BEST OF TIMES: A snapshot from the peaks…
Clemson. Of course, the Tigers' stock still has plenty of room to rise: Their first 10-win season since 1990, first conference title since 1991 and first ever BCS bowl are all well within reach over the next three weeks. At 9-1, though, Dabo Swinney already has them back in the ACC Championship Game for the second time in three years, turning a make-or-break season for his tenure as head coach into the best season in Death Valley in two decades. Clemson could lay an egg down the stretch, and that would arguably still hold true.
Either way, the deep core of first-rate underclassmen on offense — namely sophomore quarterback Tajh Boyd and sensational freshman receiver Sammy Watkins, just two of a handful of emerging stars — virtually guarantees the Tigers will find themselves on top of the preseason ACC polls next summer, with national goals on the radar. Given how well that role has worked out for them in the recent past, they might want to savor the anticipation.
The SEC West. The division has already had more than its share of face time, thanks to Alabama-LSU and the dramatic exploits of the defending BCS champs. With the No. 1 team in the latest BCS standings, three teams in the top six and another heavyweight showdown looming between Arkansas and LSU, the drumbeat is only going to get louder.
In fact, most of the sacrifices to their glory have come from directly across the divisional divide: With the inter-divisional schedule in the books, the top four teams in the West Division (Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU) finished 11-1 against the East, the latter's only notable win coming in Georgia's 45-7 rout Saturday over Auburn; the West's only other losses have all come at the expense of the Mississippi schools, Ole Miss (see below) and Mississippi State. Last year, the top five teams from the West were 15-1 against the East and enlisted Auburn to administer the most lopsided beating in the history of the SEC Championship Game.
Arkansas State. The Red Wolves' win over Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday was their seventh straight, putting them within one game of locking up the Sun Belt championship in coach Hugh Freeze's first year — already the first winning season at ASU since 1975, with the chance to match the school record for wins if it takes its last three. The only downside: At this pace, Freeze's first season in Jonesboro may also be his last en route to a bigger job.
WORST OF TIMES: …and into the valleys.
Maryland. Yes, the Terps have been here before, following a 41-16 flop against Florida State for their third consecutive loss on Oct. 22. Incredibly, though, that wasn't even close to rock bottom: In the subsequent three weeks, Maryland has a) Lost to fellow bottom dweller Boston College in front of an empty stadium, b) Been blown out by Virginia and c) Failed to look remotely competitive in a 45-21 thrashing at the hands of Notre Dame, extending the losing streak to six. Meanwhile, some players aren't even waiting for the end of the season to describe the rift in the locker room over first-year head coach Randy Edsall:
"At this point, it's not like two sides of the cafeteria — this side is buying in, this side is not," place kicker Nick Ferrara said. "People are keeping it to themselves. No one knows who is going to go [transfer], who is going to stay, who is feeling which way."
When asked whether the struggles this season illustrate the difficulty of winning when some players do not buy in to a coach's philosophy, wide receiver Kevin Dorsey said, "Yes, definitely."
Earlier this season, a veteran player told The Post that he had grown frustrated with what he viewed as Edsall's attempt to stifle individuality and create a militaristic atmosphere. The player, who spoke anonymously so he could talk honestly about Edsall, said he was looking forward to leaving the program after the season.
Again, the Terps fired an alum with ten solid years in College Park and a second ACC Coach of the Year award to his name in 2010 for this.
Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have appeared in this space, too, but in a completely different context following their 41-38 ambush of Oklahoma as 29-point road underdogs on Oct. 22. Since racing out to a 31-7 lead in Norman, Tech has been outscored 190 to 43, including three consecutive losses by at least 32 points apiece.
Last week, Oklahoma State could have named its own score in a 66-6 rout that could have doubled as a ritual burning of the Red Raider defense at the stake. If the skid continues at Missouri and Baylor over the next two weeks, the Raiders will go from a 4-0 September to missing a bowl game altogether, with only the most inexplicable upset of the season to break up the descent.
Ole Miss. If it makes Tommy Tuberville feel any better, even the Rebels' new mascot can't bear to watch the death throes of the Houston Nutt era in Tubs' old stomping grounds. Ole Miss fans started waving the white flag weeks ago, but Saturday's 27-7 embarrassment against Louisiana Tech gave a whole new meaning to "surrender." This week: The Rebels host LSU. Just make sure you're already tenderized before kickoff, guys, because it will only make the experience last longer if the Tigers have to do it themselves.