Jerry Claiborne, Maryland football coach, had a rare experience yesterday. When he began listing the virtues of the upcoming opponent at his weekly press conference, people actually listened.

Claiborne is famous for making any team from pee wee to professional sound like the Pittsburgh Steelers the week before his team plays them. When he talked yesterday about Wake Forest, perhaps the surprise team in the entire country, he had a captive audience.

"If I had to vote for coach of the year right now I'd vote for John Mackrovic," Claiborne said of the Deacon coach who has turned around a 1-10 team and posted a 5-1 record so farthis year. "They're just doing a super job. They've got a receiver down there named (Wayne) Baumgardner who has been catching passes out of his ears.

"And their quarterback, Jay Venuto, has been getting passes to everyone. He's completed 58 percent."

The passing of Venuto and a defense with nine starters back are the key reasons the Demon Deacons have such a good overall record and are 2-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Terps are 3-3 in all games, 1-1 in the ACC .

The rise of the Deacons and their 24-19 upset of North Carolina Saturday has thrown the ACC race wide open. Depending on this weekend's results, things could be more confused by Saturday night.

While Wake and Maryland, each with one league loss, are playing in Groves Stadium, North Carolina, 0-1 in league play, will be playing a regionally televised game at North Carolina State.

N.C. S tate is in the ACC driver's seat at 3-0. If the Tar Heels upset State, four teams will have one loss -- State, Carolina, Clemson (after it beats Duke Saturday) and the winner of the Wake-Maryland game.

If Wake had not beaten Carolina most people would be billing the State-UNC game as the league's titlematch. Now, however, everyone, even Virginia (1-2), is still in contention.

The Terps, who have dominated Wake in the Claiborne era -- seven straight wins by a combined score of 225-22 with five shutouts -- suddenly find themselves as underdogs against the Deacons.

The Maryland injury situation has not improved at all. Defensive back Sammy Johnson underwent knee surgery Monday and will be replaced by Sam Medile.

Tom Burgess, who replaced Eric Sievers at tight end four weeks ago, is doubtful with a bruised knee. If he cannot play he will be replaced by John Tice, benched quarterback Mike Tice's younger brother. "At least one Tice will start (Saturday)," Mike Tice said yesterday.

Of the switch from Tice to Milkovich, Claiborne again emphasized, "We just haven't been able to generate any offense at all and we thought we had to try something different. Bobby's done some good things coming in when we were behind so we decided to see how he might do starting even."

Milkovich will be responsible for stimulating an offense that has scored 14 points in three games and ranks last in the ACC. Wake leads the conference both in total offense (385 yards per game compared to 230 for Maryland) and in passing (with 234 yards per game, compared to 91 for the Terps).

Claiborne held tailback Charlie Wysocki out of practice yesterday to give him a chance to rest the thigh injury that has bothered him since the Kentucky game. . .Wake receiver Baumgardner has caught 29 passes for 538 yards, an average of 18.6 yards a catch, and has four games with more than 100 yards in receptions . . . Color announcer Tim Brant, who played for Claiborne in 1971, was joking that he might have to come out of retirement because of the injuries. Overhearing him at the luncheon, Claiborne said, "We're not that desperate yet, Timmy.".