RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Atlantic Coast Conference has new teams, a renegotiated TV package and a media-rights deal that offers protection from future realignment.
And to go along with that new look, the league could use some new football success — though the biggest benefits might not come right away.
While Pittsburgh and Syracuse bring the league to 14 football members, neither is a recent football power. And No. 9 Louisville doesn’t join the league until 2014, the same year Notre Dame begins playing five ACC teams a year while remaining football independent.
The additions of the schools have created what ACC Commissioner John Swofford has said is “the strongest collection of basketball programs that has ever been assembled in one conference.” As for football, he said the league has “unlimited potential.” However, that potential likely won’t translate into on-field benefits this year.
It’s up to some familiar faces — primarily Clemson and Florida State — to boost the ACC’s national credibility in 2013 instead of those new arrivals.
The ACC starts the year with two teams in the top 11 of The Associated Press Top 25 and has five games with top-10 nonconference opponents in the first two weeks of the season. Those are the first chances for the league to gain some credibility and break from a past of missed chances in big games.
“You want to see the ACC succeed on the national stage,” North Carolina left tackle James Hurst said. “Whenever the ACC is on national TV, you’ve got to show out and give us a good name. We’ve got to work together in that aspect.
“I guess you can say you don’t really deserve the good reputation if you don’t win the big games.”
The league does have some momentum. Notre Dame joined in July in all league sports except football, which allowed the ACC to renegotiate a TV deal that will now pay an average of $20 million annually per football member.
The ACC also secured an agreement that gives the league control of TV money for any school that leaves before the broadcast deal ends after the 2026-27 season, a move that pumps the brakes on realignment.
While the changes have strengthened the ACC’s footprint on the East Coast, it’s unclear how much Pitt and Syracuse will bolster the on-field product.
Pitt has reached bowls in five straight seasons and Syracuse won a share of the Big East title last year. But Syracuse hasn’t finished in the final AP poll since 2001. Pitt has done it only once since 2004.
“We’re excited to get into it, we’re excited to play the talent,” Pitt receiver Devin Street said. “We’re excited to play the cream-of-the-crop teams and just go out there and compete — and go out there and prove that we can truly compete in the ACC. Not just go out there and play but compete for an ACC championship.”
Eighth-ranked Clemson, the league favorite, opens with No. 5 Georgia at home Saturday night in one of the ACC’s three matchups with top-10 Southeastern Conference opponents. North Carolina visits No. 6 South Carolina on Thursday night and Virginia Tech meets No. 1 Alabama in Atlanta on Saturday.
The following week, Coastal Division favorite Miami faces No. 10 Florida and Virginia hosts No. 3 Oregon.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said teams can’t afford to worry about making a statement for the league.
“You don’t control all those other things and that can’t enter into our mentality,” Swinney said. “You just have to prepare to play the very best that you can, let it all hang out. … If everybody has that mentality, if you have good players, you’re going to win a bunch of games.
“All of this stuff can be fun. It’s great and you can draw energy from it. But you can’t let it be a distraction.”
Of the six power conferences from 2004-12 — many of the former Big East schools now comprise the American Athletic Conference — the ACC had the worst record in BCS bowls while only the Big Ten was worse overall in bowls, according to STATS.
The ACC is 2-8 in BCS bowls and 31-39 in bowl games during that span. No ACC has finished in the top five of the final AP poll since 2000, and none finished higher than 10th in the past five seasons.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe, a former assistant and a head coach in the SEC, said he senses ACC coaches know the league needs to improve as a whole.
“I think it’s all of us,” Cutcliffe said. “I’d issue a challenge to all 14 football-playing institutions that all of us … have to create those (big-game) environments to see our programs change because I know we can. And I know from a recruiting standpoint we can compete with anybody out there. I think you’ll see those results.”
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