All the mistakes and poor execution that led to Maryland's dreadful start will be forgiven and maybe even forgotten if the Terrapins upset ninth-ranked North Carolina today at 1:30 in Byrd Stadium.

The Terrapins, who won only one of their first five games, have since set a team goal of winning the Atlantic Coast Conference title with an undefeated conference record. "We started the season slowly, but if we continue to win in the conference, we're looking for a postseason bowl bid," Dick Dull, Maryland's athletic director, said yesterday.

To win its third straight game, Maryland (3-3-1, 3-0 in the ACC) will have to defeat a team that has the highest scoring offense in the nation -- 38.7 points per game. Carolina (6-1, 2-0) is ranked fourth nationally in total yardage, with 444 yards per game.

But starting quarterback Rod Elkins -- a key to the Tar Heels' success -- has a severely sprained ankle and will not start, although he may be able to play. Elkins had thrown for eight touchdowns and had completed 52 percent of his passes when he injured his ankle last week against South Carolina, the only team to defeat the Tar Heels this season.

Sophomore Scott Stankavage, making his first start, will replace Elkins. "I'm not nervous," Stankavage said yesterday, "because I have the confidence of the other offensive players. I made some mistakes from inexperience last week (in relief), so my main concern is to not make any mistakes.

"We'll get the job done," Stankavage said. "We have a great offensive football machine. The loss last week didn't tarnish our goal of winning the conference title with a perfect (6-0) record."

Tailback Tyrone Anthony also has a sprained ankle. Team officials said they did not know last night whether Anthony, who has gained 553 yards in relief of injured Kelvin Bryant, will play. Sophomore Bob Ratliff (314 yards) would replace Anthony.

Whether Carolina can operate efficiently without its top three offensive players -- Bryant, Elkins and Anthony -- is unknown. Carolina is basically a running team (ranked fifth in the nation with 298 yards per game), but was ineffective against South Carolina.

Because the Terrapins are allowing only 66 yards per game rushing (fourth best in the nation) and have played poor pass defense, the Tar Heels may try passing.

"We don't know what they'll do," said Jerry Eiasman, Maryland's offensive coordinator.

If Carolina decides to pass frequently, Stankavage (20 of 40 for 225 yards and two touchdowns this season) has excellent receivers in Jon Richardson and Mark Smith.

Maryland's plan will be based on maintaining a balanced attack. Quarterback Norman (Boomer) Esiason said he no longer is bothered by a bruised right knee he suffered last week, and the rest of the Terrapin offensive unit is healthier than it has been since August.

The Tar Heels are vulnerable to a strong rushing offense. Maryland, with Charlie Wysocki, John Nash and Jeff Rodenberger all healthy, could be formidable.

But Eiasman said yesterday that the Terrapins will "play to Carolina's tendencies more than their weaknesses. There aren't any real weaknesses in their defense. We want to be balanced as much as possible."

"Whatever the strategy, this will be a physical, physical football game," Terrapin defensive end Greg Vanderhout said.

The rivalry between Maryland and Carolina has been intensified by Tar Heel Coach Dick Crum, who this week accused Maryland of "hating" Carolina.

"I don't know if it's hatred," Stankavage said. "But they'll have some nasty things to say to us and we'll have some nasty things to say to them. This is as big a rivalry as we have at Carolina. There ain't no love lost between us."

In another local rivalry, Georgetown (4-2), with the second-ranked defense in Division III, plays host to Catholic (1-5) at 1 p.m. on Kehoe Field for the Steve Dean Memorial Trophy. Georgetown, led by free safety Jim Corcoran, has allowed only 69 yards passing and 11.3 points per game.

Catholic, relying principally on running back Craig Ciuba, is averaging only 182 yards on offense, while allowing 273 yards.