Temperatures dropped and snow fell in the scenic mountains surrounding this southwest Virginia town earlier this week, yet another reminder that it's the time of year when college football games matter most.

With the ACC's Coastal Division title and a trip to the inaugural ACC championship game at stake, Virginia Tech has rarely played games more important than tonight's regular season finale against North Carolina at sold-out Lane Stadium.

If the No. 5 Hokies beat the Tar Heels, Virginia Tech will play No. 23 Florida State in the ACC title game next week at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla. The winner of that game will earn an automatic berth in a Bowl Championship Series game, probably the Jan. 3 Orange Bowl, with a payout of nearly $17 million it will share with the ACC's other 11 teams.

But before the Hokies can start thinking about defending their ACC championship in only their second season in the league, they first have to beat the Tar Heels, who will be making their first trip here for a football game since 1930. If the Hokies lose, and Miami beats Virginia at the Orange Bowl today, the No. 10 Hurricanes win the Coastal Division and will play the Seminoles.

North Carolina, which has won two of its last three games to even its record at 5-5, can become the ninth ACC team to qualify for a bowl game if it upsets the Hokies. It is the fifth time in the past eight seasons that the Tar Heels have entered their last regular season game needing a victory to secure a winning record.

North Carolina won in each of the last four occasions, but two of those victories came against Duke and another against Southern Methodist; the Tar Heels are 231/2-point underdogs against the Hokies.

"They need to win, and we need to win," Hokies Coach Frank Beamer said. "Both of us have a lot riding on it."

The Hokies have more riding on the outcome, after Georgia Tech upset Miami, 14-10, last week to move the Hokies back into first place in the Coastal Division. That gave the Hokies new life and certainly invigorated their fans, who will brave what are expected to be below-freezing temperatures at tonight's 7:45 kickoff.

"It's difficult," Hokies linebacker Vince Hall said. "You've got to understand you can't look past anybody. You know that UNC has good players and they've got a good team, so they might be able to take it away from us again. Something might go wrong in the game, and after that it's downhill. You can't let that happen."

Beamer has tried to make sure that doesn't happen, imploring his players to focus on the task at hand, rather than the possibilities that might lie ahead.

"It's in our hands," Beamer said. "You do feel fortunate when something like this happens. I keep saying every week that you never know what's going to happen. You better take care of your own business because you just never know what's going to happen on Saturday. Usually, there's two or three games where you say, 'How did that happen?' I think that's just the way it is."

Water, water everywhere: Virginia Tech must beat North Carolina if it wants a chance to soak Coach Frank Beamer after the ACC title game next week.Eddie Royal, right, and the Virginia Tech offense rolled over Virginia last Saturday, but the Hokies are not taking the Tar Heels lightly. North Carolina must win to be bowl eligible.