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Tar Heels pursue presence of mind

No one needs to remind Mack Brown and North Carolina what looms on the horizon:

No. 3-ranked Florida State comes to Chapel Hill Nov. 8 for the biggest game in UNC history. It should decide the Atlantic Coast Conference title and the automatic berth in the bowl alliance.

But first the No. 5 Tar Heels have a date at Georgia Tech tonight on ESPN.

"I've been very pleased with the attitude of our football team; they haven't mentioned a game beyond this week," Brown said. "We talked about it very openly and honestly last week as we started to prepare and said, "This game is the most important one in our lives until next week and then that one will be. But after that there's another big one at Clemson then another big one with Duke coming in. We have to be smarter. Everybody else in the community can have some fun and talk about other things, but we can't.' "

The Tar Heels aren't likely to overlook the Yellow Jackets. UNC lost to Georgia Tech 27-25 in Atlanta two years ago, then struggled to win 16-0 last year. UNC averaged nearly 31 points, and only FSU held it to fewer points last season.

The game also is the Yellow Jackets' homecoming.

"We have a lot of things that are motivation for us," Brown said,mentioning the television exposure and the drop from No. 4 in the polls. "If you're a good enough football team that means you're mature enough to handle whatever's thrown at you. Part of that is being ready to play each week, so I'd be really disappointed if our team wasn't ready to play."

GET OVER IT: Clemson coach Tommy West said his players pointed all summer to the Florida State game, which made it difficult to put the hard-fought 35-28 loss behind them.

"We were just a very inconsistent team that at times looked like we found ways to lose games; whether it was in the kicking game or offensively or defensively, we'd make mistakes to help our opponents," he said. "This team now is over that and ready to move on and ready to improve. From an emotional standpoint, this team is where we need to be right now."

The Tigers need to win three of their last four to be eligible for a bowl berth.

REVERSING FIELD: Last season Wake Forest was last in the ACC and 105th nationally in rushing defense, allowing an average of 254.4 yards, fourth most in league history. This season the Demon Deacons are fourth in the ACC and 16th nationally, allowing 100.3 yards.

IT FIGURES: The FSU, UNC, Clemson and Virginia defenses are ranked in the top 25, which is one reason only one offense _ FSU's _ is in the top 40.

GREEN(ER) PASTURES: With 2,502 career receiving yards, FSU senior E.G. Green needs 3 more to pass former Virginia star Herman Moore for fifth all-time in the ACC and 7 more to eclipse Clemson's Terry Smith for fourth.

QUOTE, UNQUOTE: "I'll look into their eyes and feel sorry that they're not going to be a part of the turnaround because they really are some wonderful men. They've wanted so badly to be a part of a good program and win. At the same time, I feel thankful to each of them for the effort they've put out and the way they've accepted our staff. And I do think they really did buy into everything this year, and then when things didn't go our way, almost to a guy, they really hung in there and wanted to leave a legacy of hard work and trust and battling through the tough times. I think they've done that." _ Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden, whose seniors play their last home game Saturday against Virginia.

_ BRIAN LANDMAN

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