We got our chance to talk about our future ACC rivals in the "Meet Your New Neighbors" series. Now those same folks that we lightly poked fun at get to offer up their own opinions of us! Each week, I'll be posting Q&A responses from one of the 12 current ACC schools, and I'll also be submitting to some questioning on their respective sites, too. It should be fun, and if we're lucky, people might get as angry as they did in the Virginia Tech profile comment thread.
Also see last week's conversation with BC Interruption.
How do you feel about conference realignment specifically in the ACC?
Shakin' the Southland: I'm definitely not a fan of conference realignment. It's all driven by money and it comes at the cost of centuries-old rivalries. Rivalries are really important to college sports, and big rivalries are really the heart and soul of college football. It was very, very surreal watching the Texas-Texas A&M football game last Thanksgiving knowing that this was the last time the two teams were going to play for some time. We've also lost Missouri-Kansas, which had played every single year in football since 1891, and as you all know we're losing Pitt-West Virginia as well. It's just mind-boggling that games with such importance could just end. And it's sickening. I try to think about what it would be like not to play South Carolina in football, but I just can't. I really can't. I can't imagine having a Clemson season without playing USC (East) at the end of the year.
Another part of conference expansion that doesn't make sense is the fact that the conference commissioners and university presidents are throwing geography out the window. I don't care if it's football-only or not, San Diego State in the Big East makes absolutely no sense at all. And the idea of bringing Syracuse and Pitt to the ACC is certainly an odd one to me as well. It may not say so in the name, but the Atlantic Coast Conference is historically a southern conference. So bringing in Boston College really didn't make much sense, either geographically or culturally. ACC commissioner John Swofford said that BC was added in order to grab the Boston television market, but this thinking was asinine because BC has by far the worst fan base in the conference. Simply put, no one in Boston cares about Boston College athletics. So why add BC to the ACC? What do they really bring?
I usually make several road trips every football season. This year I traveled to four of our five regular season road games (went to Maryland, Georgia Tech, NC State and USC, but passed on the Virginia Tech trip). The northern expansion certainly doesn't make it easier to travel to road games. So I'm not really a fan of expansion. I already that that 12 teams was too much, as I prefer to see a round-robin schedule in football and a double round-robin in basketball. I hate not getting a shot at Duke and UNC at home in basketball every year, and I hate not playing every team in football every year. I also hate that the expansion has led to an unbalanced nine-game schedule in football. Clemson likes to play seven home games a year, so the nine-game conference schedule might mean an end to any non-conference home-and-home series with anyone other than USC.
Nothing against Syracuse or Pitt, but I'm just not a fan of expansion, especially not of northern expansion, because it really doesn't make sense with the ACC's historic southern footprint.
If the league had to expand, would Syracuse have been your first choice (only considering attainable targets)?
STS: I would have liked to have seen West Virginia join. They don't have the academic prestige that some other schools in the conference have, and I think this is the main reason why Swofford passed on them. But when you are creating an athletics conference, I don't see why academics should come into play. West Virginia would have been my first choice, and I would have brought Pitt along with them as a I don't like to split up old rivalries. And if the league has to expand, I don't see why we stop at 14. Why not just create the 16-team mega-conference that everyone was talking about? Why not throw in Syracuse and UConn too, if you're thinking about expanding northward?
I don't like expansion, but I'm definitely glad that Syracuse is joining. They have a great fan base, especially in basketball -- definitely much better than the fan bases at some other recent additions, such as Miami and BC. They wouldn't be my number-one choice, but this is mainly due to geography. I like the fact that we're getting another great fanbase. Did I mention how terrible Miami and BC's are?
By all accounts, Memorial Stadium is a horrifying environment for visitors. What have you heard about our Carrier Dome?
STS: I have to be honest here, I haven't heard too much about the Carrier Dome as far as football is concerned. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Syracuse hasn't been very good at football in quite awhile, so I don't hear about their home turf very much either. Basketball is a different story, though. Clemson has some really dedicated basketball fans, but that number is pretty small. We have trouble filling up Littlejohn Coliseum consistently, but the fans show up in droves when UNC and Duke come to town, or when the Tigers are playing really well. So we have a decent basketball fan base, but nothing special. So it's cool to see that ya'll consistently have 20-25,000 people show up to basketball games.
