The Maryland football team plays Duke in a 1:30 homecoming game today, but much of the talk among players this week has centered on upcoming contests against highly ranked North Carolina and Clemson.

"I think everybody on this team believes we can beat (third-ranked) North Carolina," said Terrapin quarterback Norman (Boomer) Esiason. When asked if the team were overlooking Duke, Esiason said, "There is a lot of talk about North Carolina around here. But much of it is the players responding to questions (from reporters). I hope we aren't overlooking Duke. That's the best way to lose."

In other games today, Navy and Virginia also celebrate homecoming. Navy plays William and Mary at 1:30 in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, and Virginia attempts to break its nine-game losing streak in a 1:30 game against Wake Forest at Scott Stadium. In a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game, Howard plays North Carolina A & T in Greensboro at 1:30.

Maryland (2-3-1, 2-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) has had trouble with passing teams all season, and the Blue Devils are ranked second in the ACC with 212 passing yards per game. Duke (3-3, 1-1) also has the most balanced offense in the conference.

Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne told reporters Tuesday that he would tell his players not to read the local papers if there were stories about the upcoming games with North Carolina and Clemson, which are ranked in the top five in both polls. "They better not be thinking about nothing but Duke," Claiborne said.

However, the comments of some Maryland players this week indicated they may be thinking ahead.

Several Terrapins have spoken of the importance of having a 3-3-1 record going into the North Carolina game.

"I know we can beat both Carolina and Clemson (on Nov. 14)," safety Billy McFadden said Tuesday. "They're both primarily running teams, and hardly anybody has run the football on us in the past two years. We can beat them both."

"We know we can win the ACC title," said offensive lineman Dave Pacella. "We are shooting for a 6-0 record in the conference."

Claiborne said yesterday that tailback Charlie Wysocki, who had been sidelined with a bruised left shoulder, should be able to start today. But he said John Nash, who plays either tailback or fullback and who was tentatively scheduled to start with Wysocki, will not play because of his bruised left knee. Joe Brkovich will start at fullback, Claiborne said.

Duke will undoubtedly try what has been most successful against Maryland this season: passing, at least 40 times.

Duke quarterback Ben Bennett has one of the conference's best receivers in Cedric Jones, who has caught 27 passes for 515 yards. Ron Fredrick, the other wide receiver, has caught 22 passes for 347 yards.

Running backs Mike Grayson and Carl Franks are also an integral part of the passing game. "They've got the most innovative screen passes I've seen," Claiborne said. "They run flanker comebacks, backup passes, laterals, double passes and passes off the reverse."

A week ago, Maryland defeated Wake Forest despite a 556-yard passing performance by two Deacon quarterbacks.

The Terrapins have allowed 1,689 yards passing this season, an average of 361 yards per game.

Nevertheless, Claiborne insisted his wide-tackle-six defense can stop Duke's sophisticated passing game. "We've got the same amount of coverages anybody else has," he said.