The ACC can be summed up as follows: Everybody but Duke.
League coaches are still trying to make sense of the peculiar predicament as the 11 teams enter November. Every team except Duke is in contention for a bowl berth or already has clinched one.
An indication of either parity or power, three teams -- Miami, Virginia and Virginia Tech -- have six wins and identical conference records at the top of the standings. What's more, all three teams will play one another in the next month. After fourth-place Florida State, which has also secured a bowl appearance, the middle of the conference is even more congested, with six teams, each with four victories, competing for an expected two remaining bowl berths.
"I'm going to tell you," Georgia Tech Coach Chan Gailey said, "in the ACC, we're going to beat up each other."
Added North Carolina State Coach Chuck Amato, "It may be that the ACC champ never again will have no losses."
Most expected the additions of Miami and Virginia Tech, and Boston College next fall, to bolster the conference. Some believed that the league could vie for two berths in the Bowl Championship Series each season.
But who could have predicted that both Florida teams, considered the conference's elite, could be humbled on the road on the same weekend? Florida State lost to Maryland; Miami lost to North Carolina. As for the rest of the season, Amato said, "This could become really, really, really hairy."
"The biggest factor is playing away from home," Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden said. "It's not a library anymore. There are wild people up in those stands and ain't none of them is rooting for you."
There is no better authority on the competitive ebbs and flows of the ACC than Bowden, whose Seminoles joined the ACC in the early 1990s. Bowden believes Florida State served as the model program in terms of success for the rest of the teams.
"I don't think we dipped," he said. "I think everyone else got better."
Saturday's four games were decided by a total of 14 points. Thirteen of the 28 ACC games played to date have been decided by seven points or fewer, including three in overtime.
One of the challenges, coaches said, is how to get a team motivated for each game on the schedule when there are virtually no soft spots. Clemson Coach Tommy Bowden suggested Miami survived recent games against Louisville and N.C. State on talent, even though the Hurricanes' defense did not play well. Possible complacency stung Miami against North Carolina, and Tommy Bowden said he now expects to get the Hurricanes' best effort on Saturday. "I don't think there is any doubt," he said.
Virginia, which had an open date last week, plays Maryland on Saturday as a first-place team. "We haven't played in a little bit," Virginia Coach Al Groh said. "But the whole landscape of the conference has changed since we did."
Several league coaches, asked about the prevalence of creatine, denounced the legal nutritional supplement. Virginia Tech is investigating a report in the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record that a strength and conditioning coach helped two players acquire the supplement at a discount, a possible violation of NCAA extra-benefit rules.
"No one here intentionally broke any rules," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said.
Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said players do not use it at Maryland and that it is an unfair advantage if other teams use it. "I feel it should be one rule for everybody," Friedgen said.
Said Miami Coach Larry Coker: "We don't believe in it. We really feel strongly that you can get your strength and conditioning from legitimate ways. . . . I think it's harmful, which is worse than being an unfair advantage."
Top Rushers Ailing
The conference's two leading rushers will miss games Saturday. Georgia Tech will be without P.J. Daniels, who has a bruised knee, when the Yellow Jackets visit N.C. State. Florida State again will miss Leon Washington, the conference's leading rusher who has a separated shoulder, when the Seminoles host Duke. . . .
Is Boise, Idaho, that bad? A reporter on yesterday's coaches' teleconference asked if Boise is a dreaded bowl destination for ACC teams. "We'd like to go anywhere," Friedgen said. . . .
Don't expect Clemson on Saturday to kick to Miami punt returner Devin Hester, who has returned three punts for touchdowns. "If our punter shanks one and it goes to him, don't call me an idiot," Tommy Bowden said. "Don't blame me. We're not kicking to him." . . .
Bobby Bowden has turned once again to senior quarterback Chris Rix, who will start against Duke to give the offense more "explosiveness. We haven't had that all season," Bowden said.