If Maryland wanted to score the most important athletic victory in its history, if it wanted to assume extraordinary leadership on an issue sorely lacking exactly that, this would be the scene Saturday outside Byrd Stadium: President John Toll meets Clemson President Bill Lee Atchley and says . . .

"Okay, once and for all: did you or didn't you? How bad is it? Don't bother with the details, just tell me if what we've been reading is true. If it is, if the cheating in football was that bad, we're not going to wait for the ACC and NCAA to act. We're simply not going to play today.

"I'm going to explain to the CBS people here for this regional telecast that it's time KEN DENLINGER This Morning somebody wouldn't be pushed anymore. Cancel the game; refund the money. There's something more important here -- integrity. If you didn't cheat, if that national championship last year wasn't bought, fine. Let's get on with the game.

"If we play today, and it comes out later you were lying, Maryland will sue you because we'll have been tainted by association. We're clean, and I won't tolerate any team that isn't."

Maybe the sun also will set in the East.

Saturday's game is not quite saints vs. sinners, of course. For unless Susan Anton really does know the difference between a football and a foot fault, Maryland is acting embarrassingly like a professional operation by using her in its ads.

But enough of the sermon that nearly always fails to stir the masses. There are noble reasons for all the excitement in College Park this week. Mike Corvino is one of them. And about 12 dozen like him. If college presidents can allow semiamateur football to seem appalling so often, players such as Corvino make it appealing.

On the field, player against player, the game's honest.

Clemson stirs so many of Corvino's emotions. He got the first start of his Maryland career against the Tigers, as a red-shirt freshman four years ago, that 19-0 victory in the stadium called Death Valley. Impressionable, from a tiny town with its back against the Poconos, he saw scenes that remain vivid.

"The orange carpet that rolls down the hill (toward the field)," he said. "All the orange all over the people. The (Tiger) paws (painted) on their faces. I remember riding on the bus, that was the first thing I saw -- kids, older women, everybody's grandmother. You name 'em, they had those paws painted on. And they're loud.

"It's easy to get intimidated."

A cocaptain, Corvino will be returning to the Terrapin defensive line for the first time in three weeks. A familiar injury to him, a sprained knee, the left one this time, kept him off the field, though not far from the action, against North Carolina and Miami. Most injured players are shooed from the sideline; Coach Bobby Ross wanted Corvino there, wanted others to have his spirit.

There has been glory and frustration for Corvino during his five years at Maryland, but nothing quite like this week. Fans seem to care as much as the players, at last; two arbiters of power, CBS and Sports Illustrated, are directing assault boats toward College Park; extra stands have been hammered into place.

Still, the image of Homer Jordan dances in Corvino's mind. Of all the excellent players he has gone against, the Clemson quarterback has been the toughest. Large opponents Corvino can tolerate, he being 6-2 and about 240 pounds. They make him feel pain; Jordan makes him feel foolish.

"I'm not saying he (Jordan) intimidates me," Corvino said, "but he impressed me more than big backs (such as Randy McMillan of Pitt and Booker Moore of Penn State), 'cause he can make you miss him. I remember last year I had two sacks against him. And another we didn't get because of an offsides penalty.

"But I also missed two. I mean missed him. He had me jump one time, which I very seldom do. Anxious to get to him, I guess. Jumped and he ducked under me. Another time, he made a move on me. Can't say I let that happen too often, either.

"He has my respect.

"I hope he's healthy."

Counting this season, Maryland has won more than 60 percent of its games during Corvino's career. But never an ACC championship. The next two weeks, Clemson and Virginia, can correct that, as well as vault the Terrapins to a near-major bowl.

"Playing against a lot of good people, like I have, makes me better," he said. A purist of sorts, Corvino cares more about his performance against the man across the line than what manner of rule-bending was necessary to get that man there.

Let the moralists moan; bring on Homer one more time.

In a way, regardless of how it fares Saturday against Maryland, no matter how stiff the ACC and NCAA penalties, Clemson has reached its goal. And that goes beyond being ranked first after last season.

"It used to be across the country people would say, 'Where's Clemson?' " Atchley said. "Today they don't say that."

Maryland is after respect of another sort.

"We won't have it," Corvino said, "until we win the next three games. Think we let some people down for the first time last week (by not being impressive in beating Miami). Many people were satisfied when we played Penn State so tough and nearly beat West Virginia. Now they're not satisfied, either. Now they're finally where the team is.