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Watching Georgia Tech play N. C. State and North Carolina over the past two weekends reminded me of the 1983 Chicago White Sox - a team that prided itself on "winning ugly."
The 31-23 victory over the Wolfpack was certainly not a thing of beauty, but the 7-0 win that the Jackets squeezed out over the Tar Heels was about as ugly as a Clemson homecoming court. I don't know of a single Techster who left Chapel Hill feeling happy about that one.
But so what? As ugly as they are, they go down as wins and Tech has now wrapped up its first coastal division trophy with a slot in the conference championship in Jacksonville. Who would have foreseen that happening back in August, when the conventional wisdom was that the division champions would come from the group of traditional powers Miami, FSU, Virginia Tech or maybe Clemson?
It's been a year in which both the ACC and college football in general have been turned upside down - which isn't a bad thing. I can't say I'm unhappy at all that Miami and FSU are both struggling with 5-5 records right now, with their fans in doubt as to whether they'll even go to a bowl game, and with at least one (maybe two) of the head coaches headed to the scrap heap. At the same time, it's great to see a team like Wake Forest that's been trampled on for so many years go into Tallahassee and pitch a 30-0 shutout over the Semi-holes in Choke Campbell Stadium. Anyone who predicted back in August that such a thing would happen would have been locked up and committed involuntarily to Central State Hospital.
Even within the space of a few days, the conventional wisdom can change quickly. When Clemson whipped Tech on the night of Oct. 21, a lot of people (including this deluded scribe) held the opinion - and not unreasonably - that Tommy Bowden had finally figured things out and the Tiggers were this year's power team in the ACC. That conventional wisdom lasted all of two weeks - which was as long as it took for Clemson to be stomped by Virginia Tech and surprised by Maryland.
And how about the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers, the pride of Piscataway, undefeated and on the brink of a BCS bowl? What a long, strange trip it's been.
No, Tech's wins were not things of artistic beauty, but they clinched the Jackets' first trip to the conference championship showdown. They were ugly, but meaningful.
On the other hand, has there ever been a more meaningless victory than Georgia's 37-15 upset over Auburn? The fans of Chihuahua Nation are all ga-ga, woofing and trying to convince themselves that everything's OK again and they're still a Top 5 program. I hate to disappoint them, but those losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky, not to mention a near-loss to hapless Mississippi State, are always going to be on the team's permanent record. They won't be able to erase them, any more than they can erase the two beatings that Tech administered to them in the 1940s (which the Georgia athletic department pretends never happened, clinging to that belief as stubbornly as the fundamental creationists who are convinced the earth is only 6,000 years old). The only thing Georgia's victory over Auburn proved is that Auburn was even more overrated this year than Georgia was.
But forget about Georgia. Who, exactly, will Tech face in the ACC championship? That one's as hard to unscramble as a Florida election recount.
Wake Forest, Maryland, and Boston College all have a mathematical shot at it. Maryland takes on Boston College this weekend and ends the regular season against Wake Forest. The Deacons must play Virginia Tech before they take on Maryland. Boston College plays Maryland and finishes with Miami.
Right now, the likeliest scenario is that Georgia Tech will play the winner of the Maryland-Wake Forest game for the championship. But if Boston College wins its last two games and Wake Forest loses its last two games (which would mean that Maryland splits its final two games), BC will be the division winner (I think). There are way too many variables to sort it all out here, so I think the best thing to do is sit back and see how the next two weekends play out.
Let's take a few questions.
Q. Doc, help me here. I keep hearing from SEC fans how they're the best conference in college football and nobody else should even bother to show up and play them. What I can say to shut them up?
A. Here are a few arguments you can throw at them. I remember how in the preseason, the "expert" consensus was that at least four SEC teams would finish up in the Top 10 this season - Florida, Georgia, LSU and Auburn. These were the programs, according to the sportswriters and talk show gabbers, that had more speed, power, muscularity and athleticism than anybody east of Southern Cal, the teams that "proved" the SEC's superiority over everyone else.
So what has become of those four programs?
Auburn has dropped out of the Top 10 and Georgia can't even be found in the Top 25. Auburn lost by 17 points at home to a team - Arkansas - that gave up 50 points to Southern Cal, then lost by 22 points at home to another team - Georgia - that couldn't even beat Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Georgia we have already discussed. LSU has lost two games, hasn't been very impressive on offense, and could be a three-game loser after they play Arkansas.
