It’s Moving Day in the ACC blog, and Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich are here to do the heavy lifting for you as we officially welcome Pittsburgh and Syracuse into the ACC blog this week. The ACC will expand to 14 teams on July 1, when Pittsburgh will join the Coastal Division and Syracuse will join the Atlantic Division.
While the latest round of ACC expansion doesn’t officially take place until this summer, Big East readers can now officially make the transition here, as you’ll be able to find news, notes and interviews on both Pittsburgh and Syracuse in the ACC blog.
Today we welcome Syracuse, and Wednesday will feature Pittsburgh. Andrea has been covering both the ACC and Big East for ESPN.com and is just the right person to help usher in the ACC’s two newest teams:
Andrea, the Atlantic Division is going to be loaded in 2013, with Florida State and Clemson both recently hauling in more top-25 recruiting classes, and Louisville on the verge of replacing Maryland, once the Terps make their jump to the Big Ten. Knowing Syracuse as well as you do, what kind of position is the program in right now to come in and compete for a division title under a first-year coach?
AA: Heather, even if Doug Marrone had stayed around, I think the Orange would have had a hard time coming in and competing for an Atlantic Division title immediately because they are losing so many of their key players. Syracuse has to replace starting quarterback Ryan Nassib, starting receivers Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales and starting offensive tackle Justin Pugh -- just to name four on offense. Syracuse only returns 13 starters, and now players have to get adjusted to an entirely new coaching staff. Though first-year coach Scott Shafer is very familiar with his players, having served as defensive coordinator the past four seasons, virtually the entire staff is new. His philosophy won't be different than Marrone's, but players will have to learn new terminology and new coaches. Plus, Shafer has never been a head coach before, so it remains to be seen how he will adjust to that role. The Atlantic is very top heavy with Florida State and Clemson, which will be Top 25 teams, and that is just going to make it more difficult for the Orange. Now here is a question for you -- what can Syracuse fans expect out of ACC play that may be different from the Big East?
HD: Well, to be honest, I think THE biggest difference is going to be team speed. Not to knock the Big East -- seriously, it wasn't like the ACC dominated the Big East by any means last year -- but having to line up against FSU and Clemson on a regular basis, and sometimes Miami, is going to take some getting used to. Like we just mentioned, there is a recruiting gap right now between FSU and Clemson and the rest of the ACC, not just the Atlantic Division. The Big East is comprised mainly of teams like Boston College -- programs that try to be fundamentally and schematically sound and well-coached, while the ACC has some elite teams that do that AND focus their recruiting in Florida and have so many more Southern players. It’s a different dynamic.
Neither of us seem to think Syracuse is going to win the Atlantic Division anytime soon, but what do you think Syracuse will bring to the ACC, and do you think it fits?
AA: What I think is interesting about Syracuse is the way this team likes to play football. Physical, smashmouth style. Shafer reiterated the word "hard-nosed" to describe his style multiple times during his introductory news conference. There are not many programs in the ACC that play that way, given the spread of the ... spread and all the offense we saw in the league last year. Now, Syracuse does use some spread principles and had its best offensive year ever last season. But it also had an impressive ground attack to go along with that, and the Orange do return their top three rushers from a year ago, including 1,000-yard back Jerome Smith. Even more impressive is the way Syracuse has played defense against teams that primarily run the spread. The perfect example is West Virginia. Syracuse has won three straight over the Mountaineers because its defense effectively put pressure on Geno Smith and slowed down the passing game, sacking him and forcing him into uncharacteristic mistakes. The Orange defense came up huge against Louisville this past season as well. The man in charge of those defenses? Mr. Shafer. You all know that defense was down across the ACC last season. And the Big East is a league more known for its defense. So given the way Syracuse likes to play on D, I think the Orange are going to at least have an advantage in that area.
HD: Glad you brought up that Louisville win. FSU and Clemson fans should take note. For four straight seasons, Syracuse has managed to enter a game as the underdog and knocked off a ranked opponent (2009 Rutgers, 2010 West Virginia, 2011 West Virginia, 2012 Louisville). Last year, Syracuse beat an undefeated, No. 9-ranked Louisville team, 45-26. Considering the unpredictability of the league, Syracuse should fit right in.
Welcome to the ACC, Cuse ...