The Maryland football team is expected to reach the crossroads Saturday.

Coming off disappointing defeats at the hands of Kentucky and Penn State, the Terrapins will take on pre-season Atlantic Coast Conference favorite North Carolina State at 1 p.m. in Carter-Finley Stadium.

The 3-2 Terps are 1-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference; the 4-1 Wolfpack is 2-0 in league play. The winner will have taken a giant step toward the conference title. The loser will probably have to wait until next year. $"Actually, I don't think the loser of this game will be out of the race by any means," Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne said earlier this week. "But the winner will be in good shape, especially if it's State, since they're already 2-0. It's definitely a big football game for both teams."

Navy, 4-0 and ranked 18th by UPI, does not have a big game in that sense Saturday but should stretch its winning streak to seven (dating back to last season) against William and Mary, 2-3, in Norfolk's Oyster Bowl.

The Mids have made enough mistakes this season to keep from blowing out weak teams and Coach George Welsh is hoping that pattern will halt Saturday and his team can put together 60 minutes of solid, fumble-free football.

It is apparent that Navy misses the big-play combination of Bob Leszczynski and Phil McConkey. The Midshipmen have consistently moved the ball, but long drives have often ended in turnovers.

Howard's defense was impressive last week in a 23-0 win over Delaware State, a victory that broke a two-game losing streak and gave the Bison a 3-2 record.

But the offense sputtered, stopping itself with penalties frequently and twice with interceptions. Coach Floyd Keith's team will need a more consistent offensive preformance beginning at 1:30 p.m. in RFK Stadium if the Bison are to beat Virginia State.

VSU comes in with four straight shutouts, since opening the season with a 28-0 loss to MEAC superpower South Carolina State. If Howard's offense cannot give its defense some rest and support, it could be a long homecoming afternoon for the Bison.

Virginia Coach Dick Bestwick probably wishes Saturday were homecoming for his team. The Cavliers, 3-2, are heavy favorites over a 1-5 James Madison team in charlottesville.

with a big game at Navy next week, the Cavs' problem is to keep from looking at this game as a tuneup. But, in what must be a first for Virginia in recent years, Bestwick's team is too big, too strong, and too quick for its opponent.

This game was scheduled when UVA Athletic Director Gene Corrigan decided he did not want his team playing at Florida. Bestwick could not have been more delighted with the cancellation.

Virginia Tech Coach Bill Dooley is delighted to be playing at home in Lane Stadium for a fifth straight week, but the 3-2 Gobblers could be in for their third consecutive tough Saturday.

Clemson, 3-1, with a defense that has given up only 40 points in four games, comes to Blacksburg, and Danny Ford's team seems to be improving each week.

Since losing to Maryland, 19-0, Clemson has beaten Georgia and Virginia. Quarterback Billy Lott, attempting to fill the large shoes of Steve Fuller, is improving and there are many who believe Clemson has as good a defensive unit as any of the top teams in the country.

Speaking of defense, Georgetown, 3-0, was finally scored on last week but still cruised to an easy victory over St. Francis (Pa.). The Hoyas should have little difficulty making it four in a row against Gallaudet, 1-3.

Catholic (1-2), however, must travel to Pittsburgh to face strong Duquesne, 4-1. Few losing clubs get healthy against the Dukes. Bowie State, 3-3, also faces a tough afternoon with a trip to Virginia Union, 4-0. s

For the Terps, a loss to State would probably mean not reaching their two major goals -- the ACC title and a trip to a major bowl game.

What's more, with road games against Wake Forest and Duke ahead before a return to Byrd Stadium to play North Carolina -- perhaps the ACC's best team right now -- the Terps cannot afford a third straight loss.

Like Maryland, State is hurting with three defensive starters questionable and two offensive players definitely sidelined.

But quarterback Scott Smith has a solid array of running backs, led by Billy Ray Vickers, and good receivers, most notably speed burner Mike Quick, who is averaging 19 yards per catch. In addition, the Wolfpack has in Nathan Ritter, a placekicker the equal of Maryland's super consistent Dale Castro.

Whereas Maryland's big question mark is still its offense, State's problems lie with the defense. The Pack, burned for 44 points last week by Auburn, is giving up 28 points a game. Conversely, the Maryland offense has scored only two touchdowns in two weeks, both in the fourth quarter.

So it will be a battle of Maryland's shaky offense against State's shaky defense and State's solid offense against the Terp's solid defense.

If the Maryland blockers can give him time, quarterback Mike Tice could break out of a slump during which he has completed only 27 percent of his passes for two games.

"If you give Tice time, he's got the kind of arm that will burn you," State Coach Bo Rein said. "We have to put pressure on him and not let him stand back there and crank it.

While Maryland must prove it can pass to create some running room for tailback Charlie Wysocki, State must establish a ground game. "It's ironic but the last time we won a game where we got outrushed was Mary and two years ago," State quarterback Smith noted. "We know we have to have our running game working to win."