Ryan, Eagles soar in ACC's first half

Some call it parity. Others mediocrity.

Whatever it is, the path to the ACC championship seems to be as wide open as it was last season when Wake Forest shocked college football by winning its first conference crown since 1970.

Yes, Boston College (6-0, 3-0 Atlantic) is undefeated after six games for the first time since 1942 and is ranked No. 4, its highest perch since Doug Flutie's Heisman Trophy season in 1984.

But there are plenty of skeptics who wonder if BC, which has never played in a BCS game, is for real. The Eagles' biggest win over the season's first half was a 24-10 thumping of then-No. 15 Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Looked pretty impressive until the Yellow Jackets followed that loss with two more defeats in their next three games.

The Eagles, who face Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday, also have a tough road ahead with four road contests in their final six games. The two opponents -- Florida State and Miami -- that BC faces at Alumni Stadium won't be pushovers, either.

Which brings us back to the original point: Who is going to win this conference?

"I've got no clue how it's going to turn out," said Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey, whose Yellow Jackets probably played themselves out of contention by losing three of their first four ACC games. "You can talk to 10 people and get 10 different opinions about what's going to happen and maybe one or two of them are right and maybe none of them are right."

Said FSU coach Bobby Bowden: "There's probably more parity in our conference right now than there's ever been."

If you're not convinced, check out the Coastal Division standings where Virginia (5-1, 3-0) is running first. These are the same Cavaliers that began the season with an embarrassing 23-3 loss to Wyoming that brought a storm of criticism for coach Al Groh.

"I see eight or nine teams competing and going down to the last week to see who is going to win it," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. "I think it's good for the conference, bad for coaches."

It could be really bad for Bowden, whose Tigers (4-2, 2-2 Atlantic) began the season by beating FSU in impressive fashion while moving out to a 4-0 record and No. 13 ranking. But Clemson has followed that with two bad defeats, putting its Atlantic Division title hopes and Bowden's job security in serious jeopardy.

Ups and downs have been the signature story for every ACC team this season with the possible exception of Boston College. Only BC, Virginia Tech and Florida State are currently ranked.

The Hokies (5-1, 2-0 Coastal) were the ACC's highest-ranked team to start the season at No. 9 but suffered a one-sided loss to LSU and hadn't looked very good until humiliating Clemson in Death Valley on Saturday.

Wake Forest also has bounced back nicely with three consecutive victories after opening the season with losses to Boston College and Nebraska. FSU and Maryland have also played well lately, making the Atlantic Division a possible five-horse race.

Aside from BC's Ryan, whose 15 touchdown passes are as many as he threw all of last season, there have been few individuals who have consistently turned in outstanding performances.

In fact, some of the league's best players have struggled through the season's first half. That includes Virginia Tech tailback Branden Ore, who finished second among ACC rushers last year but isn't listed among the top 10 rushers this season. Clemson's tailback tandem of James Davis and C.J. Spiller has been disappointing, especially Spiller, who has been held to under 10 yards rushing in three of his past four games after finishing fourth among conference rushers in 2006. Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner, the ACC's 2006 rookie of the year, missed two games with a shoulder injury and hasn't performed that great when he has played. Skinner has thrown seven interceptions in four games after getting picked off only five times in 14 games last season. Miami defensive end Calais Campbell, who led the ACC in tackles for loss (20.5) and was third in sacks (10.5) last season, has 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.

Biggest Surprise

Virginia could turn into this season's Wake Forest. The Cavaliers have already won as many games as they did all last season, which isn't that big a deal considering that number is five. What is a big deal has been UVa's turnaround after a putrid start to the season in a 23-3 defeat to Wyoming. Sophomore quarterback Jameel Sewell, in danger of losing his starting job a few weeks ago, has matured nicely and tailback Cedric Peerman has gone from seldom-used backup to one of the ACC's best runners. With Florida State, Clemson and Boston College missing from the schedule, the Cavaliers' hopes of making it to Jacksonville on Dec. 1 are not unreasonable.

Biggest Disappointment

Georgia Tech made it to the ACC championship game last season, but has nearly eliminated itself from the Coastal Division race with half the season left to be played. Everyone knew losing receiver Calvin Johnson was going to affect Georgia Tech's offense, but the hurt has been worse than expected. After throwing for a league-high 25 touchdown passes last season, the Yellow Jackets have a conference-low two passing TDs this season. The veteran defense has been disappointing in the team's three conference losses.

Midseason MVP

Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan has all but secured the ACC's player of the year award with a sterling half-season that includes 15 touchdown passes, a 62.7 percent completion rate, four games of 300 yards passing and, most importantly, a 6-0 record. While he remains a dark horse for the Heisman, Ryan will get several opportunities to push his candidacy on the national stage beginning with Saturday's meeting with Notre Dame in South Bend.

Midseason Coach of the Year

Virginia's grizzled Al Groh returned to Charlottesville after the Cavaliers' season-opening loss to Wyoming to find someone had spray-painted "Groh Must Go" on a campus bridge. Instead of getting mad, Groh got even by leading UVa to five consecutive wins and first place in the Coastal Division. The five victories are as many as the Cavaliers had all of last season when they missed the postseason for the first time since 2001. If Virginia finishes as well as it started, Groh won't be going anywhere for a long time. Boston College's Jeff Jagodzinski also deserves consideration in this category.

Bowl Bound

Boston Colllege, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Maryland, Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.

Jorge Milian covers the ACC for The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.