The Atlantic Division is considerably more chaotic, thanks to N.C. State's win over Florida State last Thursday night. The Wolfpack and Seminoles are joined by Maryland with one loss apiece (FSU at 4-1, is a half-game up on its two rivals). The Terps are the surprise in the group and are drawing the most skepticism. They real beef of their schedule starts Saturday with they go to Miami and they still have their two Atlantic competitors ahead of them. However it shakes out, it's been a great turnaround year for Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who needed to get to a bowl game to save his job and at 6-2, that goal is pretty well in the bag. As unlikely as it seems, his team is the one to watch in the Atlantic coming down the stretch.
Clemson and Duke have to be the two biggest disappointments in the league. The Tigers had the talent to return to the ACC Championship Game for a second straight year and this time to win it. But they've been inconsistent all year, and at 4-4 and ready to pull the plug on quarterback Kyle Parker, they have to fight to have a winning season. Duke had made tremendous strides last year under the leadership of David Cutliffe, going 5-7. But new quarterback Sean Renfree hasn't been able to match the production of departed signal-caller Thaddeus Lewis and there hasn't been any defensive improvement. The Blue Devils are 2-6 and waiting for their first win in ACC play. Actually, they're really waiting for basketball season.
Returning back to the top of the league, the joust among the Atlantic's Big Three, Virginia Tech, and the Coastal's Contending Three (Miami, Georgia Tech, North Carolina) is going to be nasty, because it's highly unlikely any at-large BCS bid is forthcoming--the conference has never sent more than the obligatory one team in the history of the BCS. After that, the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta offers the chance to play a good SEC team, and from there it's a big drop to the Champs Sports and a midlevel Big Ten team. So there's only two good bowl spots--three at most--in a league where four teams are 6-2 and three others are 5-3. It's going to make for a feisty stretch run and it starts tonight in Blacksburg.
Virginia Tech quarterback Tyred Taylor is leading most lists to be his conference's Player of the Year, and he's made tremendous strides in becoming an effective passer in addition to runner this season. If he plays well the next three weeks, it's tough to deny him the honor. Russell Wilson at N.C. State could make a run at the award if he cuts back the interceptions and lead the Pack to the conference title game. Florida State has two solid running backs in Chris Thompson and Jermaine Thomas, but the shared time means neither one is going to win an individual award. Another quality runner is Miami's Damien Berry, who will have an even greater burden on him with freshman quarterback Stephen Morris in for Jacory Harris on Saturday. Keep on eye on Berry if the Hurricanes can make a November run on the ground.
Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL and a wrap-up of baseball season. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.