Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne, stoic in defeat as always, said yesterday that the coming week may be the biggest of the season for his 3-2 Terrapins.

"This is going to be just like 1977 when we were 1-3 and had to come back," Clairborne said. "This is going to be a real big week for our football team. It will be a test for everyone, coaches and players.

"We're going to find out now what we're made of. This is what makes the game fun."

Reeling from back-to-back losses, including an extremely disappointing 27-7 hammering by Penn State Saturday, the Terps must travel to Raleigh to play Atlantic Coast Conference pre-season favorite North Carolina State. The Wolfpack, upset, 44-31, by Auburn Saturday is 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the ACC. Maryland, with a win over Clemson last month, is 1-0 in the conference.

Despite Penn State's 27 points, Claiborne said he thought his defensive unit played well. "They scored three touchdowns by driving a total of 56 yards," he said. "The 15 times they started on their side of the 50 there was a lot of three plays and kick. Of course if was the same for us too."

Maryland's problem was its offense, which produced just 153 yards and gave up seven turnovers. Claiborne said he had no intention of benching quarterback Mike Tice in favor of Bob Milkovich.

"Mike played poorly and he knows it," Claiborne said. "But he had six passes dropped (on a three-for-20 day) and five would have been for first downs. We have to talk not only to Mike but to all our players this week about confidence. We'll just keep working with Mike and try to help him improve."

Asked if he believed Penn State had Maryland hexed, Claiborne, who is 0-7 against the Lions said, "I don't believe in hexes, I have too much confidence in myself and my players to believe in that sort of thing."

Former Terrapin tailback George Scott was a visitor to Maryland practice last week. Scott flunked out of school during the summer. He reported to teammates that he is working two jobs -- about 17 hours a day -- and trying to earn enough money so he can return to school in the spring and try out for the team as a walk-on.

Scott, who broke the single-game rushing record for Maryland with 242 yards against Villanova in 1977, has one year of eligibility remaining.

Despite his team's 17-7 loss at Clemson Saturday, Virginia Coach Dick Bestwick said he still feels encouraged by his team's continued improvement.

"We've become a reasonably good football team," he said of his 3-2 Cavaliers. "To become a very good team we will have to correct some things and make some improvements. But our kids still feel confident they're going to keep improving."

On the performance of sophomore Todd Kirtley, the 1978 Robinson High graduate who was six for 19 against Clemson, Bestwick said: "It was just one of those days for Todd, like a basketball player who isn't making his shot or a pitcher who doesn't have his good stuff. He just didn't have his fast ball humming."

Bestwick noted that several key plays kept his team from ever getting the momentum it would have needed to pull an upset. "A lot of little things added up," he said. "The last was the 72-yard punt right after we made it 17-7. Instead of starting at about the 40 we were on the 14. It made a big difference."

The Cavaliers will entertain 1-5 James Madison this week, a substitute on the schedule for a game at Florida. How does Bestwick feel about facing a small school like JMU: "I'm elated. It will be nice to go into a game as the favorite."

Howard Coach Floyd Keith, while satisfied with his team's 23-0 win over Delaware State, was saying much the same thing as Bestwick: His team is playing good football but could be playing better.

We're a good football team right now", he said of his 3-2 club. "But we're still not doing things well enough to be a very good team. Our offense is scoring enough with the opportunities it's getting."

Keith said that he was pleased with quarterback Ronald Wilson, in spite of an eight-for-24 passing day. "He had about four dropped," Keith said. "I would say he was on target about 60 percent of the time. He's playing well."

The rookie coach was especially pleased with his defense."They have played excellent football the last two weeks both against Delaware State and Florida A&M. I'm tickled with them."

Speaking of Florida A&M, the Rattlers won perhaps their biggest game in history Saturday, upsetting Miami of Florida, 16-13, in the first meeting ever between the Hurricanes and the predominately black Rattlers.

Navy could claim a 13-9 victory over Air Force only after Chuck Zingler batted away two passes in Navy's zone in the last minute.

"We were lucky," said Navy Coach George Welsh, whose team is 4-0 heading into Saturday's game against William and Mary in Norfolk. "We almost let it get away.

"We've been good enough to win, by one point last week and this week by four. Our point production isn't very good right now but I've got to feel that we're still making the big plays." Navy is free of major injuries.

The surprise team of the ACC continues to be Wake Forest. The Deacons got another 200-yard passing day from quarterback Jay Venuto in their come-from-behind 19-14 upset of Virginia Tech. Running back James McDougald had 125 yards in 28 carries, his third 100 yard game of the season and 13th of his career . . . Amos Lawrence, star tailback for 4-0 North Carolina, the ACC's only unbeaten team, had 140 yards in the Tar Heel 35-14 win over Cincinnati and should remain the nation's leading rusher this week.

N.C. State's loss to Auburn dropped the ACC's record to 3-3 against the SEC this season. The league is 17-6-1 outside the conference after a 2-3-1 day Saturday . . . Charlie Wysocki's 51 yards against Penn State gives him 579 for the year, an average of 117.9 yards a game, down from 159.3 two weeks ago . . . Dale Castro's 11 punts against Penn State set a Maryland record . . Duke, 1-2-1. is still the only ACC team that does not have a winning record. The Blue Devils were tied, 17-17, Saturday by an Army team which had lost to North Carolina, 41-3, a week ago.

Alabama and Southern California ran their winning streaks to 13 Saturday with easy victories . . . Air Force has dropped eight straight after its loss to Navy. The Mids now have won six straight . . . Syracuse won its fourth straight Saturday, a 45-27 rout of Kansas. The Orangemen, playing with no home field this season, are 4-1 and have scored 175 points their last four games. They face Penn State in Giants Stadium Saturday. Columbia defeated Pennsylvania, 12-7, Saturday meaning the Quakers probably will be ranked No. 1 in this week's bottom 10. The game was the 1,000th in history for Penn.

West Virginia, winner of one game in 13 before last week, made it two in a row with a 10-6 win over Kentucky Saturday. The victory made the Mountaineers 2-3 and was particularly pleasing for anyone who has met WVU Coach Frank Cignetti.

Cignetti almost died last Christmas and is still battling a rare form of cancer. The win was also the first for the Mountaineers in a homecoming game in seven seasons.