As crystal clear as full HD, the Atlantic Coast Conference portion of Clemson's 2014 football schedule is coming into view within an expanded league you just might hug after all.

Of course, there will be the annual Live Oak pod games against Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami -- a pod fans and recruits and TV networks will love, and coaches will hate. As usual, only one road conference game north of North Carolina.

Great for fans wanting those short trips, right?

The addition of Syracuse and Pittsburgh gives the ACC a 14-member league, with Connecticut and Rutgers reportedly on the way. The key to having 16 ACC schools is smart and safe scheduling that will keep fans close to home, enhance rivalries and keep travel from gobbling up class time.

The SEC founded the conference championship game concept and profited immensely. If the ACC can responsibly kick-start the Sweet 16 concept ASAP, it will prosper.

Here's how:

Simple division

16 ACC schools.

Two divisions.

Four pods.

It is 855 miles from Clemson to Syracuse. Miami and Pittsburgh were great rivals when Don Shula and Chuck Noll were coaching in the NFL, not natural foes in a college league that spins around a highway off-ramp near Greensboro.

But don't accuse, bring on The 'Cuse.

Expansion solution?

Pitt is it.

As long as Clemson doesn't play Syracuse or Pittsburgh very often. Like once every four years in football.

Schedule formula

Starting in 2014, each 12-game regular season ACC football schedule works like this:

Three games each year against fellow pod members.

Three games each year against rotating foes from the other pod in the same division.

One game against each of the two pods in the other division.

Four non-conference games.

"It's a great time to be in the ACC," Miami head coach Al Golden said.

We'll see how glittery Golden feels when he figures out the scheduling system.

Going green

Too many "Atlantic" and "Coastal" titles get redundant. Directional tags clash with geographic logic. So let's embrace traditional roots, so to speak.

ACC North

Sugar Maple (state tree of New York, and New Englanders should not have a problem with anything maple) -- Syracuse, Boston College, Connecticut, Rutgers.

Dogwood (state tree of Virginia) -- Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Pittsburgh.

ACC South

Pine (state tree of North Carolina) -- Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State, Wake Forest.

Live Oak (state tree of Georgia, and plenty on display in South Carolina and Florida) -- Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami.

Clemson, 2014

A hypothetical Tigers' 2014 ACC schedule:

Home -- Florida State, Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Pittsburgh.

Road --Miami, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Rutgers.

In 2015:

Home -- Miami, North Carolina, Duke, Virginia.

Road -- Florida State, Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Syracuse.

And so on.

Playoff format

ACC Semifinals -- Pod winners face on home field of team with best BCS computer rank (surely, the NCAA will approve an extra game).

ACC Championship Game -- North vs. South in Charlotte.

Frank Beamer, head coach of defending ACC football champion Virginia Tech, said adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh was "the right thing."

Connecticut and Rutgers -- or Notre Dame and Louisville -- sound even better. With America's first 16-team Super Conference, the ACC can get the jump on the inevitable layout of four big leagues aligning 64 football programs for playoff eligibility.

ACC tournament

Frequently moving the ACC basketball tournament around is a bad idea recently fixed with a Greensboro-laden commitment.

So a similar plan makes sense: Greensboro four out of every six years with rare excursions to New York, Atlanta, Orlando and Washington.

Baseball sites

Jacksonville and Durham work well. Charleston, Greenville and Myrtle Beach are great future ideas. Growing the game and the ACC baseball brand, even at the risk of empty seats, would be wise for a sport badly in need of new revenue streams. Every now and then, the ACC should play ball at PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Yankee Stadium.

"What's inevitable," Virginia head football coach Mike London said, "is that if you're not one of the teams that are involved in the 'mega- conference' than you want to get yourself aligned quickly."

A mix of "mega" and short road trips make for an ideal ACC combo.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at or 937-5593.