Maryland players said yesterday that they planned to go all out today against Virginia at Byrd Stadium in an effort to win a bid to the Hall of Fame Bowl.
An invitation to the new postseason game, slated for Dec. 22 in Birmingham, Ala., is expected if the 6-4 Terps defeat outmanned Virginia, a 24-point underdog with a 1-8-1 record.
Howard (5-4) winds up its season at traditional rival Morgan State (3-6-1). Navy is idle today with Army coming up next Saturday.
Maryland quarterback Larry Dick said he has noticed a marked difference in team morale since word began circulating a few days ago about a possible bowl bid.
"A couple weeks ago, we were just talking about winning the rest of them," said Dick. "We were going through the motions, looking for the end. Now, we're hustling.
"One thing we've lacked is excitement. Maybe we'll find our killer instinct. I look for a maximum effort tomorrow in every phase of the game, for the first time this year."
Kicker Mike Sochko added, "I think we'll put it all together for once. We were just down. Especially before the Villanova game, we were saying it's just useless."
Linebacker John Douglas said, "Everyone wants to do all they can to win this game, if it takes breaking a leg. We have something to play for now."
Virginia coach Dick Bestwick said his Cavalier team is not fired up at the prospect of playing the spoiler.
"That's exactly what we don't need is for them (Maryland) to have more incentive," said Bestwick. "For us to beat Maryland, we would have to be in exactly the right place at the right time. They'd have to play poorly. If they play well, we can't beat them."
Bestwick was in an amicable mood, describing himself s "surviving."
"I'm looking forward to this game for several reasons. We're anxious to get into recruiting. I'm glad to see it end, especially for our young people who made such a great effort and have so little to show for it. It will be a relief."
Maryland coach Jerry Claiborne, who should have been relieved, apparently was not. He objected to having his players questioned about the bowl game.
"Don't go writing anything about playing in a bowl game," Claiborne said, ointing his finger. "I told all the young writers not to write about a bowl bid until we get it."
While there was general knowledgement among the players that the Hall of Fame is not the Cotton or Sugar bowl, it would still be a happy ending to a season full of injuries, mistakes and disappointment.
"Considering the season we've had, any bowl would look good," said Sochko. "It's no letdown. The Cotton Bowl was in the past. I forgot all about it."
Maryland played in the Cotton Bowl last year and lost to Houston after posting an 11-0 regular-season record.In the previous three years, the Terps played in the Gator (1975), Liberty (1974), and Peach Bowls (1973). The Terp's last bowl appearance had been in the Orange in 1955.
"This is a big suprise," said Douglas. "It's not a letdown. it's good for us to be able to play in a bowl."
Tailback George Scott said, "Everybody's happy with it. We're very happy to get it because, so far, we haven't done so good."
Dick sees it as a final opportunity for the Terps to prove themselves with the aid of players like Mark Manges, Steve Atkins and Doug Harbert - all of whom have been among the injured.
"It will be nice to show a few people we're better than we looked," said Dick. "It's a new bowl and there's not quite as much at stake as there was last year. But this will probably be the best team we've played this year, "whoever it is.I'm sure we'll have a good time."
In Baltimore Howard matches a three-game winning streak against a five-game losing streak. Howard has been revitalized by sophomore quarterback Erian Thomas, who has completed 44 of 83 passes for 825 yards and nine touchdowns since becoming a starter five games ago.