobal by then if it pans out and a Wake Forest team who could continue to progress under Dave Clawson. This draw is tough, but having Dabo Swinney’s squad at home and getting Syracuse on the road is what eases the blow just enough to place it as the second toughest slate of the four.
2026: On the surface, this is the easiest of the conference schedules on paper that the team will have. This is without a doubt the easiest road slate of four, with a trip to Lane Stadium being the toughest trip they will likely take. Even the home schedule provides opportunities, especially if Florida State and Louisville were to continue to spin their wheels. Getting both NC State and Wake Forest at home will also be better than the challenge of the previous year where they will have to face both teams on the road. Barring drastic shifts in the powers of the ACC this will likely be the easiest conference schedule that the program will face in a while.