The area's four major college football teams open their seasons today, with Maryland, Navy and Howard starting new quarterbacks with limited experience.
Maryland opens at Vanderbilt at 8 p.m., starting junior Brent Dewitz, who only a week ago won a six-week competition with senior Bob Milkovich for the quarterback position. Maryland has won each of the 12 games in which Dewitz has seen limited action.
One criticism of Dewitz is that he is too small (6 feet, 190 pounds) to be a major conference quarterback. "I know my capabilities," said Dewitz, who led Maryland to a come-from-behind victory over Duke last season in relief of injured Mike Tice.
"The quarterback position is played from your brain and heart more than how high off the ground you are," Dewitz said. "Hopefully, our lineman have got their heads in the stomachs of the defensive linemen, so I can see over everybody.
"I never lost a game I started at quarterback for three years of high school, and we've won all 12 games I've played in at Maryland. I'm confident I can do the job."
Jerry Eisaman, Maryland quarterback coach, characterized Dewitz as "fiery. He gets excited, he wants to play so bad. He can do the things we want to do in our offense." Dewitz likes to sprint out before setting up to pass and he is not reticent about running, despite his size.
Maryland's biggest problem will be its kicking game. Steve Adams will do the punting, but he has been inconsistent at best during the preseason. Jesse Atkinson, a soccer player, has superb distance on field goal tries. But his accuracy is questionable on medium-range attempts.
Vanderbilt quarterback Whit Taylor also may throw frequently against an inexperienced Maryland secondary. But Vanderbilt has little choice but to pass every week, regardless of the opponent. Commodore Coach George MacIntyre, realizing it's not easy to turn the program around, is trying to at least make the team attractive and exciting.
Howard, opening at home against Division II Cheyney State, is hoping that senior Ray Gray can take over a passing game that was the best in Division I-AA last season. And Navy will start junior Tom Tarquinio in Annapolis against The Citadel. Tarquinio, the backup last season, fought off sophomore Marco Paganelli for the starting role.
Gray replaces Ron Wilson, who set several passing records last season as a senior. "Ron Wilson was a great quarterback, but Ray is more of a passer than Ron was," said Tracy Singleton, Howard's record-setting wide receiver.
Howard, with such a weak opponent, appears safe this week. But the Bison will have major problems if three injured starters don't heal quickly. Robert Artisst, the second leading receiver on the team last season, is out with a hairline fracture of the collarbone. The defensive backfield was the best in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference last season, but Chris Jackson and Jimmy Diggs are hurt. Running back Jeff Owens also is out.
Navy quarterback Tarquinio is expected to spend much of his first start handing the ball off to running back Eddie Meyers, who rushed for 957 yards last season. Both Navy and The Citadel are expected to run the football, almost exclusively. But the inexperienced Navy offensive line may not be able to move The Citadel's defense enough for Meyers to find running room. Ball control will be an important factor since neither team is adept at passing.
In past seasons, the Navy defense has kept the team close when the offense sputtered. But Coach George Welsh is thin in the secondary and linebacking positions. The defense must contain senior running back Doug Miller, who replaces Stump Mitchell, now with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Only Virginia, with senior starter Todd Kirtley (from Robinson High), is experienced at quarterback. Kirtley and the Cavaliers will be playing host to a West Virginia team that has a superb quarterback, Oliver Luck.
Virginia has a suspect offensive line, unsettled backfield, and a new defense. Yet, surprisingly, the Cavaliers are slightly favored (four points), even though they lost to West Virginia last season, 45-27.
The loss of fullbacks Dane Conwell and Eldridge Dixon is expected to leave West Virginia with a one-dimensional offense. Damon Beasley, who started fall practice as the fifth-string fullback, will start for the Mountaineers. Quarterback Luck may throw 40 passes.