The University of Maryland matches its proven strength against Louisville's hope-filled enthusiasm tonight at 8 o'clock in Fairgrounds Stadium.

Earlier today, Navy is picked to open its season with a win at Virginia, and Howard debuts at Maryland-Eastern Shore. Both games start at 1:30.

After pointing to this game for three years, recently rebuilt Louisville will greet Maryland with the nation' most prolific rushing offense, following a season-opening 54-7 rout of South Dakota State in which the Cardinals ran for 472 yards. They rank first in the country in rushing and second (to Florida State) in total offense.

Tailback Ron (Runt) Moon, the tallest man in the backfield at 5-foot-9, rushed for 122 yards to lead the Cards and take 15th place among the nation's rushers. The bulk of the Cards' backfield is 5-9, 225-pound fullback Nathan Poole, who holds the school record for the bench press - 425 1/2 pounds.

"At quarterback, we're kind of like Maryland," said Louisville coach Vince Gibson. "They have that big ol' tall boy (6-foot-7 reserve Mike Tice) who can throw and we have one of those, too. We'll put Terry Mullins in if we need to throw, because Stu (Stram, the 5-7 starter) can't see over Maryland's linemen. He'd throw between their legs. He really is short."

Stram runs primarily a sprintout option game that will be tested against Maryland's wide-tackle-six defense, which specializes in shutting down a team's strongest runner.

"We've never seen the wide-tackle-six," said Gibson, "and we don't want to see it."

Louisville is stronger defensively than offensively, as is Maryland which leads Stram to believe that it will be a low-scoring game. The most intriguing matchup may be between the teams' most highly touted pro prospects: Maryland tailback Steve Atkins (tied for 21st in the nation with 110 yards rushing) and Louisville linebacker Otis Wilson.

Another head college coach familiar with both teams said, "Louisville is as tough a game as Maryland has on its schedule. Louisville is in a class now with the ACC teams, and Maryland will have to play well to win. Maryland is stronger physically, so I would guess they should win by 10 points."

Louisville is expecting a record crowd of close to 40,000. Louisville Mayor William Stansbury has signed a proclamation that officially makes today "Beat Maryland Day" in the city, and enthusiasm is at such a pitch that Stram says, "It will be hard for anyone to come in here and dominate us."

Louisville lost only once at home last year in a 7-4-1 season, but didn't face an opponent the calibre of Maryland.

The Terps won their opener last week, 31-7, at the expense of Tulane, but the Cards should provide a better gauge by which to judge neophyte quarterback Tim O'Hare and the new crew of Receivers. Louisville's secondary is thought to be suspect, even though Gibson points out: "The nicest guy on our team is our monster man. He's my son."The Louisville linebackers and nose guard Jeff Henry make the Cardinals strongest up the middle, so Maryland may be tempted to go wide or to the air Louisville left tackle Mark Pongonis is a three-year starter.

Virginia was shut out in its opener, 14-0, by the only team the Cavaliers beat last year, Wake Forest.

The Cavs have trouble on the offensive line, and Coach Dick Bestwick plans to alternate players here.

"Navy is similar in many ways to Wake Forest," said Bestwick. "The mids throw the ball quite a bit and have more experience at quarterback. This, combined with a talented bunch of receivers, will probably make Navy stronger than Wake."

Maryland-Eastern Shore is winless in its two efforts this year, losing to North Carolina A&T, 23-7, and Morgan State, 13-10."Our club is very positive going into this contest" said Howard Doug Porter. "But we'll have to minimize our mistakes and establish momentum early if we're to win."

The nation's leading rusher and scorer is Kenny Lewis of Virginia Tech, with 186 yards and four touchdowns . . . The No. 5 rusher is Duke's Grey Rhett, with 154 yards . . . Virginia Tech is second to Louisville in rushing offense with 437 yards a game . . . Wake Forest is one of 12 Division I-A teams to shut out its first opponent . . . Maryland's Lloyd Burruss is 13th in the nation in punt returns with four for 51 yards and one touchdown . . . Terp wingback Dean Richards, a three-year starter, is expected to make his 1978 debut at Louisville tonight . . . Maryland's game will not be televised.