The A.C.C. has already announced that it will move to a nine-game conference schedule in 2014, when Pittsburgh and Syracuse were originally pegged to join the league. That may change, however, if the Panthers and Orange are able to extricate themselves from the Big East one year ahead of schedule, as most expect. This leaves the league’s current members with a bit of a scheduling predicament: Active members of the A.C.C. have already planned on dropping one game off their non-conference slate beginning in 2014, but need to have preliminary plans in place for 2013 in case the two programs do make an early move over from the Big East.
Take Clemson, for example. A few years ago, the Tigers agreed to a contract with Georgia for a home-and-home series in 2013 and 2014. Adding the Bulldogs gave Clemson a complete, four-game non-conference schedule for each of those years; the agreement also solidified Georgia’s non-conference docket over the same span.
With Georgia in the fold, Clemson was due to play the Bulldogs, Kent State, The Citadel and South Carolina in 2013. A year later, it was due to be Georgia — on the road — Coastal Carolina, Central Michigan and the Gamecocks. Even with those two easy wins on the schedule, playing two SEC frontrunners during non-conference play is a tall order for any A.C.C. team.
Hence the idea that Clemson was going to eat a $500,000 buyout and drop Georgia off its schedule. That move made the most sense: Clemson can’t drop the Gamecocks, and playing Georgia, U.S.C. and a MAC or F.C.S. opponent outside of the A.C.C. didn’t seem good for the Tigers’ bottom line.
Nevertheless, and as you can see above, Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips confirmed that the Tigers will play Georgia in both 2013 and 2014. As per the original agreement, the Bulldogs are scheduled to come to Clemson in 2013 before playing host the following year. Both games are scheduled for late August.
What does this mean for Clemson? Here’s the most important factor to consider: At the very least, the Tigers’ three-game non-conference schedule in 2014 will feature a pair of teams from the SEC. In all likelihood, the Tigers will also play three non-conference games in 2013; again, the Bulldogs and Gamecocks would be two of those three opponents.
On the bright side, such a non-conference slate does provide Clemson with an outstanding opportunity to make national noise. Wins in both games would be Clemson’s platform for an at-large B.C.S. bid — or playoff bid, if we’re at that point in 2014 — should it not win the A.C.C. outright. On the other hand, a 1-2 mark outside the A.C.C. might mean the difference between 9-3 and 7-5.
Clemson’s next move still involves a buyout, just one with a slightly smaller price tag. In 2013, the Tigers can either buy out Kent State or The Citadel; I’d wager that the Golden Flashes are the more likely of the two to get paid to walk away. In 2014, the options are either Coastal Carolina or Central Michigan.
One other factor to consider involves the actual location of the game itself. While the original agreement called for a home-and-home, would Georgia and Clemson be tempted to take part in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in either 2013 or 2014? While the Classic has pairing already in place for each year — Alabama-Virginia Tech in 2013, Mississippi-Boise State in 2014 — it does have two games this year, so that’s not an impediment.
But for the series to have some balance, both games would need to be played in the Georgia Dome; even then, Clemson might balk at playing games in the Bulldogs’ backyard. It remains an option, however, though there’d need be a good amount of back-and-forth between both parties before they’d amend the original agreement.