One of the craziest seasons in Atlantic Coast Conference football history could end with the same two teams reaching the league championship game for a second consecutive year.
Defending conference champion Virginia Tech (7-4, 4-3 ACC) and Boston College (8-3, 4-3) control their destinies in their respective divisions. If both teams win their games Saturday, they would meet in Tampa, Fla., for the ACC championship.
If Boston College loses at Maryland this week, Florida State (8-3, 5-3) would win the Atlantic Division. Georgia Tech (8-3, 5-3) would capture the Coastal Division title if Virginia wins at Virginia Tech.
No matter what happens the rest of the way, the ACC champion will have three conference losses.
"[We've] just got a lot of good football teams that are close to each other," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "If you check who we've beaten out of conference, I think we've got a fairly good record with that this year, but then you get into it and every week you'd better bring your best game."
Virginia Tech remains on pace for a second consecutive conference title even though it lost most of its top players from last year's defense and opened the season with no experienced running backs or receivers.
Boston College's emergence as a title contender is even more improbable. Conventional wisdom indicated Boston College would struggle to replace quarterback Matt Ryan, selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft.
The Eagles were picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic Division before the season. Boston College has lost linebacker Brian Toal, defensive end Alex Albright and wide receiver Clarence Megwa to season-ending injuries. Quarterback Chris Crane broke his collarbone last week and probably won't return until the bowl game.
Yet the Eagles have still won three consecutive games while relying mainly on an exceptional defense that features two mammoth tackles – B.J. Raji and Ron Brace – plus standout linebacker Mark Herzlich.
"I'm very satisfied about the status of our program right now, the kind of guys we have here," Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski said. "Guys left and guys stepped up. We've had injuries, and guys have stepped in. … I'm really pleased with the way our guys have fought and found a way to win."
Jagodzinski also keeps finding ways to win. A second consecutive ACC championship game appearance would solidify his status as one of college football's up-and-coming coaches.
"I tell you that guy, he needs the Coach of the Year award," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said after his team's 27-17 loss to Boston College two weeks ago. "He lost everybody last year."
Of course, Virginia Tech and Boston College shouldn't make travel plans for Tampa yet, particularly when ACC teams have made a habit this year of stumbling as soon as they enter the national rankings. Considering the way the year has gone, a Florida State-Georgia Tech championship game seems almost as likely as a Boston College-Virginia Tech rematch.
This season has taught every ACC team not to take anything for granted.
ACC vs. SEC: The ACC owns a 34-10 non-conference record this season but can't shake the notion that it's going through a down cycle. The bad reputation started this year when Alabama shellacked preseason ACC favorite Clemson in the opening week of the season and continued the following week when Wake Forest – the ACC's only ranked team at the time – barely escaped at home against Ole Miss, which hadn't won a single SEC game in 2007. Of course, at the time we didn't realize Alabama would become the top-ranked team in the country and Ole Miss would finish second in the SEC West while Clemson and Wake Forest would struggle to finish above .500. The ACC doesn't look quite so bad in retrospect. The ACC can regain some respectability this week by performing well in four head-to-head matchups with the SEC: Florida-Florida State, Georgia Tech-Georgia, South Carolina-Clemson and Vanderbilt-Wake Forest. If the ACC splits those four matchups – with at least one of the wins coming from Florida State or Georgia Tech – the league could make a major statement on the final week of the regular season.
Player to watch
Boston College QB Dominique Davis: Chris Crane's broken collarbone puts Boston College's ACC title hopes on the shoulders of this redshirt freshman. Which Davis will show up against Maryland? Will it be the guy whose fumbles resulted in two Wake Forest touchdowns last week? Or the guy who calmly led Boston College to a winning nine-play, 70-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter on the road? The answer should determine whether Boston College wins the Atlantic Division for the second consecutive season.
Boston College LB Mark Herzlich has three interceptions in his last four games. … Clemson SS Michael Hamlin has picked off a pass in back-to-back games. … Duke DE Greg Akinbiyi has provided three sacks in his last three games. … Florida State kicker Graham Gano has gone 20-of-21 on field-goal attempts in his last eight games. He has made five kicks from at least 50 yards during that stretch. … Florida State DE Everette Brown has recorded 9½ sacks in his last five games. … Georgia Tech RB Jonathan Dwyer has rushed for 430 yards and five touchdowns on just 45 carries over his last three games. He has gained at least 129 yards in three consecutive games. … Miami kicker Matt Bosher is 17-of-19 on field-goal attempts this season. … North Carolina State QB Russell Wilson has thrown 14 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last seven games. Wilson has thrown 203 consecutive passes without getting picked off. … North Carolina State DE Willie Young has delivered three sacks in his last two games. … Virginia Tech DE Jason Worilds has recorded a sack in four consecutive games. … Wake Forest WR D.J. Boldin has caught a total of 30 passes in his last four games. … Wake Forest SS Kevin Patterson has scored two touchdowns in his last three games – one on a fumble return and another on an interception return.
