They are the two best quarterbacks in the ACC. No one in the league has thrown more touchdown passes than Maryland's Joel Statham or Georgia Tech's Reggie Ball, each of whom has seven.

They are the two worst quarterbacks in the ACC. Only one quarterback has thrown more interceptions than Ball (eight) and Statham (seven). Statham also has eight fumbles; Ball leads an offense that ranks 99th nationally in scoring.

Conflicting positions have been defended in recent weeks in chat rooms and classrooms in Atlanta and College Park. Erratic quarterback play at two of the conference's more successful programs has, whether justified or not, turned today's game into a referendum on two Georgia-bred sophomores, at least among fans.

The same questions arose this week whenever both coaches addressed the media. How patient is too patient? How are the backups progressing? What's wrong?

"I expect it," Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said. "I'd rather you ask me than him [Statham]. They're asking the same questions at Georgia Tech."

As a result, Ball and Statham were made off-limits to the media this week. So the messages emerged only from coaches and players, all of whom continue to stand by the starters.

"He's going to be a good one," Maryland wide receiver Steve Suter said of Statham. "It's just a matter of everything clicking."

"Reggie is not one to get down on himself," Georgia Tech wide receiver Nate Curry said. "We have confidence."

Early in the week, Georgia Tech Coach Chan Gailey named Ball the starter despite the quarterback throwing six interceptions the past two games, both losses by more than 20 points. Part of the rationale: Ball's production last season, when he earned conference rookie of the year honors, should not be easily dismissed, at least not yet.

"You're looking for consistency," Gailey said. "And if you have a pattern of inconsistency then you're saying, 'Okay, at what point does this become a major problem rather than an inconsistency problem?' I think coaches are always looking where that is. I'm not sure anybody has actually decided where that is. Each situation is different. It's a lot easier to take when you continue to win."

The 23rd-ranked Terps (3-1) have been more successful this season than Georgia Tech (2-2), as Maryland has dropped only an overtime game at West Virginia. And Statham is two weeks removed from his most prodigious passing game, in which he threw for 362 yards and four touchdowns against Duke.

That's the positive. While Friedgen acknowledged Statham has progressed, more improvement is needed, and fast, to combat the remaining schedule that features seven games that could go either way. It's a sentiment shared by other league coaches grooming quarterbacks.

"You've got a lot of teams in this league playing pretty good defense right now," North Carolina State Coach Chuck Amato said. "And there is no doubt about it: It takes time to develop a quarterback. I can't imagine me ever being around another youngster like Philip Rivers. He was the exception."

Said Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden: "You expect them to do this much the first year, this much the second year, get better the third year and by the fourth year have it all together. Usually by that time, they do. Some are going to come earlier than the other, and that's the guy you want."

Another vantage point, though, paints a picture with more nuance. Some mistakes are easier to correct than others. When one doesn't see the coverage correctly, Friedgen said "it becomes a guessing game where they go with the ball." That's not the problem with Statham, according to Friedgen, who has praised his decision-making ability, saying Statham is ahead of former Maryland quarterbacks Scott McBrien and Shaun Hill in that area.

Curry, a wide receiver during Friedgen's final season as offensive coordinator with the Yellow Jackets in 2000, emphasized that it takes time, especially for a quarterback, to grasp Friedgen's complicated offense. "It's like riding a bicycle," Curry said. "It's hard at first, but once you do it, you'll never forget."

Will fans allow both quarterbacks to evolve over time? For the second time this season, Friedgen this week lashed out at some who make outlandish remarks regarding Statham on message boards. Friedgen, who has said he doesn't read such outside criticism, said Wednesday that he laughs when reading the message board and added: "How little they know. It's a joke."

Added Curry: "It comes with the territory. But they have nothing to do with the game."

Maryland left guard C.J. Brooks, who hears criticism from students, said: "I understand people's frustration because it just isn't the same Maryland team that it was last year. With a lot of guys graduating, there are new people, and they still want the same expectations. So they [outsiders] are not used to waiting. Now they're like, the quarterback is coming around slow because he's a young guy and they're kind of impatient. But we're sticking behind him."

Ga. Tech quarterback Reggie Ball, the ACC rookie of the year last season, has been inconsistent so far this season. He has thrown eight interceptions and the team is ranked 99th nationally in scoring.Maryland quarterback Joel Statham, finding trouble against West Virginia, still is learning Coach Ralph Friedgen's complicated offense. "I expect it," Friedgen said of the impatience of Terps fans.