"Three years ago, we stopped a two-point conversion at the end to beat Lehigh by a point. Our kids went crazy in the locker room. Yesterday we stopped a two-point conversion at the end to beat our archrival and our kids were upset with themselves for almost blowing the lead. It shows you how far we've come."

Virginia Coach Dick Bestwick was in a satisfied mood yesterday knowing that this will be a week full of bowl talk on the Charlottesville campus after the Cavaliers raised their football record to 6-3 with a 20-18 win over Virginia Tech Saturday.

The victory gave UVA its first winning season in 12 years and second in 27 years and set up a showdown with North Carolina (5-3-1) on Saturday. The winner likely will get a bid to go somewhere.

"I'm certainly not going to try and pretend that the bowl thing doesn't exist this week," Bestwick said.

"I'll point out right at the beginning of the week to the kids that they have the opportunity to do something no Virginia football team has ever done," Bestwick said. "That means there will be more pressure, but when you have an opportunity like this it's how you react, whether you can play at your peak under that kind of pressure that determines whether you succeed or not.

"If we do it, that would be great. If we don't, it's not the end of the world."

Meanwhile, Bestwick an his team are entitle to savor their winning season and the fact that they are even a bowl contender.

The Cavaliers now have won more games this season than in Bestwick's first three years combined, when they won five. And they have come a long way from the 1975 Sonny Randle-coached team that once trailed Wake Forest, 55-7, at halftime.

In spite of their discouraging 30-14 loss to Syracuse Saturday, their third straight defeat, 6-3 Navy is still hoping to salvage a bowl bid with a win at Georgia Tech this week.

"I've heard some of our players talking about it," Coach George Welsh said yesterday. "But we've got to do more than pay lip service to it, we've got to play much better.

"We were flat against Syracuse, I don't know what it is, whether we've got a mental problem because of the injuries or what. This is the second straight year we've run into this problem (a three-game losing streak) late.

"If we don't play better against Georgia Tech than we did against Syracuse, we don't deserve a bowl bid." Welsh said he wasn't planning on changing anything in his team's preparation, "because you can't start changing things this late."

But with bowl bids going out Saturday and his players aware of the fact that 7-3 got them into a bowl last season, Welsh certainly wasn't giving up. "We can get it back together," he said. "We have to be more aggressive. We just haven't been very good since we beat Virginia."

By overcoming a 20-3 halftime deficit for a 31-10 win at North Carolina Central, Howard has a chance to post its first winning season in three years and its first six-win season in four years.

The Bisons now are 5-5 under rookie Coach Floyd Keith after finishing 4-6-1 a year ago and will try to finish the season over .500 next Saturday when they close the season at Morgan State (8-1).

Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne, taking advantage of the open date, gave his team a couple of days off at the beginning of last week while he and his staff set out on the recruiting tsail . . . North Carolina State Coach Bo Brin reportedly is LSU's top choice to replace Charley McClendon at season's end . . . It is a tough choice for ACC coach of the year between Wake Forest's John Mackovic, who has turned a 1-10 team into an 8-2 bowl contender, and Bestwick. Strictly on record, one would say Mackovic has the advantage. But as Virginia people point out, Bestwick had further to go when he first took over his program. Mackovic has won with many players recruited by the Chuck Mills regime.

At the other end of the spectrum, noncoach awards easily could go to North Carolina's Dick Crum and Duke's Red Wilson. Crum may have the most talent in the ACC, yet has a 5-3-1 record. He also has complained about officials' calls in two of the losses when both times the officials -- against Wake Forest and Maryland -- did not appear to be at fault. Wilson has not been much better, complaining about his 2-6-1 team's schedule (perhaps the easiest in school history) and labeling his junior class "horrendous," in print . . . North Carolina State will wrap up the ACC title Saturday if it beats the hapless Blue Devils.

Virginia Military, under Coach Bob Thallman, has quietly put together a 6-3-1 record, including a 4-1 mark in the Southern Coference. The Keydets' 13-3 win at Marshall (1-9), left rookie Coach Sonny Randle disgusted. "we were just awful," said Randle, who has seen many players quit this season. "We have too many players who don't care and I feel so sorry for them."

VMI closes its season next week against Virginia Tech, which after a 3-0 start, has dropped six of its last seven in spite of a schedule that includes seven home games.

The Gobblers don't have it nearly as bad as Virginia Commonwealth, however. The struggling club team at the Richmond school did not have enough helmets for its players when it played Catholic three weeks ago. That, plus a 76-0 loss to the Cardinals, apparently was more than the team could bear. It canceled the rest of its schedule, leaving the University of District of Columbia without an opponent Saturday. Call it a forfeit for the Firebirds, now 7-2.

Bowl update: the ABC network will go into mourning Saturday if Georgia beats Auburn. A win by the Bulldogs would give them a mediocre 6-4 record, but also would make them 6-0 in the Souuthern Conference and clinch a tie for the title with Alabama. That would put Georgia in the Sugar Bowl (which ABC televises) since Alabama went last year. Poor ABC. The opponent probably will be Texas, Houston or the loser of Oklahoma-nebraska.

A Georgia win Saturday would leave the Orange Bowl and NBC as delighted as ABC would be morose. It would put 9-0 Alabama, now winners of 18 straight, into the Orange Bowl. And if Nebraska does beat Oklahoma, it could set up a No. 1 vs. a No. 2 matchup between 11-0 teams New Year's night.

Southern California all but wrapped up its 10th Rose Bowl berth in 14 years with its win at Washington Saturday. Its opponent will either be Ohio State or Michigan, as usual, although the Buckeye's appear to be in control. They would have to lose to Michigan Saturday while Indiana beats Purdue for the Wolverines to get in because of Big Ten tie-breaking procedures. Look for the Buckeyes to take an 11-0 mark against 10-0-1 USC to Pasadena.

The Cotton Bowl now appears to have Arkansas as its host -- thanks to Texas' win over Houston. The three are now tied for the SWC lead and Arkansas has been away from the Bowl longest. The opponent will be Florida State if it continues undefeated.

The ACC Bowl pictures: Clemson, 7-2, with its win over North Carolina probably will go somewhere -- Tangerine, Peach, Gator or Liberty regardless of what it does at Notre Dame and South Carolina . . . Wake Forest (8-2) should also get a bid even if it loses at South Carolina . . . N.C. State will finish 7-4 with a win over Duke and should get a Peach or Sun Bowl bid out of that . . . The winner of Virginia-North Carolina will probably get a bid and Maryland still is hoping to sneak into the Garden State or Hall of Fame. Bids go out Saturday night.