Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne has a problem this week. His football team has nothing to shoot for going into its game at Virginia Saturday and he knows he has a locker room full of players convinced they can beat the Cavaliers just by showing up in Charlottesville.
Even Claiborne, who would advise caution if the Terps were facing a pickup tag team, slipped a bit yesterday when asked about Tangerine Bowl plans.
"We're just trying to get Virginia out of the way first," he said. Usually, the stoic coach insists that the next game is the most important of the season.
For the Terps (7-3), the major motivation Saturday will be avoiding a loss. They already have their bowl bid and, unless Duke upsets North Carolina -- which is as likely as the Redskins making the playoffs -- there will be no Atlantic Coast Conference championship for the Terps for a fourth straight year.
Yet Virginia is a dangerous team. The Cavaliers are 4-6 but have beaten tennessee in Knoxville and almost defeated Clemson and Rutgers.
"Their record isn't as good as it was last year when we played them," Claiborne said. "But they're a better football team. When (quarterback Todd) Kirtley is healthy, they're very tough."
What's more, the Cavaliers, who have not beaten Maryland in eight games since Claiborne became the Terrapins' coach, will come into the game knowing that, with a victory, they can salvage something from a disappointing season.
"When a team has its back to the wall and it's just trying to salvage something, it plays harder," Claiborne said. "I expect that to be the situation Saturday."
Predicting how his team will play is more difficult. The Terps have been celebrating virtually nonstop since beating Clemson Saturday and receiving the invitation to play Florida in the Tangerine Bowl.
"Right now, everyone's just thinking about going south," one senior said. "Look, Clemson was beat up, so is Virginia. It'll take some kind of body and heart transplant for them to give us a game Saturday."
The Cavaliers have lost their last two games, a last-minute 19-17 decision to Rutgers and a 26-3 stomping by North Carolina last week. Kirtley, tailback Tommy Vigorito and Stuart Anderson, the Bulwark of the defensive line, have been playing hurt and Virginia does not yet have enough depth that it can afford to have key players injured.
"They're bigger, stronger and they execute better than they did in the past," Claiborne said. "There's no comparison between the kind of athletes they have now and the kind they had a few years ago. Dick (Bestwick) has really done the job there."
Bestwick should have little difficulty getting his players ready for Saturday. Although the Cavs cannot attain a second straight winning season, defeating Maryland would give them something to talk about during the winter and provide a boost toward next season when players like Anderson, Kirtley and Greg Taylor will be back.
But for Claiborne's team this is an anticlimax. That can be dangerous.
Claiborne delivered a 20-minute speech to his players on the evils of "stealing" after several seniors did not turn in their practice jerseys at the end of last week.
"It was our last week in red," one said, "and we all wanted one souvenier out of the four years. There's no way for them to use them again, anyway; they're worn out."
No matter. Claiborne told the players that anyone who did not turn in his jersey would not receive scholarship aid next semester and would be billed for double the price of the jersey.
The Terps have two injured this week. Offensive guard Ed Aluisi strained a knee against Clemson and is questionable. So is offensive tackle Corvino. Boring apparently tried to lift Corvino, who weighs 240 pounds, and strained a knee.
Members of the Maryland band, 230 strong, were extremely upset when Athletic Director Jim Kehoe informed them Monday that they would not be going to the Tangerine Bowl. Kehoe cited expenses as the reason. Since the Tangerine Bowl pays less than any other bowl except the Independence, the cost of taking both team and band would about wipe out any profit. Florida will bring its band. Unlike some bowls, the Tangerine does not require participants to bring a band.