In many ways, the first seven weeks of the season in the Atlantic Coast Conference carries the look of a fitting end to the league as we knew it.
When Florida State joined the ACC in 1992 and proceeded to win 70 of its first 72 conference games through the '00 season, the joke about the Seminoles and the eight dwarves wouldn't go away.
So, here we are, halfway through the last season before the ACC takes in Miami and Virginia Tech (Boston College will come later) and the league has only one ranked team. Not necessarily a fair indicator of what's happened in the ACC since the Seminoles joined, but a reality nonetheless.
Truth is, the league has improved. Also true: Florida State won or shared 10 conference titles in its first 11 seasons as a member and appears destined to make it 11 of 12.
One reason no other ACC schools are ranked at the moment is the logjam of decent, but not great, teams lining up for second place. Maryland (already soundly beaten by Florida State in September) appears to be the best of the rest, but Virginia (which hosts the Seminoles on Saturday night) isn't out of it despite an overtime loss at Clemson last weekend.
Yes, interesting story lines remain: Will Clemson continue improving and save Tommy Bowden's job? Could Maryland win out and grab a share of the ACC title if the Seminoles stumble? Will the Nov. 22 North Carolina-Duke game end in a tie?
Alas, we can't force our way through a midseason report on the ACC without disobeying orders and looking ahead -- to next year. With Miami, Virginia Tech and Florida State all still BCS title game contenders this season, the ACC finally has a future worth getting excited about.
When Georgia Tech lost a dozen players to academic problems last spring, including All-American candidate Tony Hollings (158.2 rushing yards a game last year), we figured coach Chan Gailey would realize what he'd gotten himself into and start looking for a way back into the NFL.
When he named 18-year-old Reggie Ball his starting quarterback in August, it looked like Gailey was writing off the season and looking ahead to next year. Instead, the Yellow Jackets stunned Auburn, took Florida State down to the wire, and are coming off convincing wins against North Carolina State and Wake Forest.
We're not going to say the Yellow Jackets are bowl-bound just yet. The stunning part is that we can't say they aren't.
Chuck Amato's decision to keep wearing those sunglasses. Either he gets his pupils dilated every Saturday morning or he's trying to draw attention away from his defense. The Wolfpack, expected to challenge Florida State this season, has the best quarterback in the country in Philip Rivers, but he's thrown the same number of touchdown passes (16) as NC State's defense has given up.
Rivers throws for 332.2 yards a game, and the 'Pack gives up 325.0 yards a game. Notice a pattern? OK, here's the real reason for the dark (but goofy) shades: Duke (28.5 points a game) has a better scoring defense than does NC State (30.0). And Duke has already played Florida State, giving up 56 points on Sept. 27.
Philip Rivers, if for no other reason than not losing his composure while watching his hard work come undone every time North Carolina State's defense takes the field. Rivers rates second nationally in total offense (331.1 yards a game) and still merits some Heisman Trophy consideration in spite of a disappointing season for the Wolfpack.
Midseason Coach of the Year
Chan Gailey. Georgia Tech fans wanted his head after the Yellow Jackets were humiliated at Georgia to end the '02 season. Working against some difficult academic standards that had a major impact on his current roster, Gailey has coached the Jackets into position for a possible bowl berth.
Florida State, Virginia, Maryland, Clemson. On the bubble: North Carolina State. Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.
Doug Carlson covers college football for the Tampa Tribune.