Although Saturday's Maryland-North Carolina State game is not an elimination game, the loser will be facing an uphill climb if it hopes to secure a bowl bid.
In many respects, Maryland and N.C. State, both 3-2, are mirror images of each other. They both have struggled offensively to varying degrees this season. And both are trying to rebound from significant setbacks Saturday, when Maryland lost to Georgia Tech and N.C. State lost to North Carolina.
"We're both in the same boat," North Carolina State Coach Chuck Amato said. "We're both going to be fighting for respectability."
Said Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen: "Our programs are very closely related. Philosophically, we're pretty hard-nosed coaches and our kids are that way."
Amato said quarterback Jay Davis, who struggled early in the season, has settled into a groove, having thrown for at least 244 yards in each of the past two games. Davis, who completed 22 of 28 passes for 273 yards against North Carolina, set career highs in pass completions, pass attempts and passing yards.
Maryland, on the other hand, is still looking for a quarterback to find a consistent comfort zone. Players said they held a meeting early in the week to discuss, among other issues, on-field breakdowns that go beyond the quarterbacks.
The Terps haven't lost to N.C. State since 1999, before Amato and Friedgen arrived to coach their respective schools. Amato said he used the streak as motivation for his seniors last season, and it worked -- for 59 minutes. Maryland rallied in the final minute to pull out a 26-24 comeback victory.
Around the midway point of the season, eight ACC teams have at least three wins. With only six bowl games tied in to ACC teams, the race to six victories, which makes a team bowl eligible, will be feverish.
"It's going to be a great finish for everyone," Amato said.
Big Tests for 'Canes, Heels
Miami and North Carolina have difficult and unique challenges this week in preparing for two undefeated teams from non-power conferences.
Tonight, Miami (4-0) will host No. 18 Louisville, which has won each of its four games by at least 28 points and has designs on a Bowl Championship Series berth. Saturday, North Carolina (3-3) will play at No. 11 Utah, which also is eying the BCS after victories over Texas A&M and Arizona.
North Carolina Coach John Bunting, whose team lost to Louisville, 34-0, this season, said the key matchup will be Louisville's offensive line against Miami's defensive front.
Louisville is second in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 43.2 points per game. Miami, though, is first in the nation in scoring defense and pass defense efficiency. The Hurricanes also are the only team in the nation that has held opponents to a completion percentage less than 40 percent.
North Carolina's porous defense will be tested against a Utah team that often uses four or five wide receiver sets. The game is key for the Tar Heels, who also have Miami remaining on their schedule. "My seniors have a goal," Bunting said, "and that is to play an extra game. They are extremely motivated."
Duke at Georgia Tech. A rivalry game? Well, not quite. But this year's meeting has extra meaning, and it has nothing to do with both schools reaching the Final Four in men's basketball last season. Duke beat Georgia Tech, 41-17, last season, a result Yellow Jackets Coach Chan Gailey was quick to reference yesterday when he said unprompted, "We all remember that." Because so many of his players retained "emotional feelings" about that loss, Gailey said coaches are addressing it as part of their preparation this week.
Duke Coach Ted Roof, on the other hand, said he is not using the game as motivation for his players, even though more of his players hail from Georgia than from any other state.
"That was last year," Roof said. "They are a different team. We are a different team. And we have to remember that."
As for possibly overlooking Duke (1-4), Gailey said, "That won't be an issue for us for quite a few years."
Whitehurst a Tough Tiger
Clemson Coach Tommy Bowden said quarterback Charlie Whitehurst has maintained a level head despite throwing a conference-high 11 interceptions in five games. Billed in the preseason as a Heisman Trophy contender, Whitehurst has been as underwhelming as the Tigers, who are 1-4. "The problems are more overall than just him," Bowden said. "He looks at challenges as opportunities. He's a guy who will read the preseason stuff and will work harder." . . .
Friedgen said he has not consulted longtime friend Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech's coach, this season. The two talked regularly when Virginia Tech was part of the Big East Conference. . . .
Wake Forest (3-3) must contend for a berth in a bowl game without its kicker, Matt Wisnosky, who will undergo surgery after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament. . . .
Seven ACC teams are ranked among the nation's top 30 in total defense.