CLEMSON — No easy way to put this, because picking on Bobby Bowden feels kind of like cutting in front of a senior citizen at the local dinner buffet.

We know the 78-year-old Bowden is in a heated race with Penn State's Joe Paterno for all-time wins among major college coaches (Paterno, 81, leads 376-375 at the moment).

But everything we've seen lately tells us that Bowden needs to end this pursuit and hang up his headsets. And that's assuming he actually wears headsets anymore.

You see, Bowden doesn't do much coaching these days. He just sort of hangs around and watches Florida State struggle to pull itself from a morass of stunning mediocrity.

Bowden's accomplishments at Florida State are some of the most remarkable and admirable in college football history. The 14 straight years of finishing in the Top 5 (1987 to 2000) might be a more impressive feat than the national titles in 1993 and 1999.

But Bowden has gradually become the most hands-off coach you'll ever see — or have ever seen. He sees himself as the program's CEO, but he's more Chief Executive Observer than Chief Executive Officer.

Second-year assistant Jimbo Fisher has been named coach-in-waiting, and that's a joke of a title when your boss is a coach-in-snoozing. Fisher's the one making the decisions. He's the one chewing out players for making silly mistakes. He's the one wearing the headsets.

Bowden? He stands off to the side, communicating little with his assistants or players. There's even some lackey whose job is to shadow Bowden and keep him abreast of what's happening on the field.

Sad.

Before Florida State's opener against Western Carolina a few weeks ago, Bowden allowed television cameras into the locker room to film his pre-game speech.

"Play hard, men," he said in a weak, quiet voice, reading from a piece of paper. "Play hard, and hit hard."

Depressing.

Watch a Penn State game sometime, and you'll see Paterno obsessively pacing the sidelines and concerning himself with even the most minute of details involving his team. Something tells us Paterno doesn't have to write down his pre-game message on a piece of paper.

What kind of effect does it have on a team's identity, a team's morale, when its coach is a mere figurehead who's so thoroughly detached from the proceedings?

What are we supposed to think when Bowden tells a columnist from the Denver Post that he doesn't let the Seminoles' decline bother him much?

"It's one thing about being my age," Bowden told the newspaper earlier this week. "Who cares? Hey, I can step out tomorrow and go to the beach."

Bowden, bless his heart, needs to do himself and his sterling legacy a favor by following through and replacing this smokescreen with sunscreen.

Losing Yates hurts Heels

Just when it seemed North Carolina was poised for a breakthrough season, a broken ankle has thrown the outlook into disarray.

Quarterback T.J. Yates, who's started the last 15 games, is out at least six weeks after suffering the injury in Saturday's loss to Virginia Tech.

After losing a big lead and losing their quarterback in the deflating loss to the Hokies, the Tar Heels now must travel to Miami with the quarterback situation uncertain.

Second-year coach Butch Davis said he anticipates playing both redshirt freshman Mike Paulus (two interceptions in the last five possessions Saturday) and junior Cam Sexton.

Three games at a time

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen is looking at the next three games as an opportunity for the Terrapins to differentiate themselves from the underachieving teams of recent vintage; three of Friedgen's past four teams have finished with losing records.

The Terps play at Clemson on Saturday, followed by a trip to Virginia and a home game against Wake Forest.

"This is a very big stretch for us," he said. "People who are hurt have to get well. We have to put all of our focus into playing the best we can at this time. If we do well, we'll be right in the mix."

Game ball

N.C. State QB Russell Wilson: He went 21-of-31 passing for 210 yards and three touchdowns in the Wolfpack's overtime upset of East Carolina.

Not bad for a guy who, according to the News & Observer of Raleigh, suffered a shoulder injury in the first half.

Game of the week

North Carolina (2-1, 0-1) at Miami (2-1, 0-0): Are the Hurricanes for real? Can the Tar Heels keep from sliding after losing Yates?