The 2005 ACC football schedule, released yesterday, spares Maryland one difficult game (Miami) but also denies the Terps a chance to play what has been the conference's worst team (Duke).

It's too early to definitively determine which team has the easiest road to the inaugural conference championship game in Jacksonville, Fla., next season, when the ACC splits into two six-team divisions after Boston College joins the league.

Maryland's conference schedule next season includes home games against Boston College, Clemson, Virginia and Virginia Tech and road games against Florida State, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest. Dates were not announced.

Maryland will open the 2005 season with three nonconference games: vs. Navy in Baltimore on Sept. 3, at Temple on Sept. 10 and vs. West Virginia on Sept. 17.

Virginia's conference schedule will feature home games against Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech and road games at Boston College, Maryland, Miami and North Carolina.

Virginia Tech will host Boston College, Georgia Tech, Miami and North Carolina and will travel to Duke, Maryland, N.C. State and Virginia.

The winners of the Atlantic and Coastal divisions will meet in the Dec. 3 title game. The Atlantic division is composed of Maryland, Clemson, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Florida State and Boston College.

Schools will play every team in their division as well as a permanent crossover opponent from the other division each season. (Maryland's crossover opponent is Virginia.) In addition, teams will play two rotating opponents from the other division each season.

It's difficult to determine which teams have scheduling advantages because few expected this season would unfold as it has, with neither Florida team on top of the conference standings. Virginia and Virginia Tech lead the ACC, each with one conference loss.

"My guess is that we'll see repeats of this in the years to come in different fashions," Virginia Coach Al Groh said of the unpredictability. "Most seasons this will be the case rather than the exception."

Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden said, "It's a fact that the doggone conference has gotten better."

'A Two-Game Season'

The winner of the North Carolina-Wake Forest game Saturday will be in prime position to earn a bowl berth. The loser will be eliminated from bowl contention.

"It's a two-game season," said Coach John Bunting, whose Tar Heels have lost five games to teams ranked in the top 25: Virginia, Louisville, Florida State, Utah and Virginia Tech. The first nine teams on North Carolina's schedule are 58-18, part of the third-most difficult schedule in the country, according to the Sagarin ratings.

To reach a bowl game, North Carolina (4-5, 3-3) must beat Wake Forest (4-4, 1-4) and Duke to close the regular season. The Demon Deacons need two wins in their three remaining games, including road games at Miami and Maryland.

"There is just so much hype surrounding this game," Wake Forest cornerback Eric King said. "Both teams really need this win and, from last year, we still have a bad taste in our mouths."

Last season, Wake Forest lost to North Carolina, 42-34, en route to three straight defeats to close the season, which denied the Demon Deacons a bowl berth.

Terrapins Regroup

Maryland (4-5, 2-4) returns to practice today after its most disappointing loss of the season Saturday, a 16-0 setback at Virginia. The Terps do not play again until Nov. 18 at Virginia Tech.

Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen, who did not specify a multitude of injuries, said the open date is welcome because "we would probably have trouble fielding a team if we played this week."