- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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In 2003, when the Atlantic Coast Conference had finally completed its first stage of expansion, league commissioner John Swofford said the addition of Miami and Virginia Tech made his conference possibly "stronger than at any point in its history."
It was a fleeting moment.
Considering the ACC's 1-9 record in BCS bowl games over the past decade -- the worst record of the six BCS conferences -- expansion didn't exactly turn the league into the superpower many expected. Instead, the nine other teams have sandwiched their new members into a 12-layer Dagwood of mediocrity. Here's their lack of progress report:
• Miami, the program expected to give the league an instant upgrade, has lost more games (19) in four seasons as a member of the ACC than it did in its last seven seasons as a Big East member. Since expansion, the Hurricanes have fired a coach, embarrassed the league with the infamous FIU brawl, and played some bad football. Miami was 12-13 in its past two seasons, and Randy Shannon began his career in 2007 with a pitiful 2-6 conference record that included a win over Duke.
• Virginia Tech deserves credit for its 42-11 record since joining the conference, and the Hokies have won two of the past four ACC titles. But losses to LSU and Kansas last season once again showed the league tripping as it walked across that national stage.
• Boston College is 30-9 in three seasons since joining the conference but couldn't win the ACC title with Matt Ryan.
The ACC hasn't had a legitimate contender for the national title since 2000, when Florida State lost to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. The Seminoles are 31-20 since expansion, have finished 7-6 each of the past two seasons, and enter 2008 with a plethora of suspensions.
"We've had some opportunities early on during the BCS with teams in the championship game and now have teams in our league -- Virginia Tech and Miami -- that have been in those championship games, although prior to joining our league," Swofford said earlier this month at the league's annual spring meetings in Amelia Island, Fla. "I wish we'd won more of them at this point, but when you go back and look at those games, it's not like our teams were overmatched at all. We had a lot of great games.
"You look at that Florida State-Penn State triple overtime game, the opportunity for Wake Forest to be in the FedEx Orange Bowl as champion of this league. It gives you opportunities we had periodically as a league but not regularly."
Now they're regularly blowing that opportunity.
"I think you feel like you need to represent your conference, and that's very important, but quite frankly, at the end of the year, bowl games to some extent are the luck of the draw," said Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe, whose team made history in 2006 before falling to Louisville 24-13 in the Orange Bowl. "Sometimes you play teams that you don't match up with as well. Sometimes you may have some injuries at the end of the season that affect you. Over a long period of time, it's a little bit easier to draw inferences, but in the short term it's hard to really gauge what the strength of your conference is by a few bowl games."
A decade should be considered a fair evaluation period, but Grobe isn't the only coach who wants more time.
"No. 1, I think if you play enough, the ACC is going to uphold its end of the deal," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "I don't think there's any question about the ACC and their ability to compete."
There's not. The question is whether the league can win. And so far, it's only happened once in BCS history -- when Florida State beat Virginia Tech in the 1999 Sugar Bowl. If the ACC is going to be the powerful conference its officials once envisioned, Florida State and Miami have to resurrect their once-proud programs -- a task unlikely to happen as early as 2008, in the fifth season post-expansion.
"Ultimately you have to compete and you have to win games," Swofford said. "I'm fully confident our teams are going to be doing that."
If they do, the ACC might actually be "stronger than at any point in its history" -- expansion included.
Heather Dinich is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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