Saturday was a schizophrenic day for Atlantic Coast Conference football. For the second year in a row, Virginia provided the conference with one of its biggest voctories in years by going into a Southeastern Conference stadium and beating an SEC team. Last year Virginia surprised Georgia; this year it was Tennessee, 16-13, in front of 94,333 in Knoxville.
But just as stunning on the other side of the coin was the embarrassing 41-7 shellacking that Oklahoma administered to sixth-ranked North Carolina. This was to be the game in which the ACC proved how far it has come in football. UNC, clearly the class of the league this season and considered by some the best ACC team in 20 years, had pointed for Oklahoma since the Tar Heels beat Maryland in September. Coach Dick Crum even commented earlier in the week that he didn't think the Sooners were taking his team seriously.
The result: disaster for the Tar Heels and for ACC prestige.
Speaking of ACC prestige, bowl bids go out in two weeks and barring some strange occurrences, it appears likely that only two ACC teams will be playing in postseason games.
Carolina, which had hopes for a major bid prior to the Oklahoma debacle, is 7-1 and will go somewhere, perhaps to the Fiesta, perhaps to the Peach, perhaps to the Liberty. The Gator Bowl is unlikely because the Tar Heels played there last year.
Maryland (6-3) is the other likely bowl participant. Tangerine Bowl scouts watched Saturday as the Terrapins put on an impressive show in their 24-0 victory over North Carolina State. Even though the Tangerine pays less to schools than any other bowl, the Terps would love to go there because any bowl is better than no bowl and because the game will be in Orlando, Fla., a place the players would love to be in December.
The other outside possibility for a bid is Clemson (5-3). But the Tigers will be underdogs in their remaining three games, against North Carolina, Maryland and South Carolina. However, if the Tigers were to beat Maryland they might put themselves in the bowl picture but they would also put Maryland out of it. End result: just two ACC bids.
Virginia (4-4) probably isn't going to a bowl game but Coach Dick Bestwick has good reason to be proud of his team. Two weeks ago, after a 30-0 loss to Virginia Tech, UVA was 2-4 and hurting, with its best defensive player, Stuart Anderson, and its best offensive player, Tommy Vigorito, hobbled.
It would have been easy to fold the tent, call it a lost year and go home. Instead, Bestwick did two things, First he tried to put the blame for the VPI loss on himself by saying he had been distracted from his work during the week by Gene Corrigan announcing he was leaving to become athletic director at Notre Dame. For that effort, he was criticized for making excuses for the loss.
Actually, it was typical of Bestwick to try and shift blame to himself. Then, Bestwick called in quarterback Todd Kirtley and had a coach-to-quarterback talk with the struggling junior.
"I told him that since he was the quarterback (having been returned to the starting job after two weeks on the bench) that I expected him to take charge in the huddle," Bestwick said. He told Kirtley not to take anything from the players in the huddle and that if they talked back to him, he should direct their complaints "to the boss," Bestwick said. "Our captains are great guys but not great leaders. We needed him to be the leader."
Kirtley has responded with two excellent performances and UVA has two victories to show for it. Tennessee's players were quoted in the Knoxville papers as saying Virginia hit harder than any team they had faced all year. Virginia has come a long way in Bestwick's five seasons, bowl bid or no bowl bid.