After climbing to second in the nation during a break in its schedule, Virginia gets to prove that it belongs there today against North Carolina State at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville. After two embarrassing losses, Maryland also has something to prove -- to itself -- and will try to get back on track in an ACC game against Wake Forest at Byrd Stadium, its last home game this season.

Howard, undefeated but still not deemed worthy of being ranked in Division I-AA, will try to add to its nine-game winning streak, against Virginia State in Petersburg, Va. Navy, which has stumbled lately in the rebuilding program of first-year coach George Chaump, faces Akron and former Notre Dame coach Gerry Faust at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

The biggest games nationally have No. 5 Tennessee hosting No. 9 Florida, No. 20 Texas A&M at No. 12 Houston and No. 15 Clemson at No. 18 Georgia Tech.

The Cavaliers were ranked fourth entering play last week but moved up as Michigan went to No. 1 after Notre Dame was upset by Stanford and Florida State fell to Miami. Virginia certainly appears to have the credentials, leading the nation in scoring at 51.4 points per game as well as total offense (563.6 yards).

The consensus is that George Welsh's team won't be threatened in the regular season, except for its Nov. 3 game against Georgia Tech. North Carolina State is ranked fourth in the nation defensively, yielding 9.7 points and 216 yards per game. However, even Coach Dick Sheridan admits "it's not very realistic to expect that our defense can continue putting up such numbers."

Maryland is trying to halt a defensive skid in which it has given up 45 points to Michigan and 31 to Georgia Tech. The loss to Michigan wasn't unexpected, but Maryland expected to compete with Georgia Tech in a game it felt would establish it as a force in the ACC.

"Last week we were really embarrassed. Georgia Tech is a great team but they're not that much better than us," said defensive back Scott Rosen. "Now, we don't care who we're playing, we're just looking for a win. We were 3-1 and now we're 3-3 just like that, but we still feel we can win the next three games and go to 6-3, so this is like starting a second season."

Maryland still must get over the disappointments and hurts of its first season. Reserve H-back Chad Wiestling, who caught nine passes against Michigan, is out for four to six weeks with a broken collarbone and a number of other Terrapins are playing hurt. Those injuries, combined with the results of the last two weeks, caused practices to drag earlier in the week.

Wednesday, Coach Joe Krivak called a team meeting to tell his players to keep their heads up, then cut back on their practice time.

"There are guys who are nicked up and we want to get them rested and we'd done everything we needed to do anyway," he said. "But we wanted to change the routine too -- they say that variety is the spice of life and all that stuff, you know."

Howard (5-0) would probably disagree with that assessment, the Bison preferring to methodically dispatch opponents. Howard's nine-game streak over the last two seasons is the longest in Division I-AA and should reach double digits against the Trojans (3-3), who have lost six straight to the Bison.

One key will be how well Virginia State's wing-T offense fares against a Howard defense that is ranked second nationally and has limited its last two opponents, Morehouse and Bethune-Cookman, to minus-one yard rushing each.

Coach Steve Wilson, while insisting he's not looking past the Trojans, said his team "will start doing some different things in the next few weeks. We want to have a few surprises ready for North Carolina A&T, Florida A&M and Delaware State in our {Mid-Eastern Athletic} conference games."

After a promising start, Navy (2-3) has dropped consecutive games to Boston College and Air Force, suffering numerous turnovers and other glitches in the process. The road back to victory against the Zips won't be made any easier by the fact that the Midshipmen will be missing three starters today.

Outside linebackers Duke Ingraham and Tony Domino are suffering from a pinched nerve in the neck and a separated shoulder, respectively, while inside linebacker Chris Beck will sit out with a pinched nerve in his neck.

Chaump must decide who will start at quarterback between seniors Alton Grizzard and Gary McIntosh. Grizzard started the first four games but sat out the Air Force game because of a bruised lung. In his first appearance this season, McIntosh completed 15 passes for 210 yards but threw three interceptions and lost a fumble.

In practice Wednesday and Thursday, Chaump had the two alternate snaps.

"Grizzard didn't practice Monday and Tuesday, so he's behind two days," Chaump said. "Grizzard has more game experience, but McIntosh has four more hours this week and he is throwing the ball better than he ever has."