Paul Hornung advises friends to get married before noon, "because if it doesn't work out you haven't wasted the whole day." Same with Maryland football yesterday. The midday start against Syracuse wasn't too early, as many thought; it should have been a whole lot sooner.

Had kickoff been before sunrise, most of those Terrapin fumbles and dropped passes could have been excused. Maryland is unlike nearly every team in the country: when the defense plays better than the offense, everybody cringes.

Once upon a time, Maryland could treat the ball like a live grenade and still routinely squeeze the life out of the Orangemen by the third quarter. Syracuse had not beaten Maryