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ACC KICKOFF: ACC enters new year with loads of questions

ACC Commissioner John Swofford speaks at the ACC's annual kickoff in Greensboro, N.C., about the changes the conference is possibly facing in the years to come.

ACC Commissioner John Swofford speaks at the ACC's annual kickoff in Greensboro, N.C., about the changes the conference is possibly facing in the years to come.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Summers just aren’t quiet anymore for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

More NCAA concerns have popped up at Miami, while North Carolina prepares to serve its one-year bowl ban. The league found out it finally will begin playing with 14 schools in 2013, quashed rumors that some members might be considering leaving and kept its seat at the major-conference table by re-upping with the Orange Bowl.

Needless to say, at this week’s ACC Kickoff, the conference faced a lot of questions.

-- What will happen with Miami after new rule-breaking accusations surfaced late last week?

-- Will the league keep growing or stop with Pittsburgh and Syracuse?

-- Who will ACC teams play in those future Orange bowls?

In a wide-ranging, 45-minute question-and-answer session, commissioner John Swofford said the league’s focus is “totally on 14” schools. In discussing the latest published reports about Miami and the NCAA, he said the “sooner we can get the several problems totally behind us that we’ve had in this league, the better.”

He said there are “several different scenarios with regard to the opposite side of the Orange Bowl” and added that discussions that “could bring in a very broad group” as possible opponents. Once the matchup is set, Swofford said the league will further explore its television deal for the Jan. 1 bowl game.

Notre Dame has publicly acknowledged having talks about that other spot. The Fighting Irish have long been rumored to be coveted by the ACC, should the league ever decided to expand again.

When a reporter asked Swofford if he thinks the Irish would eventually join the ACC, the commissioner quipped that he “couldn’t hear the question” and later said the league was focusing on making things work with 14 schools.

Syracuse and Pitt announced separate agreements last week to pay $7.5 million apiece in order to leave the Big East for the ACC after this season, and Swofford said the ACC wouldn’t help either school with those payments.

Swofford seemed adamant that the only changes to the league’s composition would be those two additions — with no subtractions.

There were persistent rumors through the spring and summer that Florida State and perhaps another ACC school might consider leaving for the Big 12. After visiting Clemson’s board of trustees last week, Swofford emphasized that he’s “totally” comfortable that the Tigers are committed to the ACC and blamed social media for repeating misinformation that “has no real basis of truth to it … or is simply inaccurate.”

The most recent issue re-emerged late last week when Yahoo! Sports reported, citing anonymous sources, that a former Miami football employee, who had been linked to convicted Ponzi scheme architect Nevin Shapiro through the scandal that broke last year, assisted members of coach Al Golden’s staff with recruiting. If true, that could be a major NCAA violation by the troubled program.

“There’s nothing to talk about — we don’t know enough about (the reports) to talk about them,” Miami running back Mike James said.

Added defensive back Brandon McGee: “Our concern during the season is about books and ball. We’re not worried about anything outside of that except for the games on our schedule, football and school.”

Additionally, new coach Larry Fedora’s first North Carolina team is ineligible for the ACC championship and can’t play in a bowl game as part of sanctions levied following the NCAA’s nearly 2-year review of improper benefits and academic misconduct within the football program.

“We haven’t said one thing about” the bowl ban, quarterback Bryn Renner said. “To be frank, we really don’t care. We have 12 games on our slate, and we’re really just looking forward to playing those 12. … That’s what (Fedora) has preached. He’s done a great job of just getting our attention, ‘We’re moving forward and this is how it’s going to be.’”

Swofford declined to discuss specifics of the investigation at Miami but said that as it relates to the league’s image, “those are situations you never want in any conference.

“This league has a tremendous history and tradition of integrity,” he said. “That’s still the case, but we’ve had a few (issues) that have clustered here recently that you just simply do not like to see or want to see, and you want them cleared up, you want them behind you, and you don’t want to see them again.”

On the field, the ACC has a few things it needs to fix as well — specifically, its record in the highest-profile bowl games.

The ACC placed two teams in BCS bowls last year for the first time, but the end results were all too familiar.

Michigan beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl one night before West Virginia set a bowl scoring record in its 70-33 beatdown of league champion Clemson in the Orange. That loss cost defensive coordinator Kevin Steele his job and left ACC teams a combined 2-13 in BCS games since 1998.

“Obviously, it’s still on our minds — we know what happened,” Clemson defensive end Malliciah Goodman said. “But once the spring started and we got the new defense in, we knew that was a new beginning. … Don’t focus on what happened last year.”