Florida State senior safety Shevin Smith says he can tell this is a big week just by the way coach Bobby Bowden has been acting during practice.
"You can see the fire in his eyes," Smith said. "During a week like this, he talks to us more than he normally does. He pushes us hard and he's more involved in practice. You can see the fight in him more."
In what is billed as the biggest ACC game ever, No. 3 Florida State plays No. 5 North Carolina on Saturday in Chapel Hill.
Even Bowden likens this game to a confrontation with Florida or Miami. "It's the first time North Carolina has been picked to dethrone Florida State," he said. "Our kids are smart enough to look at the film and know they're for real."
Smith says he's heard enough talk around the league to get his attention.
"A lot of ACC coaches and players believe we're going to lose to them," Smith said. "They really think Carolina can beat us. They've played against both of us, so it makes you think Carolina must be really good."
Oddsmakers nevertheless favor Florida State by seven points.
IF AT FIRST: North Carolina has been shut out in the first quarter in five of its victories. The Tar Heels led after only one first quarter, 10-0 over TCU.
Meanwhile, the Seminoles have scored 104 points in the first quarter of their eight games, including three touchdowns on the first five plays against Virginia three weeks ago.
"It doesn't look good for the first quarter," UNC coach Mack Brown said. "I've told (the players) we're going to have a 60-minute half and we're not going to play the first half. I've told them maybe we should scrimmage out in the parking lot before we start and get whatever it is out of their system, and they are not paying me any attention."
Despite not scoring much in the opening quarter, the Tar Heels have held the ball for nearly three minutes longer than their opponents.
"So we're not just messing up and not doing anything or being flat," Brown said. "We are moving the ball. If we can't score, maybe we can kill the clock in the first quarter and then start."
MAKE NO MISTAKE: FSU linebacker Lamont Green sees the game in no uncertain terms.
"This is the national championship game: no win, no national championship," Green said. "Most people never come to this point. It always gives you some advantage when you've played in some games like this.
"A lot of emotion builds up in people. It's whoever can handle it. We have played countless games in that environment. It's not going to rattle us at all."
GETTING JUMPY: Seminoles freshman OT Ross Brannon feels the big-game jitters already.
"I'm nervous before every game, but I'll be extremely nervous this week," Brannon said. "(Offensive guard) Jason Whitaker never gets nervous, but he said he'll be nervous this week. This is going to be the game."
COMPARING RECORDS: One difference in the two programs is their off-field situations. Florida State has had a series of problems involving players, whereas North Carolina has been relatively free of incidents in recent years.
"It's like a family with eight or nine children who all turn out good," Bowden said. "Then there's another family with eight or nine children. It turns out the same except one goes to prison. I praise them for it. It's one of the hardest things you've got to deal with today."
ALL QUIET: There were no injuries reported in FSU's practice. Freshman defensive lineman Char-ron Dorsey was suffering from the flu, but he practiced.
_ KEVIN RECORD, TIMES WIRES