Barring a string of unforeseen events that could put Maryland in the Orange Bowl, the 11th-ranked Terrapins today will accept a bid to play Texas Dec. 23 in the Sun Bowl in El Paso.
The invitation, it was learned, will be issued regardless of the outcome of today's Atlantic Coast Conference title game against Clemson, to be played at 1:30 before an expected crowd of more than 50,000 at Byrd Stadium.
"Maryland is our No. 1 choice (to play Texas)," said Sonny Yates, executive director of the Sun Bowl.
Bowl sources also indicated that Navy will be invited to the inaugural Holiday Bowl Dec. 22 in San Diego to play host Brigham Young, the Western Athletic Conference champion. Navy, 7.2, plays at Florida State today and then wraps up the season against Army at Philadephia Dec. 2.
Howard will attempt to finish its season at .500, looking for its fifth win against 3-0-1 Morgan State at home. Catholic University, 6-3, winds up one of its best seasons hosting 5-3 Brooklyn.
Maryland's Orange Bowl hopes are dim. To be in line for an invitation to that bowl, the Terps. three-point favorites but staggering offensively, would have to beat 12th-ranked Clemson today and Missouri would have to upset Nebraska, already ticketed for the Orange Bowl.
If Nebraska loses, Pen State coach Joe Paterno - who is pulling the strings on the nationwide bowl situation - would be soured on the Orange Bowl and go elsewhere, creating a vacancy for someone else to play Nebraska. That team could be the ACC champion, or the loser of the USC-UCLA game, or Notre Dame.
The liberty Bowl was interested in Maryland, but sources indicated the selection committee would not make a firm commitment to issue an immediate bid at 6 p.m. today, even if the Terps won. LSU already is lined up for the Liberty Bowl.
The Sun Bowl pays approximately $200,000 to each team, meaning Maryland and its ACC siblings, who share bowl earnings, lose between $130,000 to $160,000 in revenue by attending the Sun rather than the Liberty.
Sun Bowl officials like the idea of a Maryland-Texas matchup partly because it draws the interest of four of the nation's top eight television markets: No. 4 Houston. No. 5 Philadelphia, No. 7 Washington, No. 8 Dallas and No. 16 Baltimore.
The game will be nationally televised by CBS at 2:30 p.m. (EST). The Sun Bowl seats 30,000 and the 20,000 tickets available to the public were sold in two days as Texas' appearance was rumored. The crowd will be heavily stacked for the Longhorns.
It is unclear where Clemson will go, but apparently the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville Fla., is a strong possibility, along with the Liberty, Peach and Fiesta bowls.
The tigers haven't lost since the second game of the season, when Georgia shut them out, 12-0.
Clemson, which hasn't won the ACC title since 1967, leads the conference in total offense and defense. Today's game features many of the ACC's elite players: the top three scorers (Clemson tailback Lester Brown Clemson placekicker Obed Ariri and Maryland placekicker Ed Loncar); the top two passers (Maryland's Tim O'Hare with 1,305 yards and Clemson's Steve Fuller with 1,134), the top two receivers (Clemson's Jerry Butler with 695 yards and Maryland's Dean Richards with 531); the first and third total-offense producers (Fuller with 1,595 yards and O'Hare with 1,326); the top two punt returners in Clemson's Willie Jordan (19 for 271 yards) and Maryland's Lloyd Burruss (18 for 160) and the No. 2 rusher, Maryland's Steve Atkins with 1,064 yards.
Clemson and Maryland have dominated the ACC this year but both teams' accomplishments are difficult to gauge because of relatively weak schedules. Maryland, 9-1 with a loss to Penn State, has beaten only two teams that have winning records: Lousiville (7-3) and North Carolina (6-3). Clemson has beaten one team with a winning mark: N.C. State.
Nationally, assuming there are no upsets today, the New Year's Bowl picture will pair No. 1 Penn State against No. 2 Nebraska, the Big Eight champion, in the Orange Bowl at Miami; No. 3 Alabama against No. 6 Houston, the Southwest Conference champion, in the Cotton Bowl at Dallas; No. 4 Oklahoma agiinst No. 8 Georgia, the Southeastern Conference cochampion, in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, and the winner of today's USC-UCLA game, the Pac-10 champion, as the Rose Bowl host against the Big Ten champion.
Purdue can win the Big Ten title today by upsetting Michigan at Ann Arbor, but it is more likely that the Michigan-Ohio State winner next Saturday will determine the Big Ten championship.
Besides the virtual certainty of the Sun and Holiday bowl matchups, sources yesterday indicated:
Pittsburgh will play North Carolina State in the Tangerine Bowl Dec. 23 in Orlando, Fla.
Iowa State needs a victory over Colorado today in order to face Texas A&M in the Hall of Frame Classic Dec. 20 at Birmingham, Ala.
Assuming Michigan beats Purdue today, the loser of the Ohio State-Michigan game will be one of the teams in the Fiesta Bowl on Christmas Day at Temple, Ariz. The opposition would be either Arkansas or UCLA, if it loses to Southern California. The Fiesta Bowl wanted Notre Dame, but the Irish declined because the game is on Christmas.
If Arkansas does not get the Fiesta Bowl bid, then it is likely the Razorbacks will wind up playing Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl Dec. 29 at Jacksonville, Fla. However, Clemson and Florida State rank high in the Gator Bowl picture because of their ticket-selling attractiveness.
Since the Ohio State-Michigan loser is committed to the Fiesta Bowl, there is a strong possibility the Liberty Bowl would jump at the opportunity to match Purdue against LSU in the Dec. 23 game in Memphis. It also is possible that Clemson or UCLA could wind up in this game instead of Purdue.
Rutgers will be the host team in the inaugural Garden State Bowl at East Rutherford, N.J., in December, but the Scarlet Knights' opponent is undecided.
Georgia Tech, unless it upsets Notre Dame today and therefore enters the Gator Bowl picture, likely will be the host team in the Peach Bowl Christmas Day in Atlanta.The second team also is undecided.
The Bluebonnet Bowl on New Year's Eve in Houston's Astrodome has the most unsettled picture at this time with at least seven teams still in contention.