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'Canes in Fiesta Bowl form
By Terry Bowden
Special to ABC Sports Online

Miami showed with its 49-7 win over Syracuse that it is getting in championship form. Not so much because the Orangemen were a strong opponent, but because the Hurricanes jumped out of the gate with focus.

This is the time of year when true contenders play their best and focus on the task at hand. Miami has not played as well this season as it did against the Orangemen, and it looks ready for the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

The 'Canes have so many weapons on offense with players like Ken Dorsey, Willis McGahee and Kellen Winslow II that there is not a defense in the country that can keep them from scoring. What has become most fascinating, though, is the style of defense UM has played this year.

Because the Hurricanes can score points so quickly they have no concern whatsoever with time of possession. Therefore, they almost trick teams into running the ball all day and thus running out the clock on themselves.

We all sit around wondering about the two-deep coverage and Miami's perceived problems against the run, but in reality the only way anybody can keep up with the 'Canes is to score by throwing the ball. And that is not likely to happen against the best pass defense in the nation.

I can just imagine all the analysts explaining what Virginia Tech will have to do to beat Miami: run the ball, control the clock and keep the Hurricanes' offense on the sideline. But if the Hokies give Miami five good minutes with the ball, they will be behind 21-0 before they know it. And with the 'Canes giving up under 16 points per game, Tech will spend all day helping Miami win with that .

West Coast whipping
No one foresaw Southern Cal ripping apart the Notre Dame defense like it did, no matter how hot the Trojans were coning into the game. The Irish team that was handed a 44-13 whipping was not the ND team that had an otherwise extraordinary season.

And the fact that Tyrone Willingham won his last three games against USC while at Stanford shows how much improvement the Trojans have made under second-year coach Pete Carroll.

Southern Cal has always had great talent and is now putting it together and playing like a national contender. The Trojans play great defense, which is a bit of a rarity in the Pac-10, but the biggest difference has been how well quarterback Carson Palmer has picked up Norm Chow's offense.

It may have taken two seasons for Palmer to get a grasp on the system, but there is not a hotter QB in the country today. If you ask me, he has locked up all the West Coast votes for the Heisman Trophy. The only question now is whether USC will be in a BCS bowl game.

Later, Gators
It is amazing Florida State was able to prepare adequately for its game with Florida and then go out and play like it did in a 31-14 victory. My father has never faced a bigger distraction or more adversity than he did in the week leading up to this game.

No one could have imagined the team's starting quarterback getting arrested, having to go back to the guy who was benched earlier in the year and then finding a way to put it all together.

The credit has to go to quarterback Chris Rix for the way he kept his poise throughout the whole situation. He was the one who led the 'Noles to victory. Having been forced to sit on the sidelines because of turnover problems, Chris was able to win the biggest game of his career without making a single miscue.

FSU also got a 134-yard performance from freshman tailback Leon Washington, who helped the Seminoles gain back some respectability and have a chance to win 10 games once again.

That is critical not just for Florida State but also for the BCS because a five-loss team getting in would not look good for the school or the system.

Turnaround in the mountains
With a 24-17 win over Pittsburgh, West Virginia completed one of the best turnarounds of the year. The job Rich Rodriguez has done in taking his team from 3-9 to 9-3 is amazing.

I remember Rodriguez throwing the ball all over the field as the offensive coordinator at Tulane and Clemson, and now having the best running attack in America outside of the Air Force Academy shows how sharp he is when it comes to utilizing the skills of guys like running back Avon Cobourne and quarterback Rasheed Marshall.

No one has done a better job of spreading defenses out and opening up running lanes than WVU. So be careful driving down I-95 over the holidays, because you may run into a caravan of Mountaineers heading to the Gator Bowl.

Terry Bowden is an analyst for ABC Sports and contributes a weekly column to ABC Sports Online.

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