ACC title races are wildest of all

At least 9 teams still in hunt

most Division I-A conferences up in air

National analysis

October 09, 2006|By Mike Huguenin | Mike Huguenin,Orlando Sentinel

We're halfway through the season, and there are interesting conference races in all but one of the 11 Division I-A leagues. The only league without much mystery is the Western Athletic Conference, where Boise State looks to be the easy winner. But the other conferences have a lot of intrigue.

Here's a look, starting with the Bowl Championship Series leagues:

Atlantic Coast Conference: As wild as any of them. The only unbeaten teams in league play are Georgia Tech (Coastal Division) and North Carolina State (Atlantic Division), and seven teams have one league loss. Florida State looks out of it with two ACC losses. Miami, one of the teams with one league loss, still has games against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Boston College hosts Virginia Tech on Thursday, with the loser likely out of the race. Clemson looks like the best team, but the Tigers always seem to lose one they shouldn't.

Big East: Louisville hosts West Virginia on Nov. 2, with the winner almost certainly taking the title. Pittsburgh is playing well and hosts both, but the Panthers' defense is going to have all sorts of trouble trying to stop the Cardinals' and Mountaineers' offenses. Unbeaten Rutgers? Come on.

Big Ten: Unless Michigan stumbles Saturday at Penn State or Oct. 21 at home against Iowa, the Nov. 18 Michigan-Ohio State showdown in Columbus will be for the title. After Iowa, the Wolverines have Northwestern, Ball State and Indiana before finishing the regular season against the Buckeyes.

Big 12: The North Division race should be decided Nov. 4, when Nebraska hosts Missouri. The rest of the North is blah. Texas likely sewed up the South Division by beating Oklahoma on Saturday.

Pacific-10: Southern California has been living on the edge of late, and given how well California is playing, the Nov. 18 game in Los Angeles between the two should determine the league crown. USC has a big game the week before that clash when it hosts Oregon, which we don't think is as bad as it looked Saturday at California.

Southeastern Conference: Florida and Arkansas - both 4-0 in the league - are atop the East and West divisions, respectively, and are the only teams without a league loss. Florida was supposed to be good, but the Hogs are a surprise. The Gators still have toughies at Auburn (this week) and against Georgia (Oct. 28). The Hogs still have home games against Tennessee (Nov. 11) and LSU (Nov. 24).

And here's a look at the non-BCS leagues:

Conference USA: Tulsa and Houston - despite its shocking loss to Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday - look to be the best teams. Texas-El Paso's play has been too uneven to think it can win its division, much less the league. They may be the three best teams, and they're all in the West Division. Southern Miss' win at Central Florida on Sept. 26 may end up being the game that wins the East Division for the Golden Eagles.

Mid-American: We still think that when all is said and done, tailback Garrett Wolfe and Northern Illinois will win it. But the Huskies - who look to be the best team in the West Division - can't afford any more league losses. Surprising Kent State (4-2) is the front-runner in the East, and if the Golden Flashes beat Ohio on Oct. 28, the division should be theirs.

Mountain West: Texas Christian has been exposed in back-to-back losses, and Brigham Young and Utah likely play for the title when they meet Nov. 25 in Salt Lake City. That should add even more spice to one of the nation's nastiest rivalries.

Sun Belt: A mishmash of bad teams, but the winner does earn a trip to the New Orleans Bowl. Louisiana-Lafayette has the inside track to the title because it gets both top contenders - Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee - at home.

Western Athletic: Boise already may have taken care of its toughest competition, beating Hawaii, 41-34, on Sept. 23. A Nov. 25 date at Nevada is the toughest test left. The Broncos are playing for a 12-0 regular season and a possible BCS berth.

Focus, please

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville is one of the nation's top 10 coaches. But what in the world was he thinking last week when he went off on the BCS? Obviously, he's still bothered by his 12-0 team in 2004 not getting a chance to play for the national title.

Still, instead of keeping his attention focused on Auburn's next opponent, Tuberville was thinking two months down the line. Oops. Saturday, it was one-dimensional Arkansas 27, Auburn 10.

Take a mulligan?

You think California coach Jeff Tedford would like to re-think his scheduling strategy?

His Golden Bears opened the season with a 35-18 loss at Tennessee. Since then, they've averaged 43.8 points in blitzing five foes, including Saturday's 45-24 demolition of Oregon.

Mike Huguenin writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

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