Up until last weekend, people in these parts insisted that Saturday's North Carolina-at-Clemson game would have global implications. Just like last year.
That, of course, was before Maryland tailback Willie Joyner took the stiletto to the country's top-rated rushing defense and ran for 240 yards to lead Maryland to a 31-24 victory over the Tar Heels last Saturday.
North Carolina's record fell to 5-2 overall and, more importantly, 2-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. North Carolina spirits fell, too. Tar Heel quarterback Rod Elkins said early this week, "We're not sitting as pretty as last week . . . We're playing as much for pride now as anything."
Consequently, when the 18th-ranked Tar Heels visit Memorial Stadium (a.k.a. Death Valley), the home of 13th-ranked Clemson, at 1 p.m. Saturday, the wide-angle lens of national significance will be missing.
In order for Clemson (5-1-1, 3-0 in the ACC) to defend its conference title, the Tigers must beat North Carolina Saturday, then defeat Maryland (6-2, 4-0 in the ACC) next week in College Park.
The best North Carolina can hope for is a three-way tie for first place. That could be achieved by a North Carolina victory Saturday and, next week, a Clemson victory at Maryland and a Tar Heel victory over Virginia.
"This has been, in a lot of ways, a tough season," says North Carolina Coach Dick Crum. "We never have been able to get a rhythm. Elkins was out early with an injury; we lost our fullback, Alan Burrus, to an injury and (tailback Kelvin) Bryant didn't play well early."
After a 7-6 loss at Pittsburgh in the opener, the Tar Heels won five straight. Then, Joyner ran right at the Carolina jugular for his 240 yards. In the six games prior to that, the Tar Heel defense had given up only 258 rushing yards. Even so, North Carolina ranks third in the nation in total defense (202.9 yards per game).
The Clemson path in 1982 has been only slightly different: after losing to Georgia, 13-7, in the season opener and tying Boston College, 17-17, in the second week, Clemson has won five straight.
The defending national champions have had plenty of injuries. The bye last week didn't hurt.
This week, quarterback Homer Jordan, defensive tackle Dan Benish and cornerback Ronald Watson are listed as doubtful because of knee injuries.
Jordan has played in only four games this season. The senior quarterback had arthroscopic surgery Oct. 18. He has not played since the first half of the 48-0 victory over Virginia Oct. 9.
"Homer is very doubtful this week," Clemson Coach Danny Ford says. "It would have to be a very special situation for him to play."
Jordan says of his playing time: "Possibly this week. For sure, next week."
Sophomore quarterback Mike Eppley will make his fourth start of the season Saturday, Ford says. Eppley, who also starts for the Clemson basketball team, kept his pre-Tar Heel comments brief. "This game is big," he says.
In 1981, Clemson beat North Carolina, 10-8, at Chapel Hill. The victory improved the Tigers' record to 9-0 and was the springboard to an ACC championship, a 12-0 season and a national title. "But that game is history now," Ford says. "It can't help us this year."
"We'll use it as a revenge factor," says North Carolina's Elkins.
The Clemson defense is aware of North Carolina's No. 5 national ranking in total offense. "Stop (tailback Ethan) Horton and Bryant first, then make Elkins do the things he doesn't want to do," says Clemson all-America safety Terry Kinard, citing Clemson's defensive strategy.
There are several other intriguing games this weekend as the season winds down and the bowl selection committees prepare for the annual scramble to get the best teams.
Top-ranked and undefeated Pittsburgh will play host to 20th-ranked Notre Dame. The Panthers found their long-lost offense last week by scoring 63 points against Louisville, but that is not expected to happen against an Irish team that once pointed toward a national championship but now must content itself with playing spoiler.
In the SEC, Georgia must beat Florida today and Auburn next week in order to gain the Sugar Bowl. Florida's highly regarded defense must stop Herschel Walker, now the fourth-leading rusher in the country and the all-time SEC rushing leader. The Bulldogs must contend with Florida's Wayne Peace, the nation's second-leading passer.
Eighth-ranked Alabama will play host to 11th-ranked Louisiana State, a team it has defeated 11 straight times. The Tide is fourth in the nation in rushing offense, but must go against an LSU defense that is ranked first in the nation, third against the rush and ninth against the pass. Both teams are still alive in the conference title race.
The Rose Bowl will be on the minds of all participants when ninth-ranked UCLA travels to Seattle to play 10th-ranked Washington, an upset victim to Stanford last week. Tom Ramsey of UCLA leads the nation in passing. The Huskies will start quarterback Tim Cowan ahead of Steve Pelluer.