The University of Maryland opens the Atlantic Coast Conference football season here Saturday at 1 p.m. in a game in which new head coach Charley Pell figures his Clemson team is "a 25-point underdog."

The Terps, seeking a fourth straight ACC crown and nursing a 20-game conference winning streak, are not counting on a victory coming quite so easily.

Beneath the mandatory exchange of compliments (in which each coach always sounds as if he wishes he were coaching the other team) lies a dim but plausible threat to the Terps' win streak.

The last time Maryland visited here, it escaped with a two-point victory in the loud and wacky playing facility known as Death Valley.

Clemson fields a team with small, quick backs and receivers and a veteran offensive line to challenge Maryland's nationally respected defense.

Maryland unveils its new offensice line, anchored by strong guard Mike Yeates, the only returning starter, who will see limited action because of a hip-pointer.

While the Terps rolled along undefeated in the regular season last year, Clemson struggled to a 3-6-2 record, losing the close ones.

It cannot be disputed that Maryland has better talent. But Clemson has more experience and the home-field advantage, and Terp coach Jerry Claiborne isn't over looking that.

Among Clemson's 45 returning lettermen is quarterback Steve Fuller, who has troubled Maryland previously with both his running and passing.

Fuller will provide and interesting scale of comparison to Maryland's quaterback, Mark Manges, the Terps' maybe-Heisman Trophy candidate.

Manges is joined in the backfield by tailback Steve Atkins, returning from a knee injury last year, and three players who will take over for graduated fullback Tim Wilson. Junior Steve Koziol is expected to start and share playing time with sophomore George Scott and junior Mickey Dudish.

"We've got some players who are as talented as Maryland's said Pell, "but not nearly as many as Maryland. We don't have any depth."

Pell says preparing for Maryland was "a spring-and-summer-long project", but adds, 'I don't want to indicate that we're obsessed with Maryland."

Although Pell obviously would like to win his first game as an ACC head coach, he keeps it in perspective.

"Maryland," says Pell, "is not a final exam."

Both coaches say their primary concern at this point is avoiding typical early-season mistakes, "not beating ourselves," Pell said.

Maryland hasn't lost to Clemson since 1971 and hasn't been defeated in the ACC since 1973.

"Anytime you play a champion, there's a possibility of being awed or overwhelmed," said Pell. "But I'm one of those crazy guys. I believe the David and Goliath story."

"You're optimistic then?," Pell was asked.

"I didn't say I was optimistic," said Pell, "I'm not optimistic at all."