Almost ACC

If had gone to plan, Syracuse's Saturday night date with No. 8 Florida State would have been its first home game as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Instead, it may provide an unpleasant reminder of what could have been.

The Orange – along with Miami and future member Boston College – were on the ACC's short list for much of the expansion process two summers ago but were snubbed in favor of Virginia Tech in what coach Paul Pasqualoni termed at the time as an exercise in "good ‘ole boy politics".

The move – or lack thereof – left Syracuse football schedule and pocketbook in a wrench. Not only did the Orange lose out on the revenue-sharing fortunes of the ACC, but home dates with Miami and Tech (their biggest draws) vanished as both programs bolted from the incentive-laden packages that the Big East offered.

"I'm offended with the process," Syracuse AD Jake Crouthamel told the Daily Orange at the time. "The process was a travesty. To go through the mere formality and then (have them) say, 'Oh, yeah, but we really didn't intend to invite you.' The whole process, quite frankly, stinks.

"I guess handshakes don't mean much anymore."

Enter Florida State. With Miami now the prize of ACC expansion, the Seminoles needed another non-conference game. The void left by the Hurricanes also made FSU an ideal candidate to be the premier college football team to visit the Carrier Dome this season. The teams agreed last October to meet for the first time since 1991.

"I don't think we approach this any differently," Pasqualoni said. "Every year we have gone into a Miami game we have expected to compete and win. We will treat this the same way. This is one of those games."

Wondering how Syracuse filled the Virginia Tech void? For another home game, it was forced scheduled a patsy in Cincinnati. For some national television exposure, the Orange were waxed 51-0 by Purdue and Heisman candidate Kyle Orton at West Lafayette.

11TH HOUR SNUB

Hoops is king in upstate New York and it was a well-known fact that Orange coach Jim Boeheim was opposed to having his team – then the defending national champions – enter the basketball-rich ACC.

Despite that fact, Orange administrators were set to enter the conference for the economic incentives playing football in "superconference" would provide in the form of television deals and an annual championship game.

"I would say there are two words: football and money," said Crouthamel May 22 at an SU athletic department press conference. "You don't go to a conference of 12 for any other reason than to take advantage of current NCAA rules which allow you, with a conference of 12, to subdivide into two six-team divisions and then play a championship game."

Syracuse was ideal fit for the ACC, as well. Its media-rich background and award-winning Broadcast Journalism program combined with Boston College's proximity to one the sixth-largest television market in the country, could afford the ACC the exposure to compete with its superconference rivals, the SEC and Big-Ten.

As fate would have it, the engagement never reached the wedding date.

In June of 2003, University Virginia president John Casteen and Virginia governor Mark Warner said that Virginia would vote against any expansion not involving Virginia Tech. (At the time a conference bylaw stated seven of the nine current member institutions had to approve for expansion to move forward.)

With baketball giants (and football doormats) Duke and North Carolina on the fence, the ACC needed the Virginia vote.

Exit the Orange. Enter the Hokies.

ANOTHER CHANCE

Ironically enough, Syracuse athletic Director Crouthamel and Pasqualoni scheduled a gridiron date with Virginia long before any expansion ideas began to materialize, giving the Orange a chance at on-field revenge this season.

The Cavaliers, who are having their most successful start under coach Al Groh, easily dispatched the Orange 31-10 on Sept. 25 though Syracuse played much better than in their debacle at Purdue. Virginia will return the favor next fall when it makes a trip to the Carrier Dome.

After that game, Pasquiloni didn't address if there was any remaining ill will his program had for Virginia and the ACC. Whether or not that is a motivation hasn't blinded the coach from the opportunity that waits on Saturday.

"The kids here are not intimidated," he said. "I think they look forward to the challenge. I hope they can go out and execute and play great at home. I think it will be a heck of a challenge and fun for the kids."

Seminole players are also motivated by the chance.

"We trying to come out there and represent for our conference," corner Bryant McFadden said.

Center David Castillo agrees that, after all that has happened, the ACC has a reputation to uphold.

"We wanted to known as the best conference in America and we got what we wished for," Castillo said. "We wanted to go out every week and play the best competition and go up against the top teams in America and we do that now. Our AD and our president fought to get the changes in the conference so there is something at stake for us here."

As for them?

"I just think they want to win football games. If they have animosity, oh well, they can bring it. It should be directed at the teams that left (the Big East) as well as the ACC and their (members).

AUTOMATICALLY UNDESERVING?

One other bone could be gnawed on later in the season: The exodus of the Hurricanes and Hokies will give the Big East champion – recipient of an automatic bid - without a doubt the easiest road to a BCS bowl.

In the early going, the Orange and lame-duck member Boston College are the frontrunners in a watered-down conference that also includes UConn, West Virginia, Rutgers, Temple and Pitt.

West Virginia, considered by experts to be the league's one legitimate national title contender, was edged last week by a Virginia Tech team that has played mediocre, at best, so far this season. The Mountaineers (3-1) are idle this week and open their Big East slate Oct. 13 opposite UConn.

The automatic bid, Florida State's friend in the past, could betray them this season in one scenario. Should FSU – a loser already to a conference team in Miami – run the table and not win the ACC, their BCS hopes could possibly be snakebitten by the team that emerges with the Big East crown.

"No one ever agrees with all parts of the BCS," Castillo said. "I don't know if it'll ever be one hundred percent foolproof. Maybe after the season they'll have to evaluate it."

The Seminoles have benefited from automatic bids the past two seasons. FSU lost to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl in 2003 and Miami last season in the Orange Bowl to cap ACC Championship seasons.

Said FSU leading rusher Leon Washington: "That's the way it's always been and that's the way it's going to be. (At times) Syracuse has looked like they deserved to be in a BCS bowl. That's something I'll let the all the coaches and voters worry about."


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