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October 6, 2008
Monday with Mike: At least ACC entertains
Well, it might be time to reconsider. No, the ACC has no national-title contenders. Heck, it might not even have a team that can win 10 games. And it's true that along with the Big East, it's the weakest of the "Big Six" leagues. But for sheer entertainment value – for the peaks and valleys week to week – there may be no better league to follow this season.
There is only one team unbeaten in league play in each division – Wake Forest in the Atlantic and Virginia Tech in the Coastal. But neither is close to being dominant. Wake lost at home to one-dimensional Navy and the Hokies fell to East Carolina.
The Atlantic seems particularly wide open, with Clemson, Florida State, Maryland and Wake each looking to have a legit shot. In the Coastal, it should be a three-team race with Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. But the Yellow Jackets and Tar Heels need some help, because each lost by the same 20-17 margin to the Hokies.
Those teams need Virginia Tech to lose twice, and it's possible. The Hokies' next four are against Boston College, Florida State, Maryland and Miami, with all but Maryland on the road. While the Hokies – at least for now – look to be the class of the league, there's no way a team this flawed can win out. Heck, it's hard to see them winning 10 games. Tyrod Taylor is not a good passer, and starting tailback Kenny Lewis tore his ACL in Saturday's less-than-impressive victory over Western Kentucky and is out for the season. Plus, the defense hasn't had a truly dominating performance yet – and may not be capable of one.
UNC, meanwhile, can help restore some of the ACC's lost national luster this weekend when it plays host to Notre Dame. The Heels are coming off impressive back-to-back wins. UNC rallied to beat Miami last week, then crushed Connecticut – which might be the Big East's best team – on Saturday. Butch Davis might be in just his second season as coach, but his eye for talent and ability to motivate have UNC headed for its first bowl since 2004. The UNC-Georgia Tech game on Nov. 8 could end up being of national importance. At the least, it'll be important in terms of bowl positioning within the league.
And there's a huge game in the Atlantic Division on Thursday night, when preseason league favorite Clemson heads to Wake Forest. The Tigers have been one of the nation's most disappointing teams thus far, losing to the only foes they've faced (Alabama and Maryland) who have a shot at finishing with a winning record. Wake, meanwhile, looked good in winning at Florida State, then looked mediocre in losing at home to Navy.
A Wake win would put them in the division driver's seat and further intensify the heat on Clemson coach Tommy Bowden. Don't think folks haven't noticed what Bobby Johnson – a South Carolina native and Clemson alum – has done with a lot less at Vanderbilt this season. After it plays Wake, Clemson gets Georgia Tech and Florida State among its next three games.
Nine of the league's 12 teams have winning records, and the only winless teams in league play are Miami and N.C. State. All in all, it should make for a wild finish.
A HURRICANE ON THE PLAINS
A team getting little mention as a possible BCS-buster is Tulsa. Given the state of the rest of Conference USA, a strong case can be made that Tulsa (5-0) will be favored in each of its remaining games.
The one exception might be a trip to Arkansas. But that would be only because the Razorbacks are in the SEC. And if you've seen Arkansas' "defense" in action, you have to think Tulsa can put up a ton of points on the Razorbacks.
Tulsa pounded Rice 63-28 Saturday, the Golden Hurricane's second consecutive 60-point game and fourth consecutive 50-point game. A third consecutive 60-point game is in reach, as woeful SMU is next on the schedule.
"The way we played tells everybody and lets the team know that we have a really good shot at going 14-0," sophomore wide receiver A.J. Whitmore said Saturday, after scoring twice on runs off direct snaps against Rice. "We got what it takes to make a real good run at it."
Tulsa – off to its best start since 1945 – leads the nation in total offense and scoring offense, and is fifth in passing offense and 10th in rushing offense. Interestingly, Tulsa's string of 18 consecutive 300-yard passing games ended Saturday.
One reason for the big numbers is that the Golden Hurricane haven't played anyone. The best team they've faced is New Mexico. The flipside, of course, is that they play no one the rest of the way, either. They have seven games left and none of those opponents has a winning record (SMU, UTEP, UCF, Arkansas, Houston, Tulane and Marshall).
Tulsa's opponents thus far are 6-12, and the remaining seven are a combined 9-23. According to the NCAA, Tulsa's "cumulative schedule" – the opponents already vanquished and those to come – ranks 117th in the nation. Only two teams have weaker schedules.
Before the season, Tulsa coach Todd Graham said anything less than a bowl victory "will be a disappointment." But he didn't mean just any bowl victory; he meant a victory in a BCS bowl.
"I know most coaches would not say that because it raises expectations," he told the Tulsa World. "And I know they are lofty goals. But I'm not going to sit here and lie about it. Why wouldn't you want to win a BCS bowl?"
The one sticking point could be a defense that ranks 100th in the nation. But that offense might be enough to overcome one or two bad days by the defense.
