There are 16 possible ways the ACC Atlantic Division race among Maryland, Boston College and Wake Forest can shake out over the next two weeks, and navigating the scenarios requires a little statistical know-how and a lot of patience.
Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen isn't even going to bother trying.
"I'll make it real simple," Friedgen said yesterday. "I'll worry about it after the BC game [Saturday]. There's a lot of different scenarios that could go down. The best thing for us is we win two games and we're playing Dec. 2 [in the ACC title game]. If we don't, there's probably a chance that we won't."
Even if Friedgen isn't interested in permutations -- such as Maryland's ability to win the division if it defeats Wake Forest on Nov. 25 and either Wake Forest beats Virginia Tech next week or Boston College loses to Miami on Thanksgiving night -- another numeric trend has emerged to help explain why the No. 21 Terrapins (8-2, 5-1 ACC) continue to win.
In their opponents' last eight red zone possessions, the Terps have conceded only seven field goals while also blocking a field goal -- a huge turnaround for a defense maligned early in the season for its shoddy fundamentals and leaky performances.
Although Maryland was outgained for the ninth straight game in Saturday's 14-13 victory over Miami, it still produced a pair of stops inside the 20, a strip of real estate that cornerback Isaiah Gardner renamed "the man zone" following the Terps' fifth straight victory.
"Three points is better than seven points," Gardner said. "Zero points is better than all of that, but when it comes down to it, three points is better than seven points, and since we're pretty good on special teams, we always think we can block [a field goal attempt]."
The suddenly stingy defense has saved the Terps (8-2, 5-1 ACC) in consecutive victories over Florida State, Clemson and Miami -- all games in which the outcome was in question until the final 90 seconds. The Maryland offense, in part because of conservative play-calling and miserly opponents, has managed only 220 yards after halftime over the last three games.
Friedgen acknowledged that both the offense (2-for-10) and defense (13-for-21) struggled on third down and that the Terps probably need to find a rapid solution. Then again, two of Maryland's defensive stops came in the red zone.
"It's just a feeling that your back is against the wall that you have no choice but to come up with a stop," said linebacker Erin Henderson, who has made 31 tackles in the last two games. "We had trouble getting off the field on third down, but when it came down to it we did a good job of holding them to field goals again."
The Terps received welcome news when left guard Donnie Woods was released from the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Unit in Baltimore early yesterday morning after suffering a neck injury in the third quarter Saturday. Woods was carted off the field, then airlifted to the hospital.
Friedgen said Woods was hit in the side of his head by a defensive lineman and was unconscious for "a couple minutes." All of Woods' tests at the hospital were negative.
It is uncertain whether Woods will be available this week at No. 20 Boston College. Nor is it entirely possible to pin down just how the Terps have managed in the last month to deliver five victories by a combined 13 points and place themselves within a victory or two of a berth in the ACC title game.
"We have gotten some breaks," Friedgen said. "I don't deny that. We were due for some breaks, too. They went against us for a long time. Those things kind of even out."
Notes -- Friedgen said junior fullback Tim Cesa (concussion), who has missed the last two games, is day-to-day. ... Saturday's game at Boston College will start at noon and will be televised by ESPN.