Hokies, 'Canes deliver parting shots

Originally Published: October 16, 2003
By Jorge Milian | Special to ESPN.com

Two of the nation's top three teams -- No. 2 Miami and No. 3 Virginia Tech -- reside in the Big East, but don't expect any wild celebrations at conference headquarters in Providence, R.I.

The Hurricanes and Hokies are lame ducks, playing their final season in the Big East before moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference next year. The departure of the two league heavyweights already had the Big East reeling, and that was before Boston College announced on Sunday that it too was leaving to join the ACC.

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  • Instead of enjoying what could be a breakthrough season for the Big East with two of its teams earning BCS bowl berths, league commissioner Mike Tranghese spends most of his days worrying about a conference that seems headed for second-class status.

    Speculation is that Cincinnati and Louisville will move to the Big East, but even if they do, that is equivalent to replacing a pair of pillars with toothpicks.

    The more things change off the field in the Big East, the more they stay the same on the field.

    Miami and Virginia Tech, who have combined to win seven of the last nine conference championships, seem almost certain to decide the league title in their Nov. 1 showdown in Blacksburg, Va.

    The Hurricanes have sputtered offensively, but have relied on outstanding defense and specials teams to extend their regular-season win streak to 38 games heading into Saturday's meeting with Temple in the Orange Bowl.

    The Hokies have won their six games by an average of 27.3 points, but have yet to face a team that is currently ranked. Virginia Tech won its first eight games last season before collapsing down the stretch and winding up in the San Francisco Bowl. But the Hokies are better this year, especially with the emergence of quarterback Bryan Randall.

    Pittsburgh, ranked in the Top 10 just a few weeks ago, has fallen out of the rankings after losses to unranked Toledo and Notre Dame. The Panthers could still make a fuss in the conference race, but it will have to overcome a defense that has more leaks than the White House.

    Everyone else in the Big East would be satisfied with a winning record.

    Biggest Surprise

    It's not just that Rutgers has already won three games, something it hadn't done in a full season since 2000. More importantly, the Scarlet Knights have remained competitive in games they have lost. After losing 15 games by 20 or more points in Greg Schiano's first two seasons as coach, Rutgers has suffered that ignominious fate only once this season. Granted, there's still plenty of work to be done here, but the Knights seem headed in the right direction. Finally.

    Biggest Disappointment

    That's easy. Pittsburgh, which hadn't been ranked in the Top 10 since 1982, appears to have gagged under the weight of expectations. At least the defense has. While Rod Rutherford and Larry Fitzgerald have provided plenty of offense, the normally reilable Panther defenders can't stop the run or the pass.

    Midseason MVP

    It's not Larry Fitzgerald's fault that the Panthers have collapsed. Fitzgerald may not win the Heisman, but there hasn't been a better player in college football through the season's first half. Fitzgerald leads the nation in receiving yards per game (132.40) and touchdown catches (11). He's a pleasure to watch too, routinely making the difficult look easy.

    Midseason Coach of the Year

    Larry Coker, Miami. Coker has shown his mettle this season in close calls against Florida and West Virginia. When defeat seemed a near certainty, Coker didn't panic. Neither did his team. With as much talent as Miami has, Coker will never get the respect he deserves. But, despite his relative lack of experience as a head coach, Coker has a great handle on games and nearly always has his team prepared to play.

    Bowl Bound
    Miami and Virginia Tech are already qualified. They'll be playing for a BCS, and possible national championship, berth on Nov. 1. The loser, especially if it's the Hurricanes, could also get into the BCS pool. Count in Pittsburgh and Boston College, which has been to the postseason for four straight seasons despite rarely beating anyone of consequence. For everybody else, it's wait until next year.

    Jorge Milian covers the Big East for the Palm Beach Post.