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Expansion: A Crowning Achievement

"It may be easier this year" Peach Bowl President Gary Stokan said, "because without a championship game, both, say Miami and Florida State, could win their last games, which could propel them, whereas with a championship game, one of those teams would lose its last game."

Another concern raised by several league coaches is that there might not be enough bowls to go around. Currently, six bowls -- the BCS berth, Gator, Peach, Tangerine, Continental Tire and MPC Computers -- are reserved for ACC teams. But if another ACC team is bowl eligible and another slot in an at-large bowl is not open, that team will be excluded.

(Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

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Most of the ACC bowl contracts run through the 2005 season. After that, Swofford said, the ACC will "be taking a fresh look with our current bowl partners and any others that might have an interest in associating with our league."

He added, "I think we'll have some other opportunities that would not have been there without the expansion -- I don't think there's any question about that -- and I think that just comes with the quality depth that we'll have."

Depth Chart

Football-wise, the ACC essentially has been a one-team showcase; Florida State won 29 consecutive ACC games in the early 1990s and has won 11 of the past 12 conference titles.

But the Seminoles' stranglehold was starting to loosen even before expansion. Clemson and North Carolina State have shown the ability to beat them. And Maryland won the 2001 title and is one of five teams nationally to have won 10 or more games the past three seasons.

This year, five ACC teams are ranked in the preseason top 25. Six of the past 12 BCS title game teams are represented in the ACC. As Maryland's C.J. Brooks said, "We're really becoming a football conference."

While new members Miami and Virginia Tech bring legacies of success, players at the ACC's incumbent schools are eager to show that they can play, too.

Miami and Tech "bring more athletes," North Carolina State's Tramain Hall said. But "there is no reason to go out and fear them. They had a good history. We want to go out and make history."

That's why Hall ran an extra four wind sprints every workout this summer -- because he knew his peers in Coral Gables, Fla., would be doing the same, if not more.

Said Virginia's Chris Canty, "I think it's going to be a big adjustment for them."

Coaches also face a tougher task. Last season, Bowden said, there was incessant talk radio chatter -- "Ol' Tommy must go!" Bowden recalled -- insinuating that Bowden's son Tommy, the Clemson coach, would be fired after starting the season 5-4. Tommy Bowden's Tigers dominated their final four games, and he's back in 2004.

A late-season, apparent job-saving rally such as Bowden's could be tougher now because of sheer competition. As many as nine teams could be bowl eligible, said Stokan. A sign of the depth: The Sporting News ranked Virginia Tech as the nation's 23rd-best team but in the bottom half (sixth) of the ACC.

"It's going to make it tougher for coaches to survive, sure," Friedgen said. "The bar has been raised. Everyone wants to win. But it wasn't like it was a cakewalk before."

Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst also was quick to defend the old as well as the new and wanted to show that there was more to the league than the two schools in Florida.

"Let's call the two at the top the elite teams," Whitehurst said. "The teams below them have been a lot better football teams in the past couple years. I think it's going to be harder than they think."

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