Florida State not so sure it's getting an easy ride Entrance into ACC brings concerns

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When the Atlantic Coast Conference announced nearly two years ago that it was bringing Florida State into the fold, the popular theory going around was this:

In basketball, the Seminoles would fit somewhere in the middle of the nine-team league. In football, Florida State would dominate so thoroughly that most of the teams shouldn't even bother showing up.

"I hope the part about us is true," Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden said recently, "because the part about the basketball team sure wasn't."

The first notion was shot down this past winter, when the Seminoles were the biggest surprise in the ACC, beating North Carolina twice and finishing second to Duke.

And, if you listen to Bowden's colleagues around the league, the idea of Florida State's taking the ACC captive this fall might turn out to be nearly as foolish.

"Nobody is going to roll over and play dead," Clemson coach Ken Hatfield said in late July at the ACC Summer Kickoff on Kiawah Island, S.C.

Though Florida State was given an easy game for its ACC debut -- Duke in Tallahassee tomorrow -- the rest of the schedule might make Bowden think that somebody up there at the league office in Greensboro, N.C., doesn't like him.

The Seminoles will play all of last year's four top ACC teams, as well as Miami, on the road: Clemson at Death Valley on Sept. 12, North Carolina State in Raleigh on Sept. 19, Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Oct. 17 and Virginia in Charlottesville on Oct. 31.

"People say that I don't have any enemies," said Bowden, who will have to live up to his "King of the Road" nickname. "Well, I must have at least one."

But, more seriously, Bowden said: "We were glad to get on the schedule. It's better than waiting two or three years like Penn State is doing with the Big Ten."

ACC officials have said Florida State's first-year schedule was made after the league's rotation had been set. But maybe it was done to advance the belief that the ACC is as competitive as any league in the country.

There is a hope among most ACC coaches that Florida State, which has finished ranked fourth or better in each of the past four years, will raise the level of competition around the league.

"I think they're the type of team that's used to competing at the highest level all the time," said Virginia coach George Welsh, whose Cavaliers open tomorrow night at home against Maryland. "I'm not sure how many of us have done that. They might have the speed on all of us except for Clemson."

There is also some concern among Florida State fans that the ACC, with more stringent academic guidelines than those the Seminoles are accustomed to following, could bring football down as much as it has helped basketball.

Those familiar with Florida State's recruiting say Bowden has had at least one key prospect turned down this year even though the player met NCAA requirements.

Bowden says only that "we've been trying to bring up the academics for several years," and denies that joining the ACC has had any adverse effect on his program.

The ACC was elated to include the Seminoles. Florida State's impact has been felt immediately, with recruiting bases widened, television markets expanded and the league's overall reputation enhanced dramatically.

Several ACC schools have begun recruiting heavily throughout Florida, which, for the past decade, has turned out about 275 Division I players every year. The way other ACC coaches figure it, after Florida State, Miami and Florida get 75 players, there are 200 for the rest of the country.

"Kids down there are going to see the ACC in the papers and on TV, and that's going to help us big-time," said Maryland recruiting coordinator Kyle Lingerfelt, a Florida State alum whose contacts helped the Terrapins snare 10 prospects out of the state this year. "But you have to establish a base."

Before the Seminoles joined the ACC, the state was a black hole for the league in terms of television. The Southeastern Conference had almost a monopoly on Florida.

Now, five of the state's seven largest markets have picked up the ACC's 12-game television package. Last year, before it played a single down in the conference, Florida State had contributed $4 million in television and bowl revenue -- $1.5 million more than Clemson.

"When we brought them in, we didn't think we'd have the kind of success at clearing markets," said Tom Mickle, the league's associate commissioner.

Certainly, Florida State's biggest attribute has been the respect it commands nationally. The Seminoles have been considered among the country's top programs during the past decade. They have done everything but win a national championship.

If Florida State breezes through its inaugural season, which some still expect, then the ACC will continue to receive only grudging praise. But a couple of losses could help other ACC schools climb in the polls.

"It will make it easier for our teams to get ranked higher," said Clemson's Hatfield. "Just the same way Florida State made a name for itself by beating teams like Nebraska, teams in our league can move up by beating Florida State."

So how, do you ask, will the ACC help Florida State in football? The answer is not immediately forthcoming, but could be more apparent at the end of the season rather than at the beginning. On Jan. 1, 1992, to be precise.

That is the day the new bowl alliance goes into effect among the ACC, Big East, Southwest, SEC, Big Eight and Notre Dame with the Orange, Sugar, Cotton and Fiesta bowls. Bowden is excited about the chance to play for a national championship, an opportunity his teams never had as an independent.

But first things first, starting with Duke.

"It's a strange feeling," he said of playing in a league. "It's going to be strange convincing the Florida State people that every game is important. They're used to getting ready for Miami and Florida. It gives us a ladder, a platform. We haven't had that avenue before."

Will the ACC turn into Easy Street for the Seminoles? Or it will it become a dead end for one of the country's powerhouse teams? The next three months should be telling.

Pros, cons of ACC marriage

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FOR FLORIDA STATE

Pros

* Bring its basketball program into the national spotlight

* Allow Seminoles an opportunity to play in New Year's Day game if they win ACC championship

Cons

* Higher academic standards could cause the loss of some blue-chip players

* Losses in league could hurt FSU's national ranking

FOR ACC

Pros

* Bobby Bowden, thought to be one of the game's top coaches

* More national respect overall

* More revenue generated for league by television and bowl appearances

* Potential national champion

Cons

* Image of football factory closer in philosophy to Clemson than Virginia

* Too many one-sided games could dispel notion of parity

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