Call Virginia Tech the surprise package

At 5-2, these young Hokies more than hold their own at midseason checkpoint

College Football

October 18, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The first Bowl Championship Series rankings will be announced today, meaning that the debates about which teams will make it to this year's national championship game at the FedEx Orange Bowl should also start percolating.

Given the security Southern California and Oklahoma seem to have in locking up the first two spots, and the fact that their respective schedules appear to get easier (especially for the Sooners after Texas A&M's win Saturday over Oklahoma State), this pot is bubbling more than boiling.

With the season half over, this is a good time to look back at the biggest surprises and busts along with those who might figure in the major awards.

Surprise team: Cases certainly can be made for two of the remaining unbeatens: Auburn, which figures to be in position to sneak into contention for the Orange Bowl should either USC or Oklahoma fall, as well as Wisconsin. But a stronger argument might be made for Virginia Tech, which is a last-second loss away from being unbeaten in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Hokies, one of the youngest offensive teams in the country, hung tough with USC in the BCA Football Classic in late August and upset then-overrated West Virginia at home. At 5-2, Tech has winnable games the next three weeks at Georgia Tech and North Carolina and at home against Maryland before finishing with Virginia and Miami.

Disappointing team: A lot of frustrated fans in College Park might nominate the Terrapins after the past two weeks, but Maryland was supposed to be something of a question mark because of its quarterback situation. Ohio State wasn't. Many thought the Buckeyes would be better with sophomore Justin Zwick at quarterback than they were with Craig Krenzel, who was 24-3 as a starter and helped win a national championship in 2002 but never got much respect. Zwick has thrown more interceptions (six) than touchdown passes (five) and has been sacked 13 times, and the Buckeyes are riding a three-game losing streak.

Surprise player: Though senior tailback Carnell "Cadillac" Williams remains Auburn's biggest star, senior quarterback Jason Campbell is the biggest reason the Tigers haven't lost. After throwing only 10 touchdown passes last season, along with eight interceptions, Campbell is one of the nation's leaders in passing efficiency with 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions, and threw for 297 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday's 38-20 win over Arkansas.

Disappointing player: This was supposed to the year that Florida State quarterback Chris Rix finally lived up to all the hype that accompanied him to Tallahassee out of high school. After playing well as a freshman, it's been all downhill for Rix. Rix recently lost his starting job because of injury and inconsistency to sophomore Wyatt Sexton, who has led the Seminoles to three straight wins.

Coach of the Year: There are a lot of candidates for this one. You might want to start with Auburn's Tommy Tuberville, who was supposed to lose his job last season to Louisville's Bobby Petrino. Another strong choice is Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez, who was also on the hot seat after the Badgers lost five of their last six a year ago to finish 7-6. But the vote here is split between two of the three coaches of the country's service academies. Navy's Paul Johnson was the frontrunner until Saturday's disappointing 27-9 loss to Notre Dame. Now let's look at Army's Bobby Ross, who has the Black Knights on a two-game winning streak after breaking a 19-game losing streak. The winner of the Commander in Chief's Trophy might be worthy of taking home another piece of hardware.

Game of the Year: In terms of games with championship implications living up to their hype, nothing can top USC's 23-17 win over upstart California on Oct. 9 in Los Angeles. The game went down to the wire and ended with Bears quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had completed his first 23 passes of the day (an NCAA record) unable to finish the job deep in Trojans territory. But for sheer excitement - and with at least one team's national title hopes on the line - there hasn't been a game to match Miami's 41-38 thriller over Louisville at the Orange Bowl last Thursday.

Player of the Year: This usually translates into the Heisman Trophy winner. Purdue's Kyle Orton was making a strong bid for himself until the Boilermakers fell apart - with Orton coughing up a key fumble on a wicked hit - in Saturday's 20-17 loss at home to Wisconsin. While underclassmen don't typically wind up with the award, Oklahoma freshman tailback Adrian Peterson and Southern Cal's do-everything tailback Reggie Bush, a sophomore, are the leaders at halftime of this season. Peterson keeps putting up big numbers for the Sooners, including 130 tough yards in Saturday's comeback win against Kansas State, while Bush continues to make eye-popping plays for the Trojans, including throwing a 52-yard touchdown pass in USC's rout of Arizona State.

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