Exams are over, and after a couple of relatively slow weekends across the country, the action heats back up this weekend as the conference races near their completion. The ACC overall and divisional titles are both on the line when North Carolina trips to Virginia and Clemson plays host to Florida State. Conference USA's regular season champion is likely to be decided this weekend when cross-town rivals Houston and Rice get together, while Arizona State is hoping to make a run at the Pac-10 title when they host Oregon State.
SERIES OF THE WEEKEND
(2) North Carolina at (12) Virginia
Two of the top three teams in the ACC - and the best two in the Coastal Division - go head-to-head this weekend in Charlottesville. The Tar Heels travel to UVA with a two-game lead in the division and tied atop the overall ACC standings with Clemson at 18-6 in league action. The Cavs are 16-8 and obviously would need a sweep to take the lead over UNC, who had their 9-game win streak snapped against Winthrop earlier in the week. Virginia has won fourteen of their last fifteen and is clearly one of the hottest teams in America right now. If that streak can continue, the squad could find themselves atop the Coastal Division standings heading into the new week.
OTHER MUST-SEE SERIES
Houston at (1) Rice
These two have clearly been the best two teams in Conference USA all season long, combining to go 34-5 in league games. The Cougars come into their final week of conference games 17-4 and 1.5 games back of Rice, who is 17-1 and still has a road trip to Marshall on their schedule for next weekend. Making up that difference in the short time remaining won't be easy for UH, but what the Cougs can work on is their case for hosting a regional when those selections are made in just a few weeks. Though a series win over the Owls might not be enough to capture the conference crown, it would go a long way in making sure Houston is at home for postseason play.
(14) Florida State at (5) Clemson
The Tigers look to have a firm grasp on the ACC Atlantic Division, currently 18-6 and tied for the overall league lead with UNC. Wake Forest is 2.5 games back, while the Seminoles, who have dropped eight of their last thirteen, are 3.5 behind CU. The Tigers have won eight straight games, though most of those have come against weaker ACC competition. In fact, Clemson is just 7-5 against league teams who are above .500 in conference play, and a meeting with the Deacons still awaits next weekend. So by no means is this race over, though the Tigers could all but put it away with a series win over Florida State this weekend.
(8) Oregon State at (15) Arizona State
The Beavers have staked their claim out west, clearly playing the best, most consistent ball of any Pac-10 club and bringing in a 2.5-game conference lead into this weekend. OSU is 11-4 in league activity, while Arizona State comes in at 8-7 and in third place, three games out of first in the standings. Though the records don't look comparable, it's worth noting that a Sun Devil sweep down in the desert this weekend would leave the two squads tied atop the leaderboard with just two weeks remaining in the regular seaoson. If Arizona State can snap out of a slump that has seen the squad lose five of their last eight, that scenario could very well become reality.
Wake Forest at Miami
These two seem to have been overshadowed in the ACC this year, though both are having quality seasons in 2006. Few expected the Demon Deacons to be a contender in the league this season, but with a 15-8 conference mark, they come into the next-to-last weekend of activity just 2.5 games out of first in both the overall ACC race and the Atlantic Division race. Miami, meanwhile, has had their ups and downs this spring, but the 'Canes are still 14-10 and hoping to finish with a streak good enough to sneak in as one of the sixteen regional hosts to be announced later this month.
OTHER SERIES OF INTEREST
(3) Nebraska at Baylor
Mississippi State at (6) Kentucky
(10) Arkansas at Mississippi
Florida at (11) Alabama
Oklahoma State at (13) Oklahoma
Tennessee at South Carolina
Southern Miss at Tulane
Vanderbilt at LSU
Georgia at Auburn
Southern Cal at UCLA