The top two rushers in the Atlantic Coast Conference will lead their unbeaten teams in a showdown at Byrd Stadium this afternoon. Ted Brown (616 yards on 120 carries) brings the underdog, 19th-ranked North Carolina State, to the home of Steven Atkins (543 yards on 107 carries) and 12th-ranked Maryland at 1:30.
Another meeting of undefeated teams will take place today at Georgetown, where the 2-0 Hoyas meet 3-0 St. Peter's College at 1 p.m. Navy will take its perfect mark (3-0) on the road to the Rockies, where 2-2 Air Force is expected to provide the Mids nationally ranked defense with its toughest test of the young season.
Virginia has a difficult assignment at Duke, Howard has its hands full entertaining Delaware State and Virginia Tech goes to Clemson.
The Brown-Atkins matchup has teased ACC fans for two years. The last two seasons, Atkins turned up hurt, and the duel turned out to be between Alvin (Preacher) Maddox and Brown, Maddox coming out the winner both times.
Remembering this, and cognizant of the fact that his leg was banged up last Saturday, Brown is hearing none of the matchup noise.
"Steve Atkins isn't my problem," said Brown. "I don't play defense."
Brown further claims to be unconcerned about the fact that, if he gains 104 yards today (he's averaging 154), he will become the ACC's all-time leading career rusher, passing Mike Volght's mark of 3,971 yards gained from 1973 to 1976 at North Carolina.
"I would trade that and only gain two yards if it meant we would win," said Brown. "Winning would put us 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the ACC, and that would be a giant step toward winning the ACC.
That's all I want."
Brown has had his problems against Maryland's wide-tackle-six defense. Like North Carolina's "famous" Amos Lawrence, Brown's worst collegiate performance was against Maryland. For Brown, that was two seasons ago, when he gained only 32 yards on 14 carries.
Last year he managed 110, but the 4-0 Terps' defense is more inspired this season, so the Wolfpack may have to go the the air - something it has done infrequently, but in big chunks.
"The type of defense they play, you really can't run against," said Brown, who has also caught six passes for 92 yards and thrown five for 112. "They give you a lot of different fronts, put big people on smaller people, tackles on our ends. It's confusing to our offensive line and its hard for our guys to block, because Maryland will give you 50 looks in the first half."
N.C. State quarterback Scott Smith has thrown only 40 passes this season, but has completed 26 of them for 454 yards. Split end Mike Quick is averaging 26 yards a catch on eight receptions.
N.C. State has had to overcome mistakes and sluggishness in its wins over East Carolina, Syracuse, West Virginia and Wake Forest. In its most difficult test of the season, the Wolfpack is an eight-point underdog today in front of expected Maryland's home-coming crowd of more than 40,000.
Basically, the jury is still out on the Wolfpack, but Brown has his own verdict.
"We're for real," said Brown. "We're on the verge of becoming a great football team."
Navy is on the verge of finally having its defense tested. In wins over Virginia (32-0), Connecticut (30-0) and Boston College (19-8), the Mids vaulted themselves into first in the nation in scoring defense and second in team defense, allowing 1203 yards a game.
But Coach George Welsh points out; "It's been easy for us so far. We have yet to face a good passing attack. This will, by far, be the most balanced offense we have faced. We have plenty of respect for (Air Force quarterback) Dave Ziebart."
Navy will be on its fourth straight road trip, taking on a Falcon team that beat Texas-El Paso (34-25) and Boston College (18-7) before losing to Holy Cross (35-18) and Kansas State (34-21).
Welsh says Air Force has "a tough, aggressive defense," but it has given up an average of 396 yards a game.
Welsh also noted that Navy has not won at Air Force since 1972.
"I don't think it's the altitude. I've heard some teams say that," said Welsh. "I don't know what it is. We just don't play well there."
The Mids won last year's game, 10-7, when Bob Tata kicked a 25-yard field goal with 41 seconds remaining.