BOSTON (AP) – Now Boston College will find out what it means to be a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Eagles will know if they followed the money into a thicket, defecting from the lumbering Big East only to be overmatched by the speed of the ACC.

First up for BC in the ACC is No. 8 Florida State on tonight in Chestnut Hill.

“We’ve gone two years now of being recruited against by people saying, The ACC will run circles around these guys,”‘ BC coach Tom O’Brien said. “I guess it will be us Clydesdales against those thoroughbreds. We’ll see who wins.”

That O’Brien was speaking with a smile on his face indicates the confidence he has in his 17th-ranked Eagles.

With a botched and bitter divorce from the Big East behind them, the Eagles first ACC game comes with all the trappings of big-time college football that – except for the occasional visit by Notre Dame – has rarely been seen in New England. ESPN will broadcast its college football show from campus. Alumni Stadium, which did not sell out for the home opener against Army, will be packed. Parking lots are opening extra-early for tailgating and there are sure to be plenty of Seminoles fans – some paying five times face value on eBay – to show the locals how to do it.

“This seems to have a little extra buzz about it. All summer long, there’s been people talking about us going to the ACC,” BC quarterback Quinton Porter said, noting that the locals are more concerned with the title-winning Red Sox and Patriots. “We’ve been working hard to get some Boston fans interested in us and it’s working out.”

The game is the culmination of two years of jockeying after the ACC’s decision to expand to 12 teams and hold a lucrative championship game. The league raided the Big East, first taking Virginia Tech and Miami before grabbing Boston College after it played one more frigid year in its old conference.

“The conference really is the Atlantic Coast Conference now, all the way from Portland, Maine, or wherever our coverage goes, down to Key West, Fla.,” O’Brien said. “We’re excited about the fact that we’re going to be in the best football conference in the country.”

And the ACC was excited to add Boston, a passionate sports market that has yet to embrace college football the way the South has.

“It’ll give us some great national exposure and a chance to visit a different part of the country,” Seminoles linebacker Buster Davis said. “It’ll be exciting for them since it’s their first ACC game. After that first play, that’ll all be gone and it’ll be time to get after it.”

The switch in conferences set the Boston College coaches back in their preparations. Rather than building from each year’s experience, this staff was now facing eight teams it had not played before.

“We changed jobs when we went from a Big East school to an ACC school,” O’Brien said. “In some respects, we’re starting all over.”

Of course, BC is no less of a puzzle for the ACC teams that will be playing the Eagles for the first time.

“We’re the new guys in the neighborhood, and nobody knows what to expect from us. That’s good, too,” O’Brien said. “That’s going to be the fun of this year, seeing how we match up.”

It remains to be seen whether the Jesuit school from the Northeast will fit in with its brethren from the South, where college football doesn’t have to win over fans from baseball or even the NFL. Last week, after BC’s 44-7 victory, The Boston Globe put the game story on page C17.

For O’Brien, the bigger concern is whether his Clydesdales can keep up on the field.

BC’s power game is led by an offensive line that returns all five starters from last year at a beefy average of 317 pounds. The Eagles have had seven offensive linemen drafted into the NFL over the past seven years.

Before last week’s game, Army coach Bobby Ross rattled off the heights and weights of BC’s line and said: “We’ll be playing the California redwoods. If we take an end zone shot, you might not even see us, and I’m not trying to be funny.”

“I recognize that a lot of teams in the ACC do have a tremendous amount of speed,” said Kiwanuka, the Big East defensive player of the year last year. “But we have a lot of players who are fast, too.”

AP-ES-09-16-05 1509EDT

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