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Numbers you don't mess with in the ACC

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Why college football jersey numbers matter

ESPN college football reporter Adam Rittenberg explains the significance of college football's most recognizable and revered jersey numbers.

Programs often sell their pasts to recruits as much as they sell their futures. And big parts of those pasts are numbers of significance. Here's a look at the digits that resonate above all others at each ACC school.

Boston College: 22

The clip of Doug Flutie throwing a Hail Mary to beat Miami in 1984 is on an endless loop in the minds of college football fans everywhere. That Flutie went on to a long NFL career, and then to the broadcast booth, only keeps that memory of the Miami game alive. Flutie left BC with what was, at the time, the national record for career passing yards (10,579) and the Heisman Trophy. His jersey number is retired by the Eagles, as it should be. His nephew, current BC QB Troy, sports No. 16. And really, what's cooler than a signal-caller wearing a number as rare as 22? (OK, Devin Gardner getting No. 98 the past two years at Michigan was pretty neat.)

Clemson: 1981

The Tigers have retired three jersey numbers, most recently C.J. Spiller's No. 28 in 2010. They have inducted eight players or coaches into their ring of honor. But none can match the collective significance of 1981, which represents the school's only national title team. Sure, it's not a jersey number, but the reminders of this number are all over Clemson, which in 2006 inducted every player, coach, student trainer and student manager from that team into its ring of honor.

Duke: 77

The Blue Devils have not retired any numbers, but this would be a good place to start. Last month, the Lions made Laken Tomlinson Duke's first first-round pick in the regular draft since 1987, the guard having delivered on all of the recruiting hype and then some for a program that had few tangible selling points when he committed to it in 2009 over several traditional powers. Tomlinson won the Discover Orange Bowl/FWAA Courage Award during his final season, which coincided with his third straight bowl appearance, something Duke had never done. Coach David Cutcliffe has worked wonders in Durham, but he owes a lot of that success to No. 77, something he told ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein recently: "You can't even measure, actually measure, the real impact of what he's done."

Florida State: 377

OK, so you won't be seeing this number on a jersey at Doak Campbell Stadium anytime soon. But between retired numbers such as 25 (Fred Biletnikoff), 17 (Charlie Ward), 2 (Deion Sanders) or 28 (Warrick Dunn), among others, it is nearly impossible to choose just one. So we'll go with former head coach Bobby Bowden's career win total, which took a controversial backseat to Joe Paterno in January after the NCAA restored Paterno's vacated wins. Speaking of which, if the NCAA ever takes such mercy on Bowden, we could be talking about the sanctity of 389 in Tallahassee, instead.

Georgia Tech: 19

Clint Castleberry is the only Yellow Jackets player to have his jersey number retired. With rookies allowed to play since World War II was occurring, Castleberry finished third in the Heisman voting as a freshman in 1942, before enlisting in the Army. In World War II in 1944, he co-piloted a B-26 Marauder over Africa, but his crew and another B-26 disappeared and were never heard from again.

Louisville: 16

Johnny Unitas is the only Louisville player to ever have his jersey number retired. (He wore No. 19 in the NFL.) With good reason. Unitas played at Louisville from 1951-54, starring immediately as a freshman, which he was only allowed to do then because the program had not belonged to the NCAA at the time. He nearly transferred to Indiana after his sophomore year for a better shot at the pros, but he stuck with the Cards before bouncing in and out of football and eventually landing with the Colts, as he went on to become a Hall of Famer in 1979.

Miami: 58

There are no shortage of legends to have donned a Hurricanes jersey. And though only four players have had their jersey numbers retired by the school, it is only appropriate to note a number that bridged generations between dominant Miami squads of the past: The Canes' 58-game home winning streak from 1985-94 remains the longest in NCAA history, spanning a stretch that saw three national titles.

North Carolina: 98

When arguably the best defensive player in the history of football went to your school, he forever becomes synonymous with the jersey number he wore there. But before Lawrence Taylor won one MVP, two Super Bowls and three defensive player of the year awards as No. 56 on the Giants, he was an All-American and ACC player of the year as No. 98 in Chapel Hill, eventually taken second overall in the 1981 NFL draft.

NC State: 9

There's something endearing about the single-digit jersey number in the college game, no? Especially on defense. Mario Williams may be No. 94 right now for the Buffalo Bills, but his No. 9 jersey will live on in Raleigh forever. The school honored his jersey during the 2014 spring game, saying that any future player designated by the head coach to wear No. 9 will do so with a patch honoring Williams, who in 2006 became the first player in ACC history to be taken No. 1 in the NFL draft after earning All-America honors for the Wolfpack in 2005. He has made four Pro Bowls since.

Pitt: 9

Like FSU and Miami, it is tough to choose just one Pitt player among the group of greats who have had their jersey numbers retired. But the Panthers do have the most claimed national titles of any school in the ACC, and that is a number worth noting. The years: 1915, 1916, 1918, 1929, 1931, 1934, 1936, 1937 and 1976.

Syracuse: 44

This one's a layup, especially in light of recent events. The Orange announced May 19 that they were restoring the famed No. 44 jersey, which was worn by Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little -- each of whom will receive statues. The announcement came at the groundbreaking ceremony for the 44 Plaza outside the team's new indoor practice complex. The number had been retired in 2005, with no Syracuse player having worn it since Rob Konrad in 1998. A small committee, which includes Little, will be formed to determine who will wear the number -- an excellent idea that should appeal to recruits, reminding them of the great history behind a program with no shortage of it.

Virginia: 35

Bill Dudley became the first of six Cavaliers players to have his jersey number retired, never to be worn again in a Hoos uniform. He played all over the field for UVa as a 19-year-old senior in 1941, leading the Hoos to an 8-1 record while being responsible for 206 of the team's 279 points scored that season. The All-American finished fifth in the Heisman voting that year before being taken by the Steelers as the No. 1 pick in the 1942 NFL draft, and he is a member of both the college and pro football Hall of Fame.

Virginia Tech: 25

Frank Beamer just keeps on going, so the number we will all eventually remember him by is to be determined. (He enters his 29th season as Virginia Tech's head coach as the nation's winningest active coach, at 273.) But the legendary coach did sport No. 25 during his playing days with the Hokies, who retired his jersey in 2002.

Wake Forest: 31

This was Brian Piccolo's number at Wake Forest, and it is retired. Piccolo led the nation in rushing and scoring during his senior year in Winston-Salem (1964), winning ACC Player of the Year honors before going undrafted. The rest, as they say, is history: He carved his path to a career with the Bears before dying of cancer in 1970. His grace and ability to connect with all has been immortalized through schools, funds, parks, awards and many other avenues, including the film "Brian's Song."