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Wild weekend capsizes steady ACC ship

Saturday, in the span of roughly 10 hours, a league commonly teased as "Florida State and the other eight" turned into FS-eeww and a band of unheralded and undaunted upstarts.

Traditionally, schools like Maryland, Wake Forest and North Carolina boast about as much football luster nationally as Geraldo Rivera does journalistic credibility.

If Saturday's startling, if not downright jaw-dropping, results are any indication, though, the aforementioned and their conference counterparts won't be blips for long ... more like fixtures on every fan's double Doppler.

To think Clemson would fall, 26-24, at home to a Virginia team that needed every hair on its chinny-chin-chin to top I-AA Richmond is surprising enough. Sprinkle in an early-season battle of unbeatens featuring Maryland and Wake Forest (the last time that happened, cheerleaders clad in poodle skirts led the crowd in "Duke of Earl" chants) and things start to get twilight-zone weird. Then there's the clincher: North Carolina's 41-9 deconstruction of Florida State.

Not only did the Seminoles lose just their third league contest in 74 tries but they also saw ominous signs of a crumbling empire.

For the first time in recent memory, Bobby Bowden's bunch doesn't possess a franchise quarterback and bookend wideouts to compensate for a suspect running game, or a big-shot tailback to buttress concerns under center.

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  • The 'Noles' top two quarterbacks are freshmen; their frontline runners are an untested sophomore and a converted wideout. The receiving corps lost its top-two returnees to season-ending knee injuries. What's left is a grab bag of teen-agers thrust from the practice squad onto the playing field in hardly a moment's notice.

    Where-oh-where has Osceola's karma gone? In the season's first three weeks, Bowden has suspended one starting defensive lineman for ignoring team rules and watched another sustain gunshots to the back in an attempted armed robbery.

    As FSU tumbles, the rest of the league smiles. The first signs of parity imbue the other eight with the hope that not only are the 'Noles markedly down, but the rest of the league is noticeably up.

    They're right.

    Georgia Tech and Clemson (though staggered by Saturday's setback) legitimately can deem themselves co-contenders to Florida State's crown rather than daydreaming pretenders barely visible in the rear-view of the Seminole Cadillac.

    Their last time out, the Yellow Jackets did to Navy what elite clubs do against featherweights: They make their cheerleaders do push-ups until they turn purple, trying to keep pace with the scoring barrage. A 70-7 annihilation qualifies as that kind of win. Two weeks prior, they achieved what the prolific programs manage in their most piqued performances - a scrounge-out win (13-7 over Syracuse).

    But enough with the big-boys. How about the baby boomers?

    The similarities between N.C. State sophomore quarterback Phillip Rivers and former Purdue stud Drew Brees are copious. Rivers, like Brees, earned the starting nod early in his career. Like Brees, he picked up offenses and picked apart defenses with Marion Jones-quickness. Like Brees, he is reinvigorating a downtrodden program. The 'Pack finished 2000 at 8-4 and went bowling. With a 2-0 start to 2001, a Jan. 1 vacation is within reach.

    The rest is a crapshoot. Virginia and North Carolina have both been shaky at certain moments, dazzling at others. Both have new, NFL-groomed coaches, and both have enough talent and scheming smarts to be dangerous. The proof came in last weekend's pudding.

    Steadier if less spectacular under new generals are Maryland and Wake Forest, bolstered by All-ACC caliber runners in Bruce Perry and Tarence Williams that have them sitting pretty at a combined 5-1.

    All told, ACC fans finally can claim a league splashed with more than simply garnet and gold. School colors of every shade dot this kaleidoscope.

    But you're saying: What about Duke?

    What about Duke?