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Identifying Maryland's Place in the ACC Atlantic Race (Yes, They Have One)

I never expected to be writing in early November about how Maryland is a threat to win the ACC Atlantic, but the Terps took care of business against teams they're better than and now we're here. So let's indulge ourselves.

There are three teams in the ACC Atlantic with just one loss: N.C. State, Florida State, and Maryland. That puts the three in a virtual tie for first place (technically FSU is ahead because they've played one more game, but they've already lost to N.C. state, so that's stupid), and Maryland still has both of them on the schedule.

Maryland got the ACC bottom-feeders to start the season and struggled against some of them (Duke, anyone?), so let's not get carried away here. But because they're in a legitimate tie for first place with half of the ACC season done, it's kind of impossible to not talk about the potential that Maryland makes this race very interesting down the stretch.

Things start off with Miami, a game that might get a lot easier with Jacory Harris injured. True freshman Stephen Morris filled in admirably, but Harris has been crucial to the Hurricanes' hopes this year - when he's good, they're good. Morris is even more inexperienced than Wake Forest's Tanner Price and, again, was rated lower than Maryland's true freshman QB, Tyler Smith (for comparison's sake).

And though Harris' injury played a big role in that loss, make no mistake: Miami should've won that game regardless. They had significantly more talent than UVA and made a lot of mistakes. And it wasn't like when Harris went out the game changed radically. The Canes were already losing and were playing terribly before Harris left.

Obviously, a win over Miami gives plenty of much-needed excitement in College Park and show that this team is for real. That said, it's not at all necessary for Maryland to win this game. After the Miami game they face UVA on the road, a game which looks harder than it did a week ago but is still a probable win over a bad team. As long as they win one of those two, they control their own destiny.

That's because they close out the season with the two teams they're tied with for first place. And there's more good news: both are at home. If Maryland is in control of its own destiny in the ACC and is facing a top 25 FSU team (actually, any type of FSU team), there will finally be a major crowd presence at Byrd. Same goes for the season-closer, a game against N.C. State that very well may decide the ACC Atlantic champion.

I'll try to break it down in a nutshell (or turtleshell), keeping in mind that a) Maryland might not be for real, and b) a lot can change in the future: if Maryland wins one of their next two games, they're in control of their destiny, facing the two teams they're tied with at home to close out the season. Winning both would be nice, but would guarantee nothing: there's almost no feasible situation where Maryland can win the ACC Atlantic without beating both N.C. State and FSU. The only way that happens is if one of them falls twice in ACC play outside of the Maryland game (both still play Clemson and UNC, so it's possible, I guess, but it's a longshot).

The most feasible route to Charlotte: beat Virginia, beat FSU, beat N.C. State. The easiest: beat Virginia, hope FSU implodes and loses to UNC and Clemson, and then beat N.C. State to close out the season.

Make sense? Are you excited yet? I know I am.