The Washington Times - November 13, 2008, 09:05AM

This is the penultimate week that the picks at the wire really come at the wire.

The ACC has two Thursday night games left as the regular season draws to a close. Virginia Tech-Miami is the first of those.

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The guessing game known as conference contests continues. Really, it ought to be reasonably easy to do better than 19-14 in league games. Of course, that’s the same success rate as home teams, which doesn’t quite square away with the whole home-field advantage thing.

Onward to the picks (all games Saturday unless otherwise noted) …

* Virginia Tech at Miami (Thursday, 7:30, ESPN): Hokies 21-17. The Thursday night titans meet in what nearly constitutes a Coastal Division elimination game. Both teams theoretically could climb back into it despite a loss, but the odds of doing so aren’t particularly great.

That’s especially true of Miami, which has already lost to North Carolina.  The Hokies are the only Coastal team in control of the situation, and should remain so with another sound defensive performance. Fearless forecast: Darren Evans will not run for 253 yards against the Hurricanes.

* Duke at Clemson (Noon, Raycom): Tigers 28-14. This might as well be an elimination-from-bowl-contention game. Clemson has to win out to land somewhere in the postseason, and Duke must defeat two of Clemson, Virginia Tech and North Carolina to finish .500.

While the Blue Devils are well-coached, there remains a bit of a talent gap. N.C. State, despite all of its problems, exposed that last weekend. Clemson is still arguably the league’s most talented team, and Dabo Swinney’s boys won’t quite fade to irrelevance just yet.

* Wake Forest at N.C. State (3:30, ESPNU): Wolfpack 27-24. Let’s look at undermanned N.C. State’s last four games:

Took Boston College to the final minute before yielding a touchdown. Took Florida State well into the fourth quarter before Graham Gano kicked some field goals to ice the game. Took Maryland to the final 10 seconds before Obi Egekeze kicked a game-winner. Beat Duke handily on the road.

N.C. State is going to spoil someone’s season. Maybe it will be at North Carolina next week. Maybe it will be at home against Miami in the season finale. The guess here is it will be Saturday against the Demon Deacons.

* North Carolina at Maryland (3:30, ABC regional): Terps 31-28. Could be the best game in the league this week. The Bizarro Terps get a crack at a ranked opponent, which they’ve grown fond of playing in the last two seasons (five straight wins). Carolina looks like a superior team, especially after back-to-back wins sandwiched around a bye week.

This is a true toss-up game. But since the odds are stacked against Maryland, it probably means it’s time to pick the Terpies to win. That’s what they do in these situations.

* Boston College at Florida State (8, ABC regional): Seminoles 24-13. Musburger Alert! Expect some footraces, mentions of “the college game” and references to the point spread in Tallahassee.

Another thing to expect: Florida State eliminating Boston College from Atlantic Division contention.

Last week’s record: 4-2 (3-2 conference games)
Season record: 53-24 (19-14 conference)
Preseason picks record: 49-28 (18-15 conference)
Preseason picks changed for this week: None.

Patrick Stevens