The only SEC team that still has even an outside shot at the BCS championship game is Florida - which only avoided losing to a 5-5 South Carolina team because the Gators' defensive tackle was able to jump high enough to block a makeable field goal attempt by the Gamecocks on the last play of the game.
Assuming that Florida wins out against Western Carolina and FSU, the SEC will end the season with one exceptional team, three good-but-not-great teams (Auburn, Arkansas, LSU), and a bunch of underachievers and crap programs (everyone else). The current Associated Press Top 25 contains more ACC teams (six) than SEC teams (five). At this point, it looks like the Big East will have more teams in the final Top 10 ranking of the regular season than the SEC will. That doesn't exactly sound like the most dominating conference in college football to me - and you can tell that to all your SEC buddies.
Q. It looks like FSU finally forced out Jeff Bowden as offensive coordinator. How long before Bobby Bowden follows him out the door?
A. The fact that Jeff was talked into falling on his sword (a lucrative buyout probably helped speed the process along) means that Bobby has bought another year's grace for himself. But unless the Seminoles turn things around completely next year, I think that will be Bobby's last season. I am greatly surprised that he will even survive this season, but some things are just beyond explaining.
Q. Will Butch Davis really make all that much difference when he replaces John Bunting as the head coach at North Carolina?
A. It's hard to see how he could do any worse.
This week's picks -
Duke at Georgia Tech (-26.5). The question isn't whether Tech will beat Duke. They will. The question is, what do you do about Reggie Ball? He has obviously been severely hampered by an injury, whatever it is, which we'll never know because Chan Gailey never bothers to tell loyal Tech fans the true extent of injuries to Jacket players. But something is obviously bothering Ball - how else to explain his wretched play against North Carolina, coming after bad games against Clemson and Miami? If Tech is to have any chance of beating Georgia and winning the ACC championship, they've got to get Reggie in halfway decent playing shape, somehow. I think Coach Gailey would best serve the team's interests by letting Ball play for one series (in recognition of Senior Day at Bobby Dodd Stadium) and then sit him out for the rest of the game and let Taylor Bennett finish it. Which means, of course, that Gailey will probably keep Ball in for the entire game and risk aggravating his injuries even more. This is very annoying. Either way, I don't think Tech covers the spread.
Maryland at Boston College (-7). Ralph Friedgen was on the brink of disaster with Maryland early in the season, but he has turned things around nicely as the weeks have gone by. Maryland could put themselves in contention for the conference championship game if they win this one, but I don't think they will. However, they're a good pick with the points.
Virginia Tech (-2) at Wake Forest. I didn't think the Deacons would beat either Boston College or Florida State, so why would I be stupid enough to pick against them now? I won't. Wake Forest keeps the dream alive for another week with yet another improbable victory over the Hokies.
Miami (-3) at Virginia. Will Miami Coach Larry Coker even make it to halftime without getting fired? I doubt it. Virginia "finishes the drill" and sends Coker into a somewhat premature retirement.
North Carolina State (-4) at North Carolina. These are two teams that would make any loyal fan puke green, but John Bunting can at least fall back on the valid excuse that he's got almost no talent on the roster. I would take N.C. State and the points if I were betting on this one, but why bother?
Western Carolina at Florida (no line). If Florida is edged out by Southern Cal for the BCS championship game, it will be because the Gators put this turkey of a team on the schedule. Southern Cal finishes with Notre Dame - Florida is playing Western Carolina. Any wonder the Trojans will be going to the big game? SEC teams need to get over themselves and start scheduling out-of-conference games that actually mean something.
Tennessee (-8) at Vanderbilt. I thought Phil Fulmer had finally returned the Vols to their normal place atop the heap of the SEC East, but they're obviously still a season away. I've got a feeling Vandy will lose but still beat the spread in this one.
Arkansas (-14) at Mississippi State. Congratulations to Coach Houston Nutt for pulling things together no nicely after getting blown out by Southern Cal early in the season. I'll vote for Arkansas as the most improved team in Division I-A, and they'll cover this spread as they play their way into the SEC championship game.
Michigan at Ohio State (-7). Seven points sounds a little too rich to me. Ohio State may win, but I see this one decided by a late field goal.
Auburn (-3) at Alabama. At the school where they still worship a dead drunkard, Alabama fans will be a little deader and a little drunker after this one. Auburn covers, but too late to do them any good this year.
Mississippi at Louisiana State (-27). LSU, like Auburn, wins big but it will all mean nothing when Arkansas whips Mississippi State.
Dr Football - Week 11
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