Maryland punter Alan Sadler goes home to Camp Springs to have dinner with his family most Sundays.

"Every time I go home now my folks have steak waiting for me on the table," Sadler said. "Before, when we weren't winning as much, it was tuna; chicken if I had a real good game.

"I left my house last Sunday and went to pick up Jess Atkinson (the place-kicker) and I said, 'Jess, what did you have for dinner?' He said 'Steak, man. Tossed salad, the works.'

"I guess everybody loves a winner," Sadler said with a smile, "even parents."

Before this football season began, the University of Maryland was one of the few major colleges in the nation where the starting quarterback could go to the campus Burger King and not be recognized.

The University of Maryland was also a place where the students would rather watch Saturday cartoons than go to the game; a place where the best local recruits visited only out of courtesy before marching off to Penn State or North Carolina.

Ten weeks into this football season, much of that has changed.

The players are Big Men on Campus. Students have been lining up at 9 a.m. the day of home games to get decent seats. Recruits often stand three-deep in the new players' lounge outside Byrd Stadium after games. Dick Dull, the school's director of athletics, says younger and previously disenchanted alumni are showing renewed interest, and that he expects to see a substantial increase in donations soon.

And Saturday, when the Terrapins play Clemson for the ACC championship at Byrd Stadium, the Orange Bowl will have two scouts at the game, Dull said yesterday.

The Orange Bowl held a special midweek meeting and apparently reevaluated its interest in Maryland and Clemson. Dull said the Orange Bowl officials said they may be interested in this week's winner. Unless Maryland is invited to a big-money, New Year's Day bowl like the Orange, it is likely the Terrapins will be invited to play in the the Aloha Bowl on Christmas Day in Honolulu.

As Sadler says, everybody loves a winner. "And it's not a one-year deal," he added, "this program will only get better."

Maryland, under a new coach, Bobby Ross, is one victory away from a major revival of its football program, rebounding from last year's 4-6-1 record. The Clemson game will be on regional television, before the first sellout crowd at Byrd Stadium in more than two years.

Should Maryland extend its winning streak to eight straight Saturday, the Terrapins will be on their way to their first Atlantic Coast Conference title since 1976. They will also take another step toward the national recognition that the school's athletic department wants so badly.

"We have come a long way," said former quarterback Brent Dewitz.

Everybody loves a winner, especially a winner with flair.

Betsy Trent and Pam Gasper are sophomores at Maryland and sorority pledges. Their job Saturday is to arrive at Byrd Stadium at 9:30 a.m. and make sure there are enough seats for the women in the sorority, who will arrive later. They don't mind going to the games this season.

"This year, I actually watch the games," Gasper said. "I never really did before. We used to just walk around and see people. It was just a social event."

"We even listen to the away games on radio," Trent said. "We're thinking about going to whatever bowl game they get into."

Sia Rose, another Maryland student, said she has missed only one game in three years. "The students who did go, used to go just to drink," Rose said. "It's different now because they're winning. People are more interested in actually knowing who the players are. It carries over because students have more pride in the school, period."

What existed at Maryland 10 weeks ago were dozens of questions.

When Ross was asked before the season how long it would take to produce a winning team in College Park, he laughed and said, "Well, the length of my contract is four years."

"We were all full of uncertainty," said kick returner Tim Quander. "Even after we won a few games we figured as soon as we lost, everybody would forget about us. There were a lot of fights (in practice) early in the season because everybody was so anxious to show we were better than fifth or sixth in the ACC, like people said in the preseason.

"After the West Virginia game, we set some goals for ourselves, like winning the next five games. And as we generated new goals, we generated more wins. We played well enough against Penn State (in defeat) to realize we had something going, but we also had to improve what we had."

Maryland, now ranked 18th in the nation, has improved to the point of being favored by two points to beat 11th-ranked Clemson.

Someone asked Ross yesterday if he expected before the season to be playing such an important game so late in his first season here.

"I never allowed myself to have expectations, positive or negative," Ross said. "The only game that was looking big to me before the season was Penn State (the opener). I was prepared for a hard, tough season. And it has been that.

"It was a great feeling last week to take the field with so many fans there. I was very happy the players could see that plain old hard work does pay off. We're trying to show that it can be done here at Maryland, like it can elsewhere in the country."