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July 20, 2007
ACC football kicks off on Sunday
Practice does not start until August, but the unofficial beginning of the college football season for the Atlantic Coast Conference will be this weekend with the annual Football Kickoff.
This year the event, which brings together the coaches, a couple of players from all 12 teams and sports writers from across the Eastern Seaboard and beyond, will be held in Pinehurst. It moves to various parts of the ACC footprint each year, returning to North Carolina every other year.
In addition to playing some golf, the media will have a chance to interview the coaches and players. By early August the teams will assemble for summer camp and football will get started in earnest.
Carolina fans are obviously be eager to see what first-year head coach Butch Davis and a new staff can do with the Tar Heels, who have not had a winning season since 2001. But for the league in general, the greater question will be what is going to happen with Florida State and Miami.
One of these two schools (if not both) has commonly contended for the national championship since the early 1980s. From 1983 through 2001, the two schools won seven national championships between them. Their dominance is the reason each is now a member of the ACC.
So when the two fell to 7-6 a year ago and Wake Forest became the league champion and Orange Bowl participant, it left fans across the country scratching their heads in wonder at this dramatic turn of events.
Former UNC football player and Carolina director of athletics John Swofford is now the commissioner of the ACC. With his guidance, the league added Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College to expand to 12 teams and create a conference championship game.
In the long run, the conference probably needs for either Miami or Florida State to be dominant most seasons for the conference to have a shot at winning multiple national titles and in hopes of putting more than one team in the Bowl Championship Series and reaping the financial reward that goes with having two teams invited. In football, this situation is similar to what Carolina and Duke have done for the league in basketball through the years.
Nonetheless, Swofford said that he doesn't think the drop-off at FSU and in Miami has hurt the league's hard-earned gain in respect nationally.
"I don't know if it's necessarily done that," Swofford said. "It's unexpected in a sense. Those programs are traditional programs on a national scale. Certainly it was unusual for both of them to be at the .500 level during the regular season in the same year. Those are programs with great history, great tradition, and I would be very surprised if they are not back at a very high level in a very short period of time."
In the long run, Swofford said that he believes Wake Forest's great season will be a positive for the ACC. For one, it should provide every team in the league hope that it can genuinely compete for the title.
This should be particularly true for Carolina fans, given Davis' reputation as a recruiter and a coach.
"Historically, it's a monumental accomplishment for Wake Forest football," said Swofford, who oversaw UNC athletics during the rise to its greatest heights during the 1990s. "It's something that was not only a great thing for that university, but over the long term it is very healthy for the Atlantic Coast Conference. Some people thought going into expansion that there would be very few teams dominate the championship game.
"Yet in our first two years, we've had four teams play in that championship game, one of them being a team most people would not have expected to be there. Overall, that is a healthy thing for competitiveness within the league. It shows that with the right kind of leadership and decisions, some good things happening on the field and all the hard work that goes into a championship season, anybody can reach and win that championship game, anybody in our league.
"The last time Wake won the championship was when I was playing back in 1970," Swofford said. "I have a very vivid recollection of their last championship."
Now he's lived to see it happen in an even grander fashion, and who knows, he may well see his alma mater mimic the feat within the next few years.