Although they will be opponents in Byrd Stadium Saturday, Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne and Virginia Coach Dick Bestwick found themselves on the same side yesterday, lobbying the Hall of Fame Bowl to take the winner of their regular-season game as the opponent for South Carolina in the Dec. 29 game in Birmingham, Ala.
The Hall of Fame committee found itself without an opponent for the 7-3 GamecocksSaturday night when LSU elected to go to the Tangerine Bowl and Missouri and Navy were beaten.
Claiborne and Bestwick agreed that the Maryland-Virginia winner would be an excellent alternative.
"I think that would be a very good choice on their part," Claiborne said. "We lost some games when we had a lot of players hurt. Virginia's lost to good teams in close games and they're playing real good right now. They went right down to the wire with North Carolina (losing, 13-7)."
"We've lost four games to four teams that were healthy and playingg at their best by a grand total of 26 points," he said. "A lot of people don't realize this, but we've a pretty good football team.
"We could have beaten North Carolina with a couple of breaks, with a couple of officials' calls going the other way."
As for Maryland, it "lost four games when they were crippled by injuries," Bestwick said. "They've come back strong and won three in a row and they're clearly a good football team right now.
"I think the winner of our game would make an excellent opponent for South Carolina."
Three ACC teams already are in bowl games: Clemson (8-2) is in the Peach Bowl; North Carolina (6-3-1) is in the Gator Bowl and Wake Forest (8-3) is in the Tangerine Bowl. Conference champion North Carolina State (7-4) is waiting to hear from the Garden State Bowl, which will meet this morning to decide whether to extend State a bid or wait a week.
Aside from the bowl situation, both Claiborne and Bestwick said they were looking forward to Saturday's finale. Unlike past years where Virginia was an overwhelming underdog, the matchup is suddenly even, both teams having 6-4 records against similar schedules.
"I prefer it this way," Claiborne said. "The games I worry about are ones like Louisville yesterday (Saturday) where its a non-conference game, the other team isn't ranked and they're coming off a loss. Sometimes you play sluggish.
"But I know our players won't have any trouble getting up for this game. I think it will be a whale of a football game."
How close the game will be could depend on the physical condition of Virginia quarterback Todd Kirtley, one of three UVA starters hurt in the loss to Carolina.
Kirtley was speared in the leg in the second quarter but returned in the fourth quarter.
"Whether he can play depends on how fast he heals," Bestwick said. "He's sore right now and we won't know until midweek whether he can play or not.
"Todd wasn't on target and that hurt us. But I can't say enough about the kid. He came back in when he was hurting and threw a touchdown pass. He's done a hell of a job for us all year long."
Kick returner Pat Chester and tight end Billy Newsome also were hurt Saturday. Chester is questionable, Bestwick said, and Newsome is out, The injuries are the first serious ones the Cavs have had this season.
Claiborne's team, hobbled by injuries all season, came out of the Louisville game with no further damage. The third straight win also left Claiborne extremely pleased, regardless of the bowl outcome.
"It would have been very easy for this team to fold its tent and go home after the Wake Forrest game," he said. "But the seniors really hung in and kept the younger players going. And the young ones kept fighting when it would have been easy to just wait until next year.
"I'm very proud of this team whatever the bowls do."
But, Claiborne admitted, he was thinking about the bowl bid.
I just hope there's a whole lot at stake on Saturday," he said.
Navy's bowl hopes, so bright a month ago when the Mids were 6-0, went aglimmering Saturday when they dropped their fourth straight game, 24-14, to Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
Coach George Welsh called Tech's passing game "the best we've seen all season and added that Yellow Jacket quarterback Mike Kelly "was the best passer we've seen in a long time."
For Navy the story was essentially the same as it has been during all four losses: injuries and the long season have taken their toll, something Welsh sensed two weeks ago.
"It may be that we need to think about changing our schedule a little, play some of these tougher teams earlier instead of stacking them all up towards the end," Welsh said. "The last two years we've had the same problem. We've gotten very tired towards the end of the season and we've had the injuries."
Navy has two weeks to rest before it closes its season Dec. 1 against Army, a 40-0 loser to Pittsburgh Saturday. The Cadets are 2-7-1 and have lost six in a row.
In another development yesterday, the Independence Bowl announced that Syracuse (6-5) will play McNeese State in the Dec. 15 contest.