Moments after N.C. State's remarkable football win against then-No. 7 Clemson on Saturday, Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien said he had no immediate explanation for the performance.
The same goes for his team's eternal struggle against Maryland, the opponent the Wolfpack (6-5, 3-4 ACC) must beat this week to become bowl eligible.
"There's always teams in conferences that give other teams problems," O'Brien said Monday.
O'Brien knows. He was an assistant coach at Virginia, which lost 29 years in a row to Clemson.
The Terps (2-9, 1-6) haven't been so dominant against State. The overall series is almost dead even, but many of Maryland's wins have busted Wolfpack seasons.
Monte Kiffin's third and final team began with three impressive wins. Then a totally flat performance in a 23-6 fourth-week loss to Maryland began a tailspin that led to four losses in the ensuing six games.
Lou Holtz didn't have a winning record in the series against Maryland.
O'Brien is 1-3 and the 38-31 loss in the final regular-season game last season rates among the most disappointing of his five years with the Pack.
A win, and State would have won the Atlantic Division and faced Virginia Tech in the ACC title game. But at least State did go to a bowl game, and picked up an important win against West Virginia.
A stumble this week, and State will sit out the postseason.
"We're in a playoff," O'Brien said. "We either win or go home."
There shouldn't be any shortage of incentive. And for 99 percent of the teams at the top level of college football, a bowl trip is the only real reward for a lot of intense labor, pain and frustration.
Junior safety Brandon Bishop remembers the 2009 season, when the Pack finished 5-7.
"I sat home in (Boca Raton) Florida and watched every single bowl game for a month," said Bishop, one of three Wolfpack players of the week in the ACC. "It's no fun to have an extended Christmas break."
If there's an ounce of logic left in college football 2011, State's players shouldn't have to sit home this time.
Pick any ACC statistical category and there's a good chance Maryland is last. But there is one glaring exception, and that's turnover margin. For the season, the Terps are plus five. State leads in the department at plus 13 - a reflection of Bishop's five interceptions and cornerback David Amerson's 11.
Realistically, about the only way State could lose would be turnovers, which were primary contributing factors in its win over Clemson.
But the Pack has had back-to-back wins only once all season, meaning Maryland's magic factor cannot be ruled out.