Duke WR Eron Riley has a total of three catches for 51 yards in his last two games. He was held without a catch in a 14-3 loss to Virginia Tech last week. … Duke QB Zack Asack went 2-for-9 for 20 yards and threw four interceptions against Virginia Tech. … Florida State RB Antone Smith has rushed for 64 yards on 23 carries in his last two games. … Maryland QB Chris Turner has thrown two interceptions without a touchdown pass in his last two games. … Virginia RB Cedric Peerman has gained 88 yards on 31 carries in his last two games. … Virginia QB Marc Verica has thrown three interceptions in back-to-back games. … Wake Forest QB Riley Skinner has thrown three interceptions and two touchdowns in his last two games.
What they're saying
"We'll get him focused in the game plan. … We have a good game plan for him. It's not that the guy hasn't done it. Last week he split the reps with Chris [Crane] in practice. He's going to be the guy who's got to do it." - Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski to The Boston Globe about QB Dominique Davis, who will fill in for an injured Crane in the Maryland game this week.
"In the midst of the troubles that have gone on here at Florida State academically, there are still some student-athletes doing the right thing. And if we can continue that trend, possibly we can move that perception from being a school that just focuses on parties or athletics to a school that really fosters and creates strong students and strong individuals in the classroom." - Florida State SS Myron Rolle to The Orlando Sentinel last week. Rolle took a giant step in that direction last weekend when he was named a Rhodes Scholar.
"The [rivalry] I just came from, it was pretty one-sided. It might have gotten in their [Army's] heads, but I don't know. I was on the other side. I know for us, it was always a big game. People ask me what the comparison is. Picture for 364 days a year, that is all you hear. It was no different there than it is here. Every weight in the weight room said 'Beat Army.' The fight song ended with 'Beat Army.' When the freshman squared the corners, it was 'Beat Army.' At Army, it was the same way the other way. I understand rivalries, for sure. I know how important they are. If you said at the beginning of the year that this could be a close game, most people would have said you were nuts. I mean one team was picked to win three games and the other was preseason No. 1 in the country. Here we are and who knows? That's why you don't play the games on paper." - Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson on the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry. Georgia has beaten Georgia Tech seven consecutive times.
"I was 29 when I was a head coach, so Dabo has had a lot more experience than I had. I think he'd do an excellent job. He's well-schooled. He's knowledgeable. He's likeable. He's a good recruiter. He's a loyal type of individual. Yeah, I think he's ready." - Former Alabama coach Gene Stallings to TigerIllustrated.com on Clemson interim coach Dabo Swinney. The 39-year-old Swinney played wide receiver for Alabama on Stallings' 1992 national championship team.
"It will take the best effort of the year for us to even have a chance." - Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews to The Orlando Sentinel about the Seminoles' game Saturday with Florida.
"We're the best football program in the state, without question." - North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien to TheWolfpacker.com after the Wolfpack's 41-10 victory over North Carolina. North Carolina State has defeated East Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest and North Carolina this season.
Doctors have advised North Carolina LB Mark Paschal to end his football career after he injured his cervical spine last week against North Carolina State. Paschal leads the Tar Heels and ranks third in the ACC with 103 tackles. … Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has named Tyrod Taylor the starter for Saturday's game with Virginia. Taylor went 2-for-5 for 20 yards with a pair of interceptions and two fumbles against Duke last week, while Sean Glennon was 12-of-20 for 132 yards with one touchdown and one interception. … Virginia coach Al Groh has indicated QB Jameel Sewell will rejoin the team for the spring semester after sitting out the 2008 season for academic reasons. … Duke QB Thaddeus Lewis' status for Saturday's game with North Carolina remains uncertain. Lewis sat out the loss to Virginia Tech last week with a foot injury. … Clemson, North Carolina State and Virginia must win this week to become bowl eligible. The ACC already has eight bowl-eligible teams. … Florida State kicker Graham Gano has been named a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, which goes to the nation's top kicker. Arkansas State's Josh Arauco and Utah's Louie Sakoda are the other finalists. … Rolle is the second Florida State athlete since 2006 to earn a Rhodes Scholarship. Former Florida State track star Garrett Johnson was the Seminoles' last honoree. … Maryland enters Saturday's game against No. 20 Boston College with a six-game winning streak against ranked teams. … Wake Forest CB Alphonso Smith has 19 career interceptions, one shy of former North Carolina star Dre Bly's ACC record.