Despite a disappointing season so far, Maryland can force a tie for the Atlantic Coast Conference football championship by upsetting No. 2-ranked Clemson in a 1 p.m. game Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Navy hopes to improve its postseason bowl chances with a victory over Georgia Tech this afternoon. The Midshipmen (6-3) have lost six of their last seven in Atlanta.
Howard will try for its fifth straight victory and the school's first back-to-back winning seasons since 1975 at Western Illinois. Virginia, playing at home, meets heavily favored North Carolina.
With a victory Saturday, Clemson (9-0, 5-0 in the ACC) could win the conference title and take another step toward an undefeated season and a national championship. Maryland (3-5-1, 3-1) needs victories over Clemson and then Virginia next week in its final game to bring about a three-way tie with Clemson and North Carolina. Each would finish 5-1 in the conference.
"I know we could end in a tie for the ACC championship," said Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne. "But pride has to be our motivation. The biggest thing for our team is to play for pride. We embarrassed ourselves against Tulane last week."
The Tigers are ranked first or second in seven of the ACC's 11 statistical categories. Clemson leads the conference with 263 yards rushing per game. But Maryland's rushing defense is ranked third nationally and No. 1 in the ACC, allowing only 74 yards per game. Maryland, however, constantly demonstrates it can be beaten by average passing; Clemson is next to last in the conference in passing, with 137 yards per game.
Citing those figures, Tulane Coach Vince Gibson predicted earlier this week that Maryland would beat Clemson. Gibson qualifies as an expert, since his team defeated Maryland, 14-7, last week, and held Clemson to a 13-5 victory the second week of the season. Gibson also predicted Clemson's upset win over Georgia in the third week of the season, the triumph that boosted Clemson into national prominence.
Neither Claiborne nor Clemson Coach Danny Ford sounded happy about Gibson's prediction.
"Lord, that's all we need is something to fire up that Clemson team down in Death Valley," said Claiborne, whose Maryland teams have won eight of nine against Clemson and are 4-0 in Memorial Stadium.
"It doesn't take a whole lot of courage to pick football games," Ford said. "It stands to reason that he would pick the last team he played against. It's no big deal. He's got one chance to be right and one to be wrong."
Ford indicated that his team would pass more if Maryland started shutting down the Tiger running game. "If we find something soft on them, we'll go to it," he said. Maryland's defense has allowed 280 yards per game passing this season.
Even Claiborne said he expects Clemson "will probably have a more balanced attack this week."
Ford also said that Clemson, despite its high ranking, does not have the "upper hand" on the Terrapins. "I'm expecting the same type of game from Maryland that we had with North Carolina (the Tigers won, 10-8) last week," Ford said. "The thing that worries me about Maryland is their tradition of beating Clemson. I'd like to break that thing up a little. They're 3-5-1, but their people aren't that much different than ours. The things that usually go Maryland's way just aren't this season. But this game will come down to the kicking and defense."
Claiborne said his team spent the entire week "concentrating on the basics and not making mistakes," while cutting down the number of plays in the offensive game plan.
"I'm excited," said Claiborne, who spent the latter part of this week denying reports he would leave Maryland at the end of the season to coach at Kentucky. When asked if he were interested in replacing Fran Curci at Kentucky, his alma mater, Claiborne said, "I ain't interested in nothing but preparing this team for Clemson on Saturday."
Navy (6-3) must contend with a 1-8 Georgia Tech team whose victory was against Alabama. Eddie Meyers, who set the academy's career rushing record last week against Syracuse, could have another big day against Tech, which has allowed 215 yards rushing per game.
The Midshipmen are still hoping for a bid to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego Dec. 19. A victory in Saturday's game and over Army Dec. 5 would leave the Midshipmen 8-3 and would probably assure them of a spot in one of the minor bowls.