GREENVILLE — The ACC's champion, or maybe that should be survivor, is all but guaranteed an Orange Bowl bid. The opponent on Jan. 1 could be none other than East Carolina.
After clearing the hurdles of West Virginia and Virginia Tech, who's going to stop ECU from an unbeaten regular season?
The smart answer would be ECU, given the Pirates' propensity for firing a cannon off its big toe the past two Novembers, losing at Rice in 2006 and Marshall in 2007, keeping them out of the Conference USA title game each time.
But this ECU team is different. The defense is stronger than the previous two versions, as evidence by their effort against Pat White on Saturday (three points), and Patrick Pinkney is a legitimate college quarterback.
The offensive void left by Chris Johnson has thus far been filled capably by a committee of runners — Jonathan Williams and Brandon Simmons — and receivers — Jamar Bryant and Dwayne Harris.
And now the Pirates have the two biggest allies of the underdog — confidence and momentum — on their side. Utah in 2004 and Boise State in 2006 showed how to turn all of the above into a BCS-crashing formula. Except Utah, Boise State and Hawaii last season, never beat two nonconference teams as good as West Virginia or Virginia Tech.
Actually, either Utah or BYU, and maybe even Ball State, could keep ECU out of the Orange Bowl. The BCS selection process allows for one champion from a non-BCS conference to play in a BCS bowl.
So even if both ECU and the Mountain West champion both finish in the top 12 of the final BCS standings, the highest-ranked team would qualify for the Orange Bowl (that's the site of the national title game and thus the double-host, which in the past two years has been the site of the non-BCS team).
Both BYU (15) and Utah (22) began the week ahead of ECU (27) in the AP Poll (which is not used in the BCS formula but is a good indicator of the Harris Poll).
As for the actual schedule — and keep in mind ECU hasn't played a C-USA game — the three biggest challenges in the conference will be Central Florida, on the road on Nov. 2, and Southern Miss, on the road on Nov. 15. Then there's the date with the West Division champion, possibly Tulsa, but that game would likely be played in Greenville.
Given the starts of N.C. State and Virginia, both of those ACC road games look easier than the two road C-USA games.
Obviously, there's a lot of hockey left for ECU but it's hard not to think the two toughest games are already in the rear view mirror.
Can you picture it — ECU vs. Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl? It could happen.