Maryland Coach Bobby Ross, not one to overstate the importance of college football games in October, didn't hesitate when asked if the Terrapins' homecoming game at 1 o'clock this afternoon against North Carolina State is pivotal to their season.

"You'd better believe it," he said yesterday. "It's our last game of the season in Byrd Stadium. And I want to win the Atlantic Coast Conference title very, very badly. If we can win this game, I'll feel very good about where we are. It's very important."

Virginia, playing in Charlottesville, has an important ACC game of its own tonight at 7 against No. 20 Georgia Tech. The loser of each game could be out of contention for the ACC championship.

In Annapolis, Lehigh will test the Naval Academy at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Howard, after two weeks off, will visit Virginia State in a nonconference game at 1:30. The Bison will be trying again for their first victory of the season, after four losses.

If the Terrapins want to attain two of three primary goals -- defending their ACC championship and going to a bowl game -- they will have to win today. Maryland (2-3, 1-0 in the ACC) has won four straight in this series, but State (3-2, 1-1) showed last week -- by beating Georgia Tech -- it is capable enough to challenge a Terrapins team playing again without quarterback Frank Reich.

State's defense is bigger than last year; at least two linemen are heavier by 15 pounds or more. But the Wolfpack still has allowed 219 yards per game rushing and might be ripe for Rick Badanjek, Alvin Blount and Tommy Neal of Maryland to run through.

Ross feels the offense has hit its stride, having gained more than 400 yards in each of the past two games.

N.C. State's offense, with the return of 1,000-yard tailback Joe McIntosh, has one of the best rushing games in the country. Vince Evans, a 207-pound back, leads the team with 84 yards per game (418 total) and has scored six touchdowns. Joe Greene (204 pounds) has averaged six yards per carry. And McIntosh, healthy after missing early-season games because of injuries, ran for 138 yards against Georgia Tech.

"Three very good running backs, a good quarterback (Tim Esposito) and a good offensive line. Every team wants to have that, and N.C. State's got it," Ross said.

It is the last time Maryland's seniors will play at Byrd Stadium. The Terrapins have one more home game left -- Clemson on Nov. 17 -- but it will be played in Baltimore. Senior offensive guard Greg Harraka said, "It's like we have five road games ahead of us now."

Georgia Tech (4-1, 0-1 in ACC) has tonight's road game ahead after seven consecutive home games over two seasons. His team is narrowly favored to beat Virginia, but Tech Coach Bill Curry isn't so sure, saying, "Some of our youngsters might have forgotten what it's like to travel."

Curry added, "It might be a good change of pace for us after last Saturday (the loss at N.C. State). We might need a change of scenery."

Virginia is 4-1 and 1-0 in the ACC with three road victories, but Coach George Welsh recalled that his team was 4-0 last year, only to finish 6-5.

Georgia Tech leads the ACC in total offense, rushing offense, total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense. Tailback Robert Lavette has been running behind huge offensive linemen, including John Davis, a 290-pound center. "They've got a big offensive line of juniors and seniors, they're getting good quarterbacking (John Dewberry leads the ACC in passing efficiency) and have a very good tailback," Welsh said. "That goes a long way."

Sophomore Don Majkowski will start at quarterback for the Cavaliers, after playing well in relief of Kevin Ferguson.

Navy will be favored heavily to win again this year and break a three-game losing streak. Lehigh, a Division I-AA team, has an offense nicknamed "The Space Shuttle" because quarterback Marty Horn has completed 56 percent of 153 passes for 10 touchdowns.