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Pitt and Syracuse’s ACC Survival Guide

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Nearly 22 months after accepting invitations to join the league, Pitt and Syracuse will officially become ACC member institutions on Monday.

Monday marks the dawning of a new era in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Nearly 22 months after accepting invitations to join the league, Pitt and Syracuse will officially become ACC member institutions.

The Panthers and Orange become the fourth and fifth former Big East teams to move to the ACC, joining Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech. Notre Dame arrives as a non-football member Monday as well, with Louisville becoming the final piece to the league’s growing puzzle in 2014.

For Pitt and Syracuse, gone are those scintillating trips to East Hartford and Piscataway. Also gone are those pesky Wednesday night games. They’ve traded those in for the scenery, in more ways than one, of Tallahassee and Clemson, the charm of Charlottesville and Chapel Hill, and the big-city flair of Atlanta and Miami.

While they’ve certainly upgraded, for fans of the Panthers and Orange, there are certain aspects of ACC football that they’ll need to quickly understand in order to fit in with perhaps the widest range of fanbases of any major conference.

Here are my unsolicited tips to our newest ACC fans from western Pennsylvania and upstate New York:

1. Florida State and holding penalties

Seminoles fans have always thought the ACC and its officials favor the league’s original programs, mostly in the form of calling excessive holding penalties against their team. It became such an issue last season within the Seminoles community that Corey Clark of NoleSports.com conducted an in-depth analysis (subscription required) of holding calls in the league since its mid-2000s expansion. The results showed that Florida State, in fact, was called for more holding penalties than any team in the league. Right or wrong, and win or lose, it will forever be a point of contention for Seminoles fans.

2. John Swofford

The ACC commissioner is a North Carolina graduate. ACC headquarters are in Greensboro. One-third of the league’s existing members are located in the state. Therefore, the perception among many of the “football” schools (Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech) is that Swofford plays favorites. Adding two schools more known more for basketball in recent years only added fuel to the fire. Florida State wanted out, and Clemson wasn’t far behind them. The grant of rights signed by the league’s members in April has eased the tension a bit, but you’ll still hear plenty of uproar from those outside the Tar Heel State. After a while, you might even join in.

3. Ron Cherry

ACC referee Ron Cherry has become a beloved figure along the Atlantic coast. He might not be thought of as the league’s best official, but there’s little doubt that he’s the most entertaining. It started late in a 2007 Maryland-N.C. State blowout when he described a penalty as “giving him the business.” If you were watching last year’s Fiesta Bowl between Oregon and Kansas State, you witnessed a rare one-point safety. The man who was forced to describe this “unusual ruling” to millions of fans? None other than Cherry. You'll be sure to see him at least once this fall and will undoubtedly be amused.

4. Raycom

Now branded as the ACC Network, the league airs two games each week regionally, one on over-the-air affiliates and one on regional sports networks (RSNs). The games are often hard to find and generally of lower production value than games on the ESPN networks. Some fans believe that since Swofford’s son, Chad, is a senior director at Raycom, that Swofford has held the league back from increased television revenues elsewhere by maintaining an affiliation with Raycom. Especially early in the season when baseball games may preempt football on RSNs, check your local listings to see if your team’s game is actually available. With Raycom, it’s never easy.

5. Enter Sandman at Virginia Tech

But y’all (try to stop saying “yinz”, Panthers fans) already know about that from the Big East. And as your upsets of unbeaten Hokies teams in 2001 (Syracuse) and 2002 (Pitt) in Blacksburg would suggest, you clearly weren’t intimidated. Next.

6. Death Valley

Make a pilgrimage to Clemson when you get a chance. It’s not the easiest place to find, especially since the tiger paw tracks are no longer on the country roads leading from Interstate 85 to the rural campus in the northwest corner of the Palmetto State. However, no ACC stadium has both the size and electricity of Clemson Memorial Stadium, which has helped the Tigers to an 8-0 record in ACC home games over the past two seasons. It’s the closest thing to an SEC atmosphere that you’ll find in the ACC. Stop by the Esso Club for a drink. And by all means, don’t wear garnet and black.

7. Empty Stadium Pictures

With the growth of social media, a recent trend among beat writers is to tweet pictures of half-empty stadium in the minutes leading up to kickoff. Clemson and Virginia Tech are generally immune to these, but even traditional powers like Florida State and Miami are prone to late-arriving or sometimes non-arriving crowds. Even the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, if Clemson, North Carolina, N.C. State or Virginia Tech isn’t involved, could look something like this. Check your Twitter feeds around 11:55 a.m. on Saturday mornings and you’ll be sure to see a lot of fans disguised as empty seats at stadiums along the East Coast.

Welcome, Panthers and Orange fans. Given your recent history of five-to-seven-win seasons, spotty attendance and basketball success, you’ll fit right in. The ACC isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than where you came from. Enjoy.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.