Ill Wind Blows for 'Canes, Scattering the Title Chase

Times Staff Writer

It is officially wide-open season in college football.

Miami's 39-game regular-season winning streak is over, unbeaten Oklahoma rolled up on Oklahoma State, USC walloped Washington State and now we wait for Monday's bowl championship series standings to see whether USC, yes USC, has gone from a triple-overtime defeat at California to second pole position in the national title race.

College football's eggs went from sunny-side up to completely scrambled Saturday night after No. 10 Virginia Tech defeated No. 2 Miami, 31-7, before a crowd of 65,115 at Lane Stadium.

It was Miami's first regular-season defeat since a September 2000 loss at Washington.

What now?

"One streak ends and another streaks begins," Miami lineman Eric Winston promised.

How does Miami respond?

"We'll find out," Miami Coach Larry Coker said. "We're going to determine what type of people we are."

As Hokie fans flooded the field in waves, the national title race felt the ripple effect.

Miami's defeat dropped the Hurricanes to 7-1, left Oklahoma as the only undefeated team in the national title hunt and a group of one-loss teams in the race for one of two precious BCS spots for the Sugar Bowl.

Reading the BCS tea leaves, Monday could be a pretty good day for USC.

The Trojans will move up to at least No. 3 in the BCS standings and could jump Florida State for the No. 2 position.


USC trailed Florida State by .73 of a point this week but should get enough of a lift in the BCS computer and schedule strength components to jump the Seminoles, if only temporarily.

USC defeated a top-10 team in Washington State, while Florida State beat Notre Dame, 37-0.

However, since the BCS eliminated margin-of-victory from the system last year, Florida State will get no extra benefit for a victory against a 2-6 Irish team.

The Trojans, while ranked No. 3 in both polls, had only a 5.67 computer average, a number you figure would improve more than Florida State will make up with its 3.50 average.

USC also should pick up ground from its No. 35 schedule strength, while Florida State, which was already No. 21, has less room to maneuver.

Miami's loss wasn't the only significant Saturday seismic shock.

Florida's win at Jacksonville cleared out Georgia, a one-loss team with enough schedule punch to have eventually passed USC.

Of course, everything could change in a minute, at the drop of a hat, dime or a penalty flag.

A "bad" win might knock USC down in the polls and move another one-loss school ahead -- Florida State, Ohio State, Louisiana State are the closest competitors in the BCS field.

A close Miami defeat Saturday might have kept the one-loss Hurricanes in the national title race, yet their lopsided defeat will probably cause a major tumble in the polls.

"There's obviously going to be a one-loss team in it, it might as well be us," Coker said.

No one knows this sinking feeling more than Virginia Tech, which dropped from No. 3 to No. 10 after last week's 28-7 loss at West Virginia.

It's safe to say the Hokies found a way to rebound.

"It was a rough 10 days," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said of the time between defeat and victory. "To get this one, that's why it's so special."

And while the final score wasn't close, one wondered what might have been.

After Tech took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter on cornerback DeAngelo Hall's 28-yard fumble return for a score, Miami appeared it would tie the score, 7-7, on a fake field-goal attempt.

Holder Matt Clark rolled left and let loose a lollipop pass toward tight end Kevin Everett, who could not have been more open near the goal line.

But Everett dropped the pass.

"We'd like to think it would have been a different game," Coker said of the play. "Those are things in the game you can't have."

Everett didn't say much afterward.

What could he say?

"I just fell short," he said, shoulders' hunched, head down, seated at his locker stool.


Two years ago, in the same end zone, Virginia Tech receiver Ernest Wilford dropped a pass on a two-point conversion that would have tied Miami, 26-26, and sent the game to overtime.

Instead, Miami held on for a two-point win, accepted Rose Bowl flowers in the locker room and advanced to win the national title with a victory against Nebraska.

Virginia Tech took a 10-0 lead into the half; the second half was a turkey stomp.

Eric Green intercepted a Brock Berlin pass and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown.

A two-yard Kevin Jones run made it 24-0 and, essentially, game over.

Berlin tossed two interceptions, was benched in the second half and did not return.

"I didn't deserve to," he said.

It was the first time Miami had been held scoreless in a half since a November 1999 loss to Virginia Tech.

So, with a loss here (in Blacksburg), and a win there (in Los Angeles), the national title race is suddenly as wide open ... well, as wide open as Kevin Everett was wide open.

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