Radical Realignment 2007: A.C.C.

Encouraged by helpful suggestions rather than dissuaded by protestations of disastrous ruination, I am pressing ahead with my altogether fictitious and fanciful plan to realign radically the Division I-A conferences as part of my effort to cope with the realization that the 'Dawgs will not play an actual football game for another 163 days.

Work with me here, people; I'm doing the best I can to kill time until we get to this on Labor Day weekend.

Thus far, I have dissed Conference U.S.A., kept the Pac-10 coastal, westernized the W.A.C., remade the Big West, bulked up the M.A.C., messed with Texas while renewing the S.W.C., come up with the Central Conference, reconfigured the Big Ten, and reshuffled the Big East, which brings me to my fresh conception of the Atlantic Coast Conference:

Clemson
East Carolina
Maryland
Navy
North Carolina
North Carolina State
South Carolina
Virginia
Virginia Tech
Wake Forest

You have to admit that it just makes sense to collect the Division I-A teams from Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas in a single league. Seven of the 10 of them belong to the A.C.C. already and an eighth (South Carolina) competed in that conference from 1953 to 1971.

The coaching connections alone make this a league worth watching. Steve Spurrier, who gave Duke the closest thing to sustained success the Blue Devils have enjoyed since Wallace Wade, would get the chance to go up against former A.C.C. rivals as the head coach at South Carolina.

Aim high, Stevie Boy; with a little luck, you'll be able to replicate that seven-win 1969 A.C.C. championship season!

East Carolina's Skip Holtz would be given the chance to battle annually against the Wolfpack and the Gamecocks, each of whom his father used to coach. When, after guiding the Midshipmen to a 31-15-1 record and three bowl games in his last four seasons at Annapolis, George Welsh bolted for Charlottesville following the 1981 campaign, he created a deep-seated animosity between Navy and Virginia.

Such traditional in-state rivalries as Clemson-South Carolina, North Carolina-N.C. State, and Virginia-Virginia Tech will be preserved, with the extra significance of a common conference affiliation added to the grudge match between the Tigers and the Gamecocks. Likewise, the natural competition between the Midshipmen and the Terrapins would be fanned into a flame in the Old Line State, where Maryland and Navy have met on the gridiron just nine times since 1934 (and just once since 1965).

The 15 years South Carolina has spent as a member of the Southeastern Conference have not eroded the Palmetto State Poultry's strong ties to the Atlantic Coast Conference. During two decades of play as an independent (1972-1991), the Big Chickens faced off with Duke 15 times, Maryland once, N.C. State 20 times, North Carolina 10 times, Virginia six times, Virginia Tech nine times, and Wake Forest 12 times. Even after joining the S.E.C., the 'Cocks scheduled the Wolfpack in 1999, the Cavaliers in 2002 and 2003, and the Tar Heels in 2007.

That eight of these schools---the existing seven A.C.C. squads, plus South Carolina---would be competitive with one another is beyond question and I do not believe that doubts concerning the other two are justified. Although Navy sustained losses to Duke, N.C. State, and Wake Forest in Paul Johnson's first season at Annapolis, the Midshipmen have become competitive since.

Did you expect anything less from a guy who used to coach at Georgia Southern?

In the last four seasons, the U.S. Naval Academy has posted a cumulative record of 35-15, including three wins over the Blue Devils, a victory over East Carolina, and a three-point loss to the Terps. The Mids also played a four-game series with the Gamecocks between 1982 and 1985, losing a pair of close ones in Columbia (17-14 and 34-31) and registering a huge upset at home over a second-ranked South Carolina squad that had beaten Florida State, Georgia, Kansas State, Notre Dame, and Pitt on the way to what remains the only 10-win season in school history.

That just leaves E.C.U., which partially atoned for the sin of unleashing Pat Dye (who coached the Pirates from 1974 to 1979) upon an unsuspecting world by preparing Bill Lewis (who guided East Carolina from 1989 to 1991) for the task of putting Georgia Tech football into a downcycle from which the Yellow Jackets never really have recovered. E.C.U. likewise has history with the Gamecocks, with whom the Pirates have clashed 15 times in the last 30 seasons.

Obligatory photograph of East Carolina alumna Emily Procter.

Can East Carolina compete with B.C.S. conference competition? The Pirates beat N.C. State, South Carolina, and Virginia Tech in 1991, then repeated those feats by defeating the Hokies in 1992, the Gamecocks in 1994, 1996, and 1999, and the Wolfpack in 1996, 1999, and 2006.

E.C.U. also notched wins over current A.C.C. squads by beating Wake Forest in 1997, Miami in 1996 and 1999, Duke in 1999, 2000, and 2005, and Virginia in 2006. Inasmuch as the Pirates also fell by five points at Navy last year, I suspect they also would be competitive against the Midshipmen, with whom they share a natural rivalry based on the antipathy between their respective seafaring mascots.

Coming soon . . . the reanimated Southern Conference.

Go 'Dawgs!

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