Sunday November 21st, 2010

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- In most of Saturday afternoon's featured games, upsets brewed. With each score update came the possibility that the accepted order of things might be upended on a day that -- at sunrise -- didn't seem all that interesting on paper.

Purdue led Michigan State by 15 at the start of the fourth quarter. North Carolina, a mere shell of the team that was supposed to compete for the ACC title before scandal intervened, led ACC Atlantic Division leader NC State at the start of the fourth quarter. Iowa led Ohio State by a touchdown in the fourth. Lowly Ole Miss led LSU with a minute remaining.

The role reversal looked most obvious at Sun Life Stadium. The moment Virginia Tech and Miami took the field, we entered Bizarro World. Miami, the underdog, wore a new Nike monstrosity that featured dark green helmets atop orange jerseys and orange pants. From a distance, the green didn't seem all that different from Virginia Tech's usual maroon helmets. Compounding the visual subterfuge, Virginia Tech wore white helmets, white jerseys and white pants. But for the empty seats and the U at midfield, Saturday's contest appeared to be a Miami-Virginia Tech game in Blacksburg -- except Miami was Virginia Tech and Virginia Tech was Miami.

Even Miami's stadium entertainment crew got confused. A few moments before the Hurricanes blasted out from the smoke, Metallica's Enter Sandman roared from the speakers. It's a wonder the Hokies didn't hear Kirk Hammett's guitar and instinctively take the field.

But by the time Virginia Tech defensive tackle John Graves scooped a few clumps of South Florida sod into the Hokies' iconic lunch pail to celebrate a 31-17 win and Virginia Tech's fourth ACC Coastal Division title in six seasons of divisional play, order had been restored. Michigan State had subdued Purdue. A wild deflection in the end zone had saved NC State. Ohio State had driven for two fourth-quarter scores to win. LSU coach Les Miles had refused to allow the Right Rev. Houston Nutt to out-mad the Mad Hatter himself.

Kind of a buzzkill, right?

Not exactly. College football needed a weekend of calm, orderly results. Because the storm is coming.

Enjoy your turkey and the appetizer of Texas A&M and Texas on Thursday, because all hell could break loose Friday. Virginia Tech's win against Miami only bolsters Boise State's case in the computer polls. The Broncos' 51-0 win Friday against Fresno State certainly didn't hurt their case with the human voters. Given those factors, it's quite likely Boise State will leapfrog TCU on Sunday and ascend to No. 3 in the BCS rankings. If it doesn't happen Sunday, it probably would happen a week later -- assuming the Horned Frogs win and the Broncos win impressively -- after TCU plays doormat New Mexico and Boise State plays the WAC's second-best team, Nevada.

On Black Friday, three of the four remaining undefeated teams will play games they can lose. Alabama can beat Auburn. Arizona can beat Oregon. Nevada can beat Boise State. That doesn't mean any of those teams will pull off the upset, but the law of averages suggests something will happen -- and it's entirely possible we could awake Saturday to a world in which Boise State is favored to reach the BCS title game.

That idea infuriates a lot of people. It also excites a lot of people. At any rate, it could make for a fun December.

Hopefully, Broncos coach Chris Petersen sends Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer a fruit basket every week, because the Hokies' resiliency has kept Boise State's schedule strength from slipping into the toilet. Virginia Tech could have bagged this season after losing to Boise State and FCS school James Madison in a five-day stretch in September. The Hokies could have quit after a humiliating loss to a team that would go on to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the Colonial Athletic Association.

That loss drained credibility from Boise State's "signature" victory, but Virginia Tech has slowly refilled that credibility reservoir week after week. Saturday, the Hokies started slow. They couldn't block Miami's freakishly athletic defensive line. When a hit in the chest from Hurricanes linebacker Colin McCarthy knocked Hokies quarterback Tyrod Taylor from the game before a third-and-16 with Virginia Tech trailing by a touchdown in the first quarter, Miami seemed to have all the momentum.

But then backup quarterback Logan Thomas came off the sideline cold and hit Danny Coale for a 24-yard gain. The Hokies scored on that possession, and they made just enough plays to stay even with the talented-but-mistake-prone Hurricanes until the fourth quarter, when Ryan Williams raced for an 84-yard touchdown that eventually proved to be the winning score.

"I think this is a special group," Beamer said. "They've just gotten very close. They work hard and support each other. It's really neat to be the head coach of a crowd like this. Really special."

Someone asked Beamer, who loves the bowls, if his team's performance this year had changed his mind about a playoff in college football. Beamer laughed. He said playing a jilted Auburn team after the 2004 season in the Sugar Bowl convinced him a plus-one was needed, but he still wouldn't want the full monty.

That's awfully selfless, because if the FBS used a playoff now, Beamer's Hokies would stand an awfully good chance of entering the tournament on an 11-game win streak. They face bottom-feeder Virginia next week, and their presence in Charlotte on Dec. 4 probably will produce the best-attended ACC title game in history.

If Virginia Tech wins its fourth ACC title in seven years, the Hokies will return to this stadium in a little more than a month for the Orange Bowl. Because familiarity breeds apathy in the bowl world, Orange Bowl organizers would want to pair the Hokies with a blockbuster opponent.

That decision could be critical for the BCS going forward. If Boise State jumps TCU, the Broncos would be guaranteed a place in the BCS -- be it in the title game or in another bowl. TCU would be guaranteed nothing. Neither would Stanford, which appears destined to finish 11-1 and second in the Pac-10.

In an at-large mix that also should include a few one- or two-loss Big Ten teams with huge, loyal, travel-happy fan bases, Orange Bowl officials may have to make a brutal decision. They may have to choose between the best team and the team that will fill the stadium.

TCU coach Gary Patterson, who had been quiet in past years when his team was passed over, mounted an offensive during his team's open week. He visited ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Conn., on Friday and then traveled to Chicago to appear Saturday on ESPN's College GameDay. On the program, Patterson said an undefeated, top-four team getting left out of the BCS would be "a travesty." With the Department of Justice sniffing around the BCS, would the Orange dare choose a less deserving team to fill seats?

Fortunately, no one need answer that question until after what could be two glorious weeks of twists and turns. Order was restored in every potential upset Saturday afternoon. But a day that maintained the status quo may only have set the stage for a paradigm shift.

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