During Week 1 of the college football season, Old Dominion upset Virginia Tech, Appalachian State nearly defeated North Carolina, and East Carolina was a field goal away from beating N.C. State. The results sent some ACC fans and media members into a panic, as they made the case that the conference should stop visiting Group of Five teams.
Given the ACC’s standing in the Power Five picture – college football betting odds suggest most teams not named Clemson fall well short of the top teams in the Big Ten and SEC – some argued the ACC should only ever host G5 teams. This way, the ACC would boost its chances of beating G5 teams and improve its national perception.
I loathe that opinion, although I understand why some believe it.
There are varying levels to the FBS, and these levels even exist within conferences. Vanderbilt, an SEC member, plays at Northern Illinois this weekend. Think Alabama or Georgia agree to do that?
Programs that draw massive home crowds – easily selling tens of thousands of tickets every home game – don’t need to schedule road nonconference games. Alabama’s game at Texas was the first time the program played a true road nonconference game since 2011.
Other schools, including many in the ACC, have more financial incentives to play road games. These programs can often agree to 2-for-1 deals with Group of Five teams, playing the G5 team twice at home and once on the road. That’s the case for Virginia, which will host Coastal Carolina in November before traveling to Coastal in 2024. Coastal returns to Charlottesville in 2025.
A 2-for-1 deal gives a program like UVA a chance to host an interesting opponent like Coastal Carolina twice – which could drive ticket sales more than a game against an FCS team would – while also helping UVA avoid “buy games” when possible. Texas A&M for example, paid Appalachian State over $1 million to play in College Station, and the Aggies still lost!
Paying teams to visit every week is possible when you’re Alabama or Texas A&M, but it’s not a winning formula for mid-tier ACC teams struggling to compete with the Big Ten and SEC financially.
While many Power Five fans don’t like to admit it, the top teams in the Group of Five are really good. North Carolina owns a pair of early season road wins over Appalachian State and Georgia State, and both of those teams entered the season expected to make bowl games.
Appalachian State just beat Texas A&M!
Those are quality wins for North Carolina, especially the win at Appalachian State. As the ACC looks to improve its national standing, beating a Group of Five team on the road can actually enhance the perception of its teams.
From a coaching standpoint, it’s worth noting that some Group of Five teams have tremendous home atmospheres. UNC playing in front of 40,000 rowdy fans prepares it for several road ACC environments, as playing at Appalachian State is arguably more intimidating than the team’s upcoming road matchups with Duke and UVA.
Road games against Group of Five teams prepare ACC teams for their conference schedule, and it doesn’t diminish their end-of-season resumes. Instead of avoiding the G5, the ACC and other Power Five leagues like the Big 12 and the Pac-12 should continue to play road games against meaningful regional opponents at the Group of Five level.