Amid the usual press clippings, depth charts and words of encouragement on the bulletin board in the Maryland locker room, a simple slogan best captures the attitude the Terrapins have going into today's game against Clemson:
"Regain the Ring."
The Atlantic Coast Conference championship ring.
At 12:30 this afternoon, before a regional television audience (WDVM-TV-9) and more than 46,000 in sold-out Byrd Stadium, Maryland will play an angry Clemson team in a game that likely will decide the ACC championship.
Both teams are 4-0 in conference play, and neither is expected to lose its final conference game. Maryland (7-2), ranked 18th in the nation and winner of seven straight, finishes the season next week at Virginia. Defending conference and national champion Clemson (6-1-1), ranked 11th and winner of six straight, plays South Carolina next week and finishes the following week against ACC opponent Wake Forest.
Maryland will be trying to win its first ACC football championship since 1976.
Clemson has had a turbulent week. The team has tried to ignore published reports that the football program will be placed on probation by the NCAA and the ACC for recruiting violations.
"We've got so many distractions right now, it's unfair for the kids," Clemson Coach Danny Ford told the Associated Press. Ford said he was "trying like hell" to keep the players motivated, but added, "It's getting harder and harder every day now because it doesn't let up."
Clemson quarterback Mike Eppley said, "We're just trying to put that out of our heads and concentrate on the rest of the season." If the Tigers are able to do that, the game could be a classic.
"I think they'll be ticked off," Maryland quarterback Boomer Esiason said of Clemson's mood. "It'll be a brawl."
Maryland is averaging more than 30 points per game and is 14th in the nation in total offense. It will be matched against a Clemson defense that has allowed fewer than 13 points per game.
For the first time this season, Maryland's defense -- fifth in the nation against the rush -- will be tested by a sprint-out, option offense. Starting quarterback Homer Jordan, a quick runner and good passer, is expected to play after missing the last three games with a sprained knee, but he may come in as a substitute.
The individual matchups are even more intriguing.
Maryland's offensive linemen will have to deal with William Perry, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound nose guard who is called "the Refrigerator" or "GE." He will be lined up over Vince Tomasetti, Maryland's 6-2, 250-pound center.
"How do you deal with the Fridge?" Tomasetti asked yesterday.
"You have to stay low when you block him. He has too much strength in his upper body to test him up high. I've played against guys who weigh 260 and 270 pounds, but never anybody over 300."
Clemson also has a safety who doesn't have a nickname, just a solid national reputation.
Maryland Coach Bobby Ross says all-America Terry Kinard covers more ground than any other safety he's seen.
"Kinard plays off the ball only about 10 yards, sometimes eight," said Maryland receiver Mike Lewis. "That's a no-no for a safety. Most guys play 12, 13 yards off. But sometimes Kinard is closer to the line than their cornerbacks. That's because of his speed, the amount of ground he is able to cover. Plus, he disguises where he is going. He converges quickly. We'll just have to run precise pass routes. We can't afford errors against a person like that."
Esiason is aware that he cannot "eyeball" his receivers as he has in some games. "That might have been a problem," Esiason said. "But I'll be looking my receivers off a little more this time, and throwing more timing patterns."
Maryland's defense, especially the ends, will have to adjust the rush to contain Jordan, who sprints wide, then decides whether to run, pitch out to his running backs or throw.
"We'll have to play a little off the line and play the sprint," said defensive guard Mike Corvino, who will start today after missing three weeks with a sprained left knee. "We've got to stop Jordan before he gets to the corners and turns upfield."
Of course, Clemson will have its share of concerns.
Maryland has the most balanced, unpredictable offense in the conference. If Perry stops the run, Esiason can go long to Russell Davis, Greg Hill, Darryl Emerson or Lewis. If Kinard is shutting down the deep routes, Esiason can throw short screens and dumpoffs to Willie Joyner, John Nash, Dave D'Addio and tight end John Tice.
Clemson must be at its best to shut down all three options. Both teams may have to contend with poor conditions. The weather forecast calls for rain in the morning, with temperatures in the 40s and winds from 20 to 30 mph.
Still, most Maryland players yesterday dismissed the idea that cold, rainy weather will favor Clemson's conservative, rushing-oriented offense.
"Hell, we can run off tackle, too," said Lewis.
Whatever it takes to regain the ring.