After several years of overall improvement and consistently placing teams in the top 20, Atlantic Coast Conference football has fallen again, to a point at which the league really is staggering.

The ACC came into the season with Maryland ranked No. 1 by at least two forecasts, with Virginia coming off its best season ever and returning considerable talent, with Georgia Tech looking like a top-20 team, and with Clemson appearing to be formidable, if not overpowering.

But seven weeks into the season, the eight ACC schools have a record of 6-13 against nonconference Division I-A schools, never mind North Carolina State's home-field loss to Division I-AA Furman. In fact, no ACC team has a winning record against Division I-A nonconference opponents.

North Carolina (1-1 outside the conference) had a controversial win over Navy and a loss to Louisiana State.

Clemson (1-2) has lost to Georgia and Kentucky.

N.C. State (0-2) has lost to East Carolina and Pittsburgh.

Duke (2-2) lost to West Virginia and South Carolina, and defeated Northwestern and Ohio University.

Wake Forest (0-1) lost to Tennessee after three nonconference victories over smaller, Division I-AA schools.

Maryland (2-2) beat Boston College and West Virginia, which obviously are not as good as in recent seasons, but lost to Michigan and Penn State.

Certainly, Saturday was not a banner day for the ACC. Virginia (0-2) was upset at home by Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech (0-1) lost to Auburn.

With Georgia Tech playing Tennessee next week and Florida State visiting North Carolina, the ACC has a very good shot at dropping two more nonconference games.

Later, Maryland must meet a Miami (Fla.) team bent on reversing last year's 42-40 happening, Virginia has improving West Virginia on its schedule, and Clemson and N.C. State must contend with South Carolina.

Maryland, Georgia Tech and Virginia all have dropped out of the top 20, leaving no ACC representation. Of the seven major football conferences in the nation (there are nine Division I-A football conferences), the ACC is the only one with no top-20 team.

Little wonder the ACC is impatient to begin the basketball season, in which the conference probably will have five teams ranked in the top 20.

Maryland and Georgia Tech still appear to be the best football teams in the league. The Yellow Jackets threatened to upset Auburn before Bo Jackson ran 76 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. And Maryland struggled through a six-point first half before routing Wake Forest, 26-3.

Much of Maryland's offense was supplied by freshman walk-on kicker Dan Plocki, who made four field goals in five attempts in his debut.

Plocki didn't find out until Friday night that he would handle the three-point work, in place of Ramon Paredes, a sophomore whose inconsistency had thrown the starting job into competition.

After Paredes missed badly on a 31-yard field goal at Michigan that would have tied the game in the first half, Maryland Coach Bobby Ross said Paredes and Plocki would kick competitively in practice each week, with the winner handling the duties on Saturday.

Paredes held on to his job two weeks ago at North Carolina State, and handled all kickoffs Saturday at Wake Forest. Plocki made field goals of 24, 25, 26 and 45 yards -- the longest one hitting the crossbar and bouncing over.

Plocki said he and Paredes have been close throughout the season. "But we grew a lot closer during this last week of competition," Plocki said.