BABY BLUE BLOCK PARTY
What's more, the blocks came on consecutive punts in the first half.
"The first two, they had the same guy on me," Carter told the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer. "The third time, they moved the (up-back) to my side, and I blocked that one, too. The funny thing is I went in the same spot all three times."
Cullen admitted the UConn punt team was preoccupied with keeping the ball away from star UNC return man Brandon Tate.
Carter also blocked a punt in the fourth quarter last week against Miami, and is three shy of tying the NCAA single-season record of seven blocked punts by Central Michigan's James King in 2001.
Four of the top seven teams in the polls are from the Big 12.
Virginia looked to be dead in the water heading into Saturday's game with Maryland. The Cavs were 1-3, with the three losses to "Big Six" conference teams coming by a combined 128-20. The last loss was a 31-3 shellacking at the hands of Duke. Well, the Cavs got off the mat in a big way against the Terps, rolling to a 31-0 rout. Sophomore QB Marc Verica had a big game, throwing for 226 yards and two TDs. In a perfect world in Charlottesville, Verica would've been the third-string quarterback this season. Instead, returning starter Jameel Sewell is academically ineligible and Peter Lalich was dismissed for disciplinary reasons. Verica's performance was reminiscent of some of those turned in by former Cavs star Matt Schaub, not surprising in that Verica's high school quarterback coach (Ernie Forchetti) also was Schaub's high school quarterback coach.
West Virginia's Pat White rushed for 59 yards in the Mountaineers' victory over Rutgers. That gives him 3,934 rushing yards for his career, putting him second on the NCAA's career list for rushing yards by a quarterback. He is 356 behind Missouri's Brad Smith (4,290 yards from 2002-05).
Tennessee's offensive problems continued, but at least the Vols won, edging Northern Illinois 13-9. Tennessee had a new starting quarterback – Nick Stephens replaced Jonathan Crompton – but the production wasn't much different. The Vols had 225 yards of offense and were just 1-for-13 on third downs. They have scored three touchdowns and 31 points total in their past three games and have 19 first downs in their past two games. Something that A.D. Mike Hamilton surely has noticed: Tennessee – which has one of the most loyal fan followings in the nation – has sold out just one of its three home games this season.
Speaking of inept offenses, let's talk about Auburn. The Tigers have totaled 1,069 yards and 51 points in their past four games – averages of 267.3 yards and 12.8 points per game. They are averaging 3.9 yards per play in those four games. The offense is wasting great performances by the defense, which has allowed 968 yards and 54 points (242.0 yards and 13.5 points per game). Perhaps the offense can get well against Arkansas this week. If the Tigers struggle to move the ball against the Hogs, though, there is no hope.
Army and Navy each won Saturday, the Black Knights hammering Tulane and Navy edging Air Force. Navy completed one pass and returned two blocked punts for touchdowns. Army completed four passes and scored on a fumble return and an interception return.
At first glance, these games don't jump out at you. But upon further review, they look a whole lot more interesting.
South Carolina at Kentucky, 12:30 p.m.: South Carolina kept itself afloat by ruining Ole Miss' homecoming this past weekend. Now, the Gamecocks get to face a Kentucky team that gave Alabama a scare. At the least, this is important for bowl positioning in the SEC.
Michigan State at Northwestern, 3:30 p.m.: Northwestern is one of two Big Ten unbeatens; Penn State is the other. Are the Wildcats for real? And can they stop Javon Ringer?
Notre Dame at North Carolina, 3:30 p.m.: Two 4-1 teams get together in Chapel Hill. UNC leads the nation in interceptions with 12, but Irish QB Jimmy Clausen is playing well. The Irish lost their only road game this season, against Michigan State. Including this trip to UNC, the Irish play four of their next five away from home.
Texas Tech's Graham Harrell threw for 454 yards and six touchdowns in a rout of Kansas State. That gives him 12,709 passing yards for his career, which is a Big 12 record. The old mark was 12,429 by Tech's Kliff Kingsbury (1999-2002).
Missouri has scored on its opening drive in all five games this season.
Vanderbilt's win over Auburn helped the Commodores improve to 8-42 against SEC West teams since the league went to divisions in 1992.
West Virginia's victory over Rutgers gave the Mountaineers 14 consecutive wins in the series, moved them to 16-0 all-time at home against the Scarlet Knights and gave them a 30-4-2 series lead.
TCU (5-1) hasn't given up a point in the fourth quarter this season. The Horned Frogs have outscored foes 62-0 in the fourth period.
Toledo is 41-9 at home this decade – but the Rockets have lost three home games in a row this season.
There have been 81 games matching Division I-A teams against I-AA opponents – or, as the NCAA insists on saying, Football Bowl Subdivision teams and Football Championship Subdivision teams. The big guys are 79-2; the losers have been by San Diego State (to Cal Poly in Week One) and Army (to New Hampshire in Week Two).
The first BCS standings of the season come out Oct. 19.