Expansion serving ACC teams well

When those in favor of expansion touted a 12-team Atlantic Coast Conference, the carrot they dangled before the cart of naysayers was the possibility of getting two of the league's teams into BCS bowls in the same season. Most assumed Florida State and Miami would be the ACC's representatives.

Who knew Virginia Tech would emerge as the league's preeminent program?

Halfway through the 2005 season, the post-expansion ACC is in better shape than even the strongest advocates could have imagined. Not only have the Hokies built on their surprising first-year league title, but the Seminoles and Hurricanes are back to doing what was expected of them when the whole idea was hatched.

Lapses at Clemson, North Carolina State and Virginia so far this season have done nothing to diminish the significance of the ACC's rise among the power football conferences. Hence, the ACC has the enviable position of having three teams within reach of BCS bowl bids.

Granted, that's not going to happen, but three chasing two berths is better than two chasing one. Or, as the story went for so long under Florida State's pre-expansion dominance, one accepting the bid, while everybody else watched. And that's to say nothing of how once-beaten Boston College might play into the equation.

Since the advent of the BCS, the ACC is the only power conference not to have put two teams in BCS bowls in the same season at least once. This year, there are a variety of ways in which that could be rectified.

If you're ACC commissioner John Swofford, you can't help but pull for a showdown of unbeatens Virginia Tech and Florida State in the inaugural league football championship game on Dec. 3 in Jacksonville. And such a game appears more likely than unlikely at this juncture.

But here's another tantalizing scenario: What if Miami upsets Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Nov. 5 and then knocks Florida State from the ranks of the unbeaten in Jacksonville, avenging a three-point loss to the Seminoles in the season opener? Then Miami gets the automatic BCS berth and there's the possibility of once-beaten FSU and Virginia Tech also sitting among the top-eight in the final regular-season BCS standings.

No matter what happens elsewhere around the country, one-loss teams at Miami, Virginia Tech and Florida State (or Boston College, for that matter) would make interesting and deserving candidates for BCS bowls.

Would three get in? Highly unlikely. But the fact we're discussing it makes the decision to expand appear to be the best thing to happen to the ACC since the invention of the basketball.

Biggest surprise
Florida State. The Seminoles lost starting quarterback Wyatt Sexton (to a tick bite -- how's that for a surprise?) during the summer and then lost preseason All-American cornerback Antonio Cromartie when he fell and tore knee ligaments during a July workout. With a freshman quarterback, unproven cornerbacks and a posse of first-year wide receivers, the Seminoles not only survived Miami and Boston College in the first three weeks, but now appear to be gaining momentum by the week.

Biggest disappointment
Clemson. But then, we've heard this one before. The Tigers went through an offseason overhaul with coach Tommy Bowden bringing in new offensive and defensive coordinators, and the results haven't been all bad. There was that season-opening overtime victory over Texas A&M and a hard-earned road win at Maryland, but now the Tigers are on a three-game losing streak. Overtime losses to Miami and Boston College would've looked better had they not taken place at Clemson's Memorial Stadium ("Death Valley"). But the loss to Wake Forest stirs bitter reminders of how delicate an issue Bowden's job status remains following last year's 6-5 finish.

Midseason MVP
Marcus Vick. We knew Virginia Tech was loaded on defense and had talent in the offensive backfield and at receiver, but Vick was the variable through which the Hokies' national title hopes would flow. So far, so good. Vick's offseason troubles didn't inhibit his poise on the field (hey, you might have flipped a finger at those West Virginia fans, too, if you had heard the stuff they were yelling) and his play has been as steady as the Hokies could have hoped for.

Midseason Coach of the Year
Bobby Bowden, Florida State. None of the league's ranked teams went through an offseason as tumultuous as Florida State's (did we mention that starting defensive tackle Clifton Dickson flunked out of school?) or had to start a freshman quarterback. Bowden looked like he was down for the count (funny, so did Joe Paterno), but now he looks like he's building for the future.

Bowl bound
Virginia Tech, Florida State, Miami, Boston College, Maryland, North Carolina State and Georgia Tech.

Doug Carlson covers the ACC for the Tampa Tribune. He can be contacted at dcarlsonespn@hotmail.com.