North Carolina A&T, the defending Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion, already has lost two league games with five to go. Delaware State and Norfolk State, which combined to win one MEAC game last season, already have one victory each this year. Only two MEAC teams, Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State, are undefeated in conference games, and they play Saturday in Orangeburg, S.C.

So as Howard's football team prepares to play its final six games, all against MEAC opponents, the Bison (3-2, 0-1 MEAC) find themselves in the thick of the conference race. Howard, which lost its first two games, against Alabama State and Hampton, has won three in a row and trails Bethune-Cookman by 1 1/2 games going into Saturday's game against Morgan State at Greene Stadium.

"Our guys are pretty confident," Bison Coach Ray Petty said. "We feel good about going into conference play. It's still early in the year. There's a lot of football left to be played."

The biggest difference in Howard's two losses and its three wins? Ball security. Howard's defense allowed 74 points in its first two games, after opponents scored eight touchdowns following Bison turnovers on their end of the field. But with quarterback Marcos Moreno taking better care of the football, Howard's defense has allowed only 23 points during its three-game winning streak. Moreno threw two interceptions during last week's 24-6 win over Charleston Southern, but both turnovers occurred on the Buccaneers' end of the field.

"Defensively, we've played pretty good throughout the year," Petty said. "In the first two games, we had some turnovers that gave the offense a short field. Marcos is making better decisions with the ball now. He's playing much better. The offensive line is blocking well and giving him time to throw the ball."

Against Charleston Southern, Moreno threw for 167 yards and one touchdown on 10-for-19 passing. The senior from Northwestern High also ran 10 times for 72 yards and two touchdowns.

Howard should have back guard Randall White (knee) and tackle Brandon Torrey (back spasms). White didn't play at all against the Buccaneers, and Torrey played only one possession.

Dukes Are Hunting for Black Bears

James Madison, which has a No. 17 ranking in the ESPN/USA Today Division I-AA poll and is tied with third-ranked Delaware for the Atlantic 10 South lead, plays at No. 13 Maine on Saturday. The Dukes (4-1, 3-0 Atlantic 10), whose only loss came at Division I-A West Virginia, have lost four of five games to the Black Bears, and they've lost three straight games at Alfond Stadium in Orono, Maine.

The Black Bears (3-2, 1-1) won at Mississippi State, 9-7, on Sept. 18, and their only losses were at Delaware and No. 5 Montana. James Madison is playing at Maine for the second consecutive season because of Atlantic 10 schedule changes made when Towson joined the conference.

James Madison senior safety Rodney McCarter, from Philadelphia, was named Atlantic 10 defensive player of the week after he had nine tackles, blocked a field goal and recovered a fumble in last week's 28-7 win over Massachusetts. The Dukes beat the Minutemen despite not having tailback Alvin Banks (broken leg), their best backfield blocker, and starting right guard George Burns (knee). . . . Tom Clark probably expected some bumps in the road after returning to Catholic, where he coached from 1994 to 2000. But in his first season back, the Cardinals are 0-5; they've been outscored, 142-27 (they've scored only three touchdowns); and they've been shut out three times. Things could get worse on Saturday, when the Division III Cardinals travel to Philadelphia to play Division I-AA La Salle in its homecoming game.