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The New Look ACC

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The ACC has a rich tradition of men's basketball, while the football conference has long lagged a distant second. Enter John Swofford, who has lobbied long and hard to change that. The determined commissioner finally got the job done and will see the fruits of his labor in 2004.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has learned to adapt over the years and got its first, much-needed shot in the arm in terms of football legitimacy in 1992, when Florida State joined the conference. Regarded as a gridiron powerhouse, FSU has ruled the roost in the ACC ever since, capturing 11 of the possible 12 conference titles along the way. With the winningest coach in Division IA history (Bobby Bowden), it has been Florida State followed by everyone else for the last decade or so. Teams like Maryland, Georgia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina, NC State and Virginia have had their 15 minutes of ACC fame along the way, but for the most part it has been all Florida State.

ACC Logo
It hasn't been a total negative for the rest of the teams in the league, as they have all been made stronger by butting heads with the Seminoles year-in and year-out. In fact, the ACC is the only conference in the country which has posted a winning bowl record in each of the past three seasons, including a banner 2003 campaign that saw the conference go 5-1 in the postseason. Ironically, it was Florida State which posted the only loss in a bowl game last year, dropping a two-point decision to Miami-Florida in a defensive struggle in the Orange Bowl (16-14). NC State (Tangerine Bowl), Virginia (Continental Tire Bowl), Maryland (Gator Bowl), Clemson (Peach Bowl) and Georgia Tech (Humanitarian Bowl) all recorded victories. The conference has posted a 13-6 bowl mark over the last three seasons and its .684 winning percentage during that time is the best among all BCS conferences. Further evidence of this conference's toughness across the board is that the ACC is the winningest bowl conference in NCAA history, with a record of 97-83-5 all- time in postseason tilts (.538 winning percentage).

Sure, FSU has treated the ACC like its own private playground since joining the league, as Bobby Bowden's Seminoles have played the role of "bully" to a tee. However, they are going to have to make some room in the sandbox for a couple of other programs that like to kick sand on others.

The ACC landscape will take on a much different look in 2004. Move over Florida State, because a couple of heavy hitters have been brought in the fold this year in the form of Miami and Virginia Tech. Boston College will also make the move to the ACC, providing further depth in the near future. However, expect the Hurricanes and Hokies to vie for the conference crown from day-one. FSU is probably the third-best team in the conference entering 2004, a thought that has to have Commissioner Swofford grinning from ear-to-ear.

The Hurricanes have played in two of the last three national title games and bring an impeccable resume with them, highlighted by five national championships (1983, 1987, 1989, 1991, 2001). The team had a record six players taken in the first round of this year's NFL Draft, a testament to the kind of program that Larry Coker has in Coral Gables. While the NFL took advantage of Miami's bounty, y9ou shouldn't shed a tear for the 'Canes, as few teams in America have the kind of depth that the 'Canes have. Miami doesn't rebuild, it just re-tools. It will simply be yet another assembly-line season in 2004, where superstars are replaced by other talented youngsters for the most part.

The Big East exodus continues this season with Virginia Tech accepting an invite to move over as well. Frank Beamer has transformed Blacksburg into a football mecca, as the Hokies seem to always find themselves around the top of the rankings. The one glaring weakness for Tech has been its strength of schedule, or lack thereof. That surely won't be the case any longer. Having to face Miami, Florida State (not this season), NC State, Georgia Tech, Clemson (not this year), Virginia and Wake Forest on a regular basis will surely erase any doubts about the Hokies' schedule.

"Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." I'm sure Frank Beamer will drill this notion home to his team. This year, the Hokies' non-conference schedule has its typical tuneup in Florida A&M (October 16th), but the schedule opens up with defending national champion USC in the BCA Classic (August 28th). It certainly doesn't get any tougher than that.

Getting through a Big Ten, SEC or Big 12 schedule unscathed is definitely hard to do. To have the same notion associated with the ACC was something that Swofford and the ACC aspired to.

Running the table in the ACC has been a common occurrence for Florida State over the years, but starting in 2004, it looks to be nearly impossible to achieve.

With the kind of gridiron excellence that Miami and Virginia Tech add to the mix, the ACC title will not only be harder to obtain, but will be held in a much higher regard.

ACC football will be a thing to behold in 2004, and not just in Tallahassee anymore.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Haynes
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