Although Maryland still has an outside chance of gaining a seventh consecutive bowl berth by winning its last two games of 1979, Athletic Director Carl James is already worrying about 1980, trying to juggle the football schedule to include Georgia Tech or Pittsburgh and cancel a scheduled game against Tulane.
At the moment, Maryland is to play at Tulane on Nov. 15 next year. Already, James has moved the Terrapin game with Villanova, originally scheduled for Oct. 4, to Sept. 6, making it the season opener.
That leaves Oct. 4 open. Pittsburgh has an open date contractually that day although it already has listed a game with Maryland on its future schedule for that date. James said yesterday that he has not signed a contract with Pittsburgh because his first choice to replace Tulane is Georgia Tech. Tech joined the Atlantic Coast Conference last year but is not on Maryland's schedule until 1985. If a game with Tech cannot be arranged, the Terps are likely to play at Pitt instead of at Tulane.
The final two games of the 1979 season are crucial to Maryland because of what they mean to the team's future in terms of recruiting, prestige and finances, school officials agree.
With a 5-4 record to date, the Terrapins face the possibility of not going to a bowl games for the first time in seven seasons.
Bowl appearances, the entire coaching staff from Jerry Claiborne on down agree, are extremely important in recruiting. They are also significant in establishing prestige for a program and prestige means television appearances, publicity and contributions to the athletic program.
It does not matter which bowl game the Terps attend. Few people remember that the only reason Maryland received an invitation two years ago was because a new bowl, the Hall of Fame, was created. What they do remember is Maryland saying it has been to six straight bowl games.
"Certainly we want to go to a bowl game," Claiborne said. "We're very proud of our record. It's also good to finish the season strong right before you go into your recruiting. We want to finish the season as winners."
Wins at home against Louisville and Virginia would give the Terrapins a 7-4 mark, the same as 1977. Maryland has not had more than four losses since Claiborne's first season, 1972, also the last time it did not attend a bowl.
By losing four games in a row Maryland cost itself a television appearance against North Carolina and also was hurt in attendance at Wake Forest and in its homecoming game against North Carolina.
"We haven't really lost any revenue because you don't budget TV revenue and because we've picked up money in places where we weren't counting on it, like at Clemson where we had a good gate," James said. "But losing never helps you.
"A bowl bid would certainly be a plus. There are a lot of intangibles which are added to a program by a bowl bid."
James said that the team's four-game losing streak at midseason caused only minor grumbling among fans and alumni. "There are always going to be a few complainers," he said. "Sure, I got a couple of letters, pointing out things like Frank Kush being available, bush stuff like that.
"But overall, our support has remained steady."
Chief fund raiser Tom Fields said he had also heard occasional grumbles during the losing streak but said he did not expect it to hurt Terrapin Club revenues during the coming year.
"There's always going to be a guy who comes by when you're losing who wants to know why you don't open up the offense more," Fields said. "But that's because they care.
"We're at about the same point dollarwise now as we were a year ago at this time," Fields added. "I'm still hoping we'll finish ahead of last year's figure."
A year ago the Terrapin Club raised $938,000, the ninth consecutive year under Field's direction that the figure had gone up.
Since its undefeated season in 1976 Maryland has compiled a three-year record of 21-11 through last week, compared with 27-5-1 the previous three seasons. Those three seasons (1974-76) also included three consecutive ACC titles and a 20-game conference winning streak.
This will mark the third straight season that Maryland has not won the conference title.
"The rest of the conference has gotten much better," Claiborne said. "All of football has gotten better. There are more good teams. Look at Penn State's record (6-3) this year.How are they doing?
"I doubt if you'll ever see a team in this conference win 20 in a row again.
It's very unlikely. There's too much balance. This will be the first season in I don't know how long (1970) that the conference champion hasn't gone undefeated" in the league.
Naturally, Claiborne could see a bright side to the four losses. "Maybe," he said, "when we're recruiting people will look at our record and figure they can play for us."