The more you analyze this afternoon's Maryland-North Carolina game at Byrd Stadium, the fewer answers you come up with.
The only certainties are that it's the second time that two Atlantic Coast Conference teams ranked in the top 10 have played each other, and that the game is sold out (WJLA-TV-7, 3:30). Also, the winner will almost surely be conference champion.
Any analysis thereafter is tricky, largely because North Carolina, the No. 3-ranked team in the nation in both wire service polls, is an unknown quantity. Yes, the Tar Heels are 7-0, 3-0 in the ACC, with the second-best rushing game in the nation, behind Nebraska. Yes, Carolina has the seventh-best defense in the nation. And yes, Scott Stankavage is the country's third-ranked quarterback, with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.
However . . .
Those glossy numbers have been compiled against South Carolina, Memphis State, William and Mary, Georgia Tech, etc. Carolina's nonconference opponents have a record of 11-16, a winning percentage of .407; Maryland's nonconference opponents are 22-13, or .628. In fact, North Carolina is the only team among the top 14 that has not played an opponent that at sometime has been ranked this season. UNC just hasn't been tested.
The Tar Heels are probably very good. But even they can't be sure. How will Stankavage react when the cornerback he sees today moves faster than the one from William and Mary? The Tar Heels have yet to face an offense the quality of Maryland's; the Terrapins have already played Pitt and West Virginia.
There also are questions about Maryland, ranked 10th by UPI, 13th by AP. Yes, Willie Joyner and Boomer Esiason and Eric Wilson and many of those who played so well in a 31-24 victory at North Carolina last year are back. But Maryland has lost all of the six games at Byrd Stadium in which the crowd was 50,000 or larger--all in the last nine years. School officials are expecting approximately 53,000 today.
Can Maryland control its own destiny and win a "big game" that should not only clinch the ACC title, but keep the team's hopes alive for playing in a major bowl? Scouts from the Orange, Sugar, Cotton and Fiesta bowls will be present, as well as those from the Hall of Fame and the Citrus bowls. Has Maryland overcome its tendency to self-destruct?
Maryland Coach Bobby Ross was asked yesterday, before his team's afternoon practice session, if this game was a mystery.
"Not to me," Ross said. "You've got to go out and play well. North Carolina doesn't make anything secret. In the games they've played, they've taken the kickoff and driven down the field. You can't gang up on the pass because they run two tailbacks (Ethan Horton and Tyrone Anthony) who could start for any team in the country. And you can't gang up on the run because Scott Stankavage has proven he is a very good quarterback."
Stankavage, in fact, knows how to play the position better than his predecessor, Rod Elkins, who started against Maryland last year. Stankavage throws on the run, which makes him hard to pressure. Unlike Elkins, he usually throws to the right receiver.
But what Carolina does best is run, 303 yards per game on the ground. Maryland has allowed just 117 yards per game rushing, which will make line play crucial. It would not be surprising to see Carolina go to the passing game, which Ross describes as "fairly safe, not like ours, where you drop back and send out five receivers. They set up quickly and get rid of the ball."
It seems everybody expects Maryland to pass a lot. But even though Esiason has been superb the last two weeks, who can forget the way Joyner ran for 240 yards last year in Chapel Hill? Three of Carolina's front four--all except all-America tackle William Fuller--are fairly inexperienced.
Perhaps the Terrapins will again run. But with the shoulder injury to fullback Dave D'Addio, it is questionable whether Joyner and Rick Badanjek will be as effective, having to play almost every down....
All of Navy's miseries this season--or at least most of them--may be forgotten if the Midshipmen can find a way to upset Notre Dame this afternoon in South Bend, Ind. Many feel the Irish have been one of the nation's overrated teams from the beginning of the season, losing early to Michigan State and being shut out by Miami. Notre Dame has won four straight games, but over Colorado, South Carolina, Army and Southern California--teams with a combined record of 10-18-1.
Navy, however, has yet to beat a Division I-A opponent this season and Notre Dame, still playing for a major bowl bid, has additional incentive. Navy's best strategy could be to run tailback Napoleon McCallum as often as possible. He leads the nation in rushing.
It may be more difficult for McCallum today, however, than any other week this season. Notre Dame is fifth in the nation in total defense, and is allowing only 108 yards rushing per game.
"They have big, active people who have allowed only 15 points in the last four games," Navy Coach Gary Tranquill said this week. ...
Howard, also trying to salvage something from its season, plays its homecoming game today against Norfolk State. The Bison squad will be healthy for the first time since the beginning of the season, and will be playing for the third straight game an opponent with a losing record. ...
Maryland's basketball team will hold its red-white intersquad scrimmage this afternoon at 1. Coach Lefty Driesell will conduct a clinic (open to the public) at 10 a.m. and a one-hour women's basketball scrimmage will begin at noon.
The men's team, ranked No. 7 in one preseason poll, will scrimmage without senior center/forward Mark Fothergill, who has a swollen knee. He has practiced little the past week and is out of action indefinitely. Driesell said Ed Farmer, a sophomore forward, will miss the scrimmage with a sprained ankle.