Sunday, October 29, 2006

THE ROAD TO ... Jacksonville

It's time for the final month of the college football season, which means we're in the stretch run that will decide who will go to the BCS, who will go to meaningful second-rate bowls, who will go to the "Whack-a-Mole Connecticut Bowl" and who will stay home in December. (Yes, we're talking about you, Duke.)

So, beginning today, C&F takes a look at the games that will shape the conference championship or championship games for each of the BCS leagues.

We begin with the Atlantic Coast Conference, perhaps the most disappointing league of the year. The Stars! The Storylines! The Directors! But little in the way of results.

The 'Studio 60' of conferences.

So let's take a look at the Road to Jacksonville and a barely-deserved Orange Bowl berth. First, a peek on where the divisions stand.

The Atlantic Division lead, believe it or not, is split among Boston College, Maryland and Wake Forest. While I contact theologians to find out whether this a sign of the imminent apocalypse, it is worth noting that 4-2 (in conference) Clemson has actually played two more league games than the divison's 3-1 "behemoths."

Don't worry about Atlantic Division too much.

In the Coastal Division, Georgia Tech (4-1) is in the driver's seat, having defeated everyone who poses a real challenge in the division.

So the critical games in the Coastal are, believe it or not, Georgia Tech at N.C. State (11/4), Georgia Tech at North Carolina (11/11) and Duke at Georgia Tech (11/18). Barring an implosion that would seem impossible even considering that Chan Gailey and Reggie Ball are involved, Georgia Tech should win the division.

If the Jackets somehow manage to lose two or three of those final games, chaos could ensue. But the biggest threat based on performance is Virginia Tech, which goes to Miami (11/4) and still has a showdown with divison rival Virginia (11/25). Don't forget the trip to Wake (11/18).

The Atlantic is a bit murkier now that Clemson has two losses. It makes their Nov. 4 game against Maryland -- which must travel to Death Valley -- unexpectedly important. That same Saturday, Boston College travels to Winston-Salem to battle Wake Forest. Tell me that game was circled on your calender, and I'll call you a liar right now.

Clemson's only other conference contest is a Nov. 11 home game against N.C. State.

Later, Maryland travels to Chestnut Hill Nov. 18 to face B.C. and hosts Wake on Nov. 25. Whether that game matters or not could depend on what happens two days earlier, when B.C. goes to Miami for a brawl ... er, fight ... er, game against the Hurricanes.


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