As everyone expected, two teams from the same state head into the meat of the November schedule leading the ACC, controlling who will win the league title and the Bowl Championship Series berth that comes with it. The state, though, isn't Florida. Miami and Florida State, both formerly ranked in the top five in the nation, each has two league losses. Go figure.
The state, then, is Virginia. The results of the past two weeks -- in which the Hurricanes and Seminoles combined to go 1-3 -- set up a wild finish in which Virginia and Virginia Tech will determine who wins the league title. Not that any of this has Cavaliers Coach Al Groh excited, even as Virginia prepares to host Miami this week.
"Frankly, this has been our approach from the start," Groh said yesterday. "All we're trying to do is figure out how to beat the guys we play this week. Once we do that, we move on to the next week."
Fine. We'll take care of the speculation and scenarios. Virginia (7-1, 4-1) and Virginia Tech (7-2, 4-1) would each win the league title by winning its remaining three games. That, though, is no easy task.
The Cavaliers -- who beat Maryland impressively, 16-0, Saturday -- will play their last home game Saturday against the Hurricanes (6-2, 3-2), then will close the season with games at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Likewise, the Hokies, who escaped with a 27-24 win at North Carolina, will host Maryland in a Thursday night game Nov. 18, then host the Cavaliers before finishing Dec. 4 at Miami.
"This football team and these players have worked awfully hard to get us in this position," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said Saturday. "But I know that how we finish is how we'll be remembered as a football team."
Clemson helped muddle the race by upsetting Miami, 24-17 in overtime, Saturday night. That and other results from the last two weeks, along with the anticipation of several important matchups over the next month, lends credence to ACC officials' theory that expansion raised the league's football reputation. As much as the expansion process was ridiculed as botched and bungled, those at the league office can use the victories by North Carolina and Clemson over Miami, as well as Maryland's win over Florida State, as evidence that the league has quality depth. Virginia Tech's lone league loss came to North Carolina State, which sits eighth in the league.
The other side of that argument: One ACC team is in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll and the struggles of both Miami and Florida State indicate the conference's overall mediocrity.
The coaches, of course, aren't buying the latter. Groh said every time he talks to another ACC coach, "Everyone's shaking their heads, [saying], 'Boy, you better have your best game this week.' "
That's never been more true than in the next three.
In any national championship season, a team can usually look back on a close call that might have cost it a chance at a championship. Saturday, three contenders -- Southern California, Oklahoma and California -- ran into such situations and survived. Barely.
The Trojans should retain the top spot in the Bowl Championship Series standings that will be released today after a 28-20 victory against Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore., where the fog was so thick it nearly obscured Reggie Bush, even as he was scooting for a touchdown on a 65-yard punt return. The Trojans trailed 13-0 in the second quarter, but Bush's score in the fourth put them up 21-13.
Oklahoma remained unbeaten, but its harrowing 42-35 victory over Texas A&M, which it beat 77-0 a year ago, pointed out that the Sooners still live dangerously on defense. After allowing an average of 12.6 points in its first seven games, Oklahoma has allowed 35 points in each of its last two, when Oklahoma State and A&M gained an average of 423 yards.
Finally, Cal watched as Oregon's Keith Allen dropped a fourth-down pass that would have put the Ducks in field goal range, allowing the Bears to escape with a 28-27 win in which they had trailed 27-14. Cal allowed four touchdowns before halftime, and the game might have gone into overtime had Oregon's Jared Siegel not missed an extra point in the first quarter.
The narrow nature of the win cost the Bears in the AP poll; Wisconsin, which throttled Minnesota, moved from fifth to fourth, knocking Cal back a spot.
And all of this completely ignores Saturday's greatest escape -- Texas's comeback from a 35-7 deficit against Oklahoma State: the Longhorns won, 56-35.
Smith for Heisman?
Is Utah quarterback Alex Smith being overlooked in the Heisman Trophy race? After his 21-for-26, 291-yard, four-touchdown performance in Saturday's win over Colorado State, Smith moved into first in the nation in pass efficiency. Smith now has 24 touchdown passes and just two -- count 'em, two -- interceptions. Throw in 439 yards and eight touchdowns rushing -- and the Utes' perfect 9-0, BCS-worthy record -- and he deserves a look.