The Maryland coaches weren't sure whether it was good news or bad news when they heard last night that Syracuse quarterback Bill Hurley would not play against the Terps Saturday.

The 10th-ranked Terps, unbeaten in five games, will play three straight games against so-so teams. Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne admitted that a letdown is a possibility.

At his press luncheon yesterday Claiborne's main selling point on 1-4 Syracuse was that the Orangemen are 1-0 in games played with the highly regarded Hurley, who returned last week to pilot a 31-15 win over West Virginia. But Hurley, who had missed the first four games with broken ribs, was reported to be extremely sore after his 143-yard, two touchdown rushing performance against West Virginia, Syracuse spokesman said that Hurley "cannot lift his arm to throw the ball and will not play at all."

The Orangemen will start sophomore Tim Wilson, who was the quarterback for Syracuse in a 27-19 loss to North Carolina State and a 49-21 loss to Michigan State and was then benched during the 28-14 loss to Illinois.

"Hurley is a great football player and he certainly sparks their team," Claiborne said. "Nobody will know until after the game whether or not this will prove to be an incentive for their team. I think our players will know that Wilson is a good football player, too. We'll have to study him. We have spent two days getting ready for Hurley."

The opener was against an unknown Tulane team, and then there were games at Lousiville (the Terps' best opponent so fr), at defending conference champion North Carolina, against unbeaten Kentucky and unbeaten North Carolina State.

Now the Terps prepare for Syracuse (which has lost the starting tight ends, center and quarterback), 1-4 Wake Forest and a Duke team they crushed last year.

After that, the all-encompassing rivalry with Penn State looms, and Claiborne hoped his Terps will not be caught looking ahead to the Nittany Lions, or letting down after their surprising start.

"You always worry about these things in athletics," said Claiborne. "We've had five pretty tough football games and played very well. A let-down is one of those things you guard against and you talk to your players about. I certainly can't guarantee it won't happen, because I don't have the answer to preventing it. If I did, I'd sell it to coaches all over the country and be a millionaire."

With Hurley out, Syracuse's offense is extremely questionable, and the defense has given up an average of more than 29 points a game.

Maryland may make sparing use of bruised defensive ends Joe Muffler and Jimmmy Shaffer and offensive tackles Larry Stewart, Jim Ulam and Scott Fanz. Tailback Steve Atkins is cut over both eyes and generally banged up, so if the Terps get a good lead they may give playing time to second stringers.

Backup quarterback Mike Tice is particularly anxious to see some action. His sore arm has healed, he has been throwing well in practice and the crowd at Syracuse will include many of his friends and family from Central Islip, N.Y.

Center Mike Simon has been playing on a puffed-up knee, and pulled hamstring and sprained thumb. "You name it, he has it," said Claiborne. "He doesn't always grade as high as our other offensive linemen, but he's one of the toughest guys on our squad." Presumably, he would also be rested some if the Terps get an early lead.