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Tech needs win over Tar Heels to stay at .500 in ACC

ATLANTA - Butch Davis, approaching the end of his first season as North Carolina's coach, can afford to judge his young team on more than just wins and losses.

Chan Gailey, nearing the end of his sixth season at Georgia Tech, doesn't have that luxury.

Gailey's Yellow Jackets began the season looking well-stocked for another run at the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, but instead they have fallen to 6-4 overall and 3-4 in the league as they play North Carolina today.

Including the kicking specialists, Georgia Tech lists 20 upperclassmen as starters, doubling North Carolina's 10.

Despite what looked to be a strong combination of experience and talent, Georgia Tech has fallen from 7-1 in the league in 2006 to just trying to finish .500 or better in ACC games for the 13th straight year. That's the longest streak in the ACC, but Gailey's fourth 4-4 conference record in his six years may not satisfy his boss.

Athletic director Dan Radakovich this week declined an opportunity to comment to The Associated Press on Gailey's status or opinions he has received from alumni and fans about the coach. Radakovich said during a loss to Virginia Tech on Nov. 1 that he may have to decide after the season on the future of Gailey, who has four years left on his contract.

Gailey said he can't focus on speculation about his status.

'If you let every statement and every word bother you in this business, you're going to sit around and be worried all the time and be bothered all the time rather than concentrating on your job,' Gailey said this week. 'You can't let all that stuff affect you. You've got to go do your job to the best of your ability and that's all you can do.'

Added Gailey: 'I've got to get up and look at that guy in the mirror every day. That's the only guy I've got to get up and look at.'

Gailey was booed at the end of the Virginia Tech game. There are concerns that a poor turnout by fans today, or more boos from fans during the game, could hurt the team's standing with bowl committees.

Georgia Tech could perhaps provide instant job security for Gailey if it beats No. 8 Georgia in Atlanta next week. This week's concern is that players and fans could already be looking ahead to the Georgia game.

North Carolina (3-7 overall, 2-4 ACC) has been competitive in most games, including last week's 31-27 loss to North Carolina State. Davis said his Tar Heels have shown signs of growth that are not reflected in the team's record.

'We've tried to stay away from talking about judging the growth and development of this football program measured only by wins and losses,' Davis said. 'As young and inexperienced as this team was ... there's been so much growth and so many things that have been positive in spite of the fact we haven't won the games.'

Davis acknowledged the best way to provide momentum for the 2008 season would be to finish this season with wins over Georgia Tech and Duke next week.

'You'd have to be very naive to not recognize that winning certainly does have a carry-over effect,' Davis said.

Winning the ACC's Coastal Division last season did not have the desired carry-over effect for Georgia Tech.

Tech is left with a goal today to avoid its first losing conference record since 1994.

'We want just to show that we are a good team,' said running back Jonathan Dwyer, who has seven touchdowns while playing behind ACC rushing leader Tashard Choice. 'A lot of people are down on us but we're a very good team and we're behind coach Gailey and behind each other and we just want to finish our season with a big win.'

Gailey said he sees talent in North Carolina's youth.

'They've got a lot of speed and they're playing a lot of players, freshmen and redshirt freshmen and sophomores,' Gailey said. 'Sometimes they make big plays and sometimes you can see they go to the wrong place.

'Those guys have played a lot of games now so it's going to click at some point for them. You're just hoping for our sake it doesn't happen this week.'

Georgia Tech has relied heavily on Choice, who last week passed the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season. Junior quarterback Taylor Bennett has passed for only four touchdowns and completed only 50.2 percent of his attempts.

North Carolina freshman T.J. Yates is only 254 yards shy of Darian Durant's school single-season passing record of 2,551 yards in 2003, but the Tar Heels are 11th in the league in rushing.

North Carolina's 12 yards rushing last week against a weak N.C. State run defense was its low mark since being held to 12 yards against Wake Forest in 1999.

'We've got to continue to emphasize we've got to be more balanced offensively,' Davis said. 'We've got to have some semblance of a running game.'

SideBar: UNC AT TECH

When: Today, Noon

Where: Atlanta

TV/Radio: WUPA/790-AM