In the 2011 Orange Bowl, Clemson lost to West Virginia (a team we beat by 26) by a score of 70-33. Were you as confused by this as we were?
STS: Oh, you just had to bring that up, didn't you? Well, going into the Orange Bowl, we were coming off a dominant win over Virginia Tech in the ACC title game. I was expecting a tough fight, but I thought we would pull away in the fourth quarter and win by a couple of TDs. Obviously, I was very, very wrong. But looking back on it I honestly should have seen it coming. As I mentioned earlier, I went to the GT, NC State and USC road games (all losses). The GT loss hurt because it ended our perfect season, but I still thought the team played hard. I wasn't mad after that loss because, well, you can't win every game. But the NC State and USC games were a whole different story. With the division title already wrapped up, the team didn't show up to play in either game. The NC State game was especially embarrassing, as it was obvious from kickoff that the Tigers just didn't care about that game at all. These no-shows showed how the team was simply lacking in mental toughness.
And this lack of toughness reared its ugly head again in the Orange Bowl. We were down 21-17 and were threatening to take the lead with the ball inside the five-yard line, but Andre Ellington fumbled the ball at the one, and West Virginia returned it 99 yards for a touchdown. The team never recovered. We simply folder after that. Simply gave up. We were only down 11, but that freak play took the wind out of our sails, and we let West Virginia pile it on. I was embarrassed by the game, but I was also embarrassed by the NC State and USC games, so I probably should have seen that one coming.
I will say this though: Thank you, Dana Holgorsen, for not running up the score. They could have easily put up 100 on us if the had wanted to. Easily.
So about that NIT game a few years back... Was that a big moment for Clemson? Or Clemson basketball, at least?
STS: I was at that game, and it was a lot of fun to watch. It was a big win at the time, as it was a win over a Hall-of-Fame head coach and it advanced us to MSG. It was also the loudest I've ever heard Littlejohn Coliseum. The atmosphere at that game actually rivaled Death Valley. You don't get that very often with Clemson basketball. But it was still just the NIT, and Clemson basketball was ready for bigger and better things. We went to the NCAAs four consecutive years after beating Syracuse in the NIT, and the NCAA berths were more important to the program than beating Syracuse in the NIT quarterfinals.
It was a big win at the time for Clemson basketball, but I wouldn't really consider it a big moment for Clemson. Clemson is a football school, and a "big for the school" moment in basketball would only occur in the NCAA tournament.
Any tips for getting by in the ACC (dos, don'ts for fans)?
STS: Well, you guys probably don't have to worry about this as much, being up in New York and all, but if you travel a lot, learn to deal with UNC fans. North Carolina fans have a sense of entitlement and for some reason think they're better than everyone else. So you'll have to learn to put up with their crap. Also, if you saw the end of the NC State-UNC game in the ACC tournament this year, you may have also figured out that the referees in the ACC aren't exactly the best. They do just fine in most games, but in any game involving UNC and Duke, don't be surprised to see the Heels and Devils get the advantage on pretty much any and every call. Y'all probably won't have to worry about this when you host those teams in the Carrier Dome, but get ready to get screwed by the refs when you head down to Durham. (Ed. note: Believe us, we're already used to being screwed by the Big East refs wherever we play)
With new teams come new road trips. I obviously highly recommend a trip to Death Valley whenever Syracuse comes to town. The Rock, the Hill, the noise. It's simply something you have to experience before you die. I've been to a lot of ACC road games in football, but as most ACC fanbases gravitate toward basketball, there isn't too much to recommend as far as football venues go. The only football gameday atmosphere that can rival Clemson's are found in Tallahassee and Blacksburg.
Thoughts on Syracuse overall? (both as an institution and an athletic program)
STS: I'm not a fan of expansion, but I'm glad to see Syracuse in the ACC. The ACC has been way down in basketball the past few years, but I think the additions of Pitt and Syracuse will put the ACC back in contention for best basketball conference in the country, which is exactly where it belongs. As I said earlier, I really don't care about the academic reputations of an institution in a sports context, but it certainly doesn't hurt that Syracuse is such a renowned institution.
I'm really excited to play the Orange in basketball. It'll be nice to consistently play an elite team not named Duke or UNC. And I cant' wait for the 'Cuse to make their trip down to the Valley, whenever that may be.
Thanks again to F1NS for taking the time out to answer these questions!