Postseason plans could be at stake in key ACC game

Updated: October 22, 2003, 5:53 PM ET

ATLANTA -- When the Atlantic Coast Conference divvies up its bowl invitations at the end of the season, remember this game.

Sure, it's still October. Even so, Maryland and Georgia Tech could have a major impact on their postseason plans when they meet Thursday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

The Terrapins (5-2, 2-1 ACC) come in with a five-game winning streak. Six in a row will strengthen their bid to be the best conference team this side of Tallahassee.

While first-place Florida State appears to be running away with another league championship -- and the accompanying spot in a BCS bowl -- Georgia Tech (4-3, 2-2) is part of a tight race behind the Seminoles.

The Yellow Jackets have won three in a row, making them one of four teams with a .500 record in conference play.

"Every game is important as far as the ACC race," Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said. "Florida State has a firm hold on the top spot, but there's a couple of tough games in the next few weeks that will decide who's going where."

This is one of them. If the Yellow Jackets can win, they would be in excellent position heading into games against ACC backmarkers Duke and North Carolina.

"We're definitely thinking about all that," defensive end Gerris Wilkinson said. "We're going pretty well. This game is a way of showing we can keep the trend going."

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen has beaten his former school the last two seasons, but returning to Atlanta doesn't have nearly the impact it did in 2001.

Friedgen, who spent nine years on the staff at Georgia Tech, picked up his first significant victory as a head coach when Maryland beat the Yellow Jackets 20-17 in overtime.

"We won against a nationally ranked team at their place and it really gave us confidence," he recalled. "It helped us set higher expectations as a football team."

Returning to Atlanta for the second time as Maryland's coach, Friedgen downplayed the personal significance of playing the Yellow Jackets.

"Georgia Tech has always been good to me," Friedgen said. "But this is a business trip. They are not going to be nice to me, and I am not going to be nice to them."

The teams are meeting on Thursday night for the third year in a row. For on-the-cusp programs such as Maryland and Georgia Tech, the national television exposure is a boost to recruiting.

"It's normally a game where you're the only game on," Gailey said. "It's sort of like 'Monday Night Football' in the NFL. Guys, in general, like to play in those situations."

A year ago, Georgia Tech trailed just 6-3 at halftime but got blown away in the final two quarters for a 34-10 loss. Friedgen and his staff adjusted their blocking schemes during the break, creating some huge holes for Chris Downs to rush for a career-high 212 yards and three touchdowns.

The Yellow Jackets don't have to worry about Downs this time -- he graduated. Maryland splits time at tailback between sophomore Josh Allen (430 yards, five touchdowns) and injury prone senior Bruce Perry (218 yards, three TDs).

Still, the Terrapins are averaging 37.2 points per game during their winning streak. Gailey knows his young defense will be tested by Friedgen's extensive playbook.

"The plays, the formations, the personnel groups," Gailey said. "This is a coach who knows how to attack defenses. He puts his players in position to be successful."

Georgia Tech hasn't lost since an embarrassing 39-3 rout by Clemson. The Yellow Jackets have exceeded most people's expectations, beating Auburn, North Carolina State and Wake Forest, while taking Florida State to the wire before losing.

Freshman quarterback Reggie Ball is the offensive catalyst, but he's getting plenty of help. The offensive line has come together. Receiver Jonathan Smith leads the ACC with an average of 18.1 yards per catch. And tailback P.J. Daniels rushed for a career-best 175 yards in a victory over Wake Forest.

Defensively, the Yellow Jackets also have made great strides since the Clemson debacle.

"We can never relax," Wilkinson said. "We're not a good-enough team to relax. The way we played against Clemson proved that."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index