There are crucial Saturdays in September. But today, both Maryland and Virginia will find out a lot about their 1980 football teams.
The Terrapins, 2-0 after victories over mediocre opposition, play their first road game of the season at West Virginia. The Mountaineers, playing in a new stadium under a new coach are 2-0, also winners over weak opponents. But, unlike Villanova and Vanderbilt, they appear capable of testing the Terps.
Virginia, which passed a major test in beating Navy in its opener last week, faces a tougher, more important game today. North Carolina State will be the opponent in Scott Stadium and the Cavaliers have beaten the Wolfpack only once in their last 19 meetings. If Dick Bestwick's team hopes to make a run at the ACC championship, it cannot afford to lose at home -- even to the defending conference champions.
Navy, still battered after its physical struggle with Virginia, should catch a breather in Annapolis when it plays Kent State, also 0-1, at 2 p.m. in Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. The Mids have proven they can play defense, now they must prove to Coach George Welsh that they can put more than three points on the board with converted safety Fred Reitzell still learning at quarterback. Kent State is the kind of team the Mids could get healthy against.
Howard also plays its home opener today, against new Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference member Bethune-Cookman. Both teams are 1-0, the Bison coming off a come-from-behind triumph over West Virginia last week. Running back Greg Banes again will be asked to provide lots of offense after he carried 15 times for 117 yards in the second half last week.
Other games involving local teams include Bowie State (0-2) at Liberty Baptist (1-1) tonight; UDC (0-1) at Delaware State (0-2) at 2 p.m.; Niagara (0-1) visiting Catholic (1-0) at 1:30 p.m. in Brookland Stadium and Newport News Apprentice opening its season at Montgomery-Rockville (1-0) at 1:30 p.m.
Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne has been talking up the West Virginia offense all week and the Mountaineers' stats are impressive. They scored 93 points in victories over Cincinnati and Colarado State. With running back Robert Alexander rushing for 314 yards in two games and quarterback Oliver Luck completing 22 of 35 passes for 407 yards, WVU appears capable of moving the ball.
But Luck, Alexander and company will not roll over the Maryland defense the way they have rolled the last two weeks. No one rolls over this defense. Still, as with all their games against tough opposition this season, the Terps' success probably will depend on the offense.
That unit must supply points and must make sure the defense isn't on the field all day. Too often during Maryland's four-game losing streak last year the Terp offense consisted of Charlie Wysocki left, Charlie Wysocki right, incomplete pass, punt.
Quarterback Mike Tice has only been asked to throw the ball 25 times the first two games. He was five for 11 last week but the completions came at important moments. He must come up with the big play not only to get the Terps on the board but to keep the offense in possession.
"You have to have at least the threat of the pass hanging over the other guy's head to make the running game go," said tight end Eric Sievers, who caught three of the five passes Tice completed last week. "We don't necessarily have to complete a lot of passes but we need to complete them at the right time."
The same is true of Virginia. Last week, in their 6-3 victory over Navy, the Cavaliers reminded a lot of people of Maryland. They were conservative on offense and won the game with their defense. Bestwick will take 1 straight games like that but he knows he is going to have to get quarterback Todd Kirtley the 1978 Robinson High School graduate hooked up with new flanker Greg Taylor if the Cavs are going to beat quality teams.
N.C. State is a quality team, but something of a mystery. The Wolfpack was 7-4 last year but 5-1 in the ACC, winning the title. Their coach, Bo Rein, quit at season's end to take the job at LSU, then died in a plane crash in January.
In Rein's place is Monte Kiffin, who took over a team full of question marks, most notably at quarterback. In the opener against William and Mary, sophomore Tol Avery had all the answers as the 'Pack demolished the Indians, 42-0. But that was not a real test. This will be, both for the Wolfpack and the Cavaliers.
The winner will emerge as a legitimate challenger to North Carolina, Maryland and Clemson for the ACC title. The loser will go home and try to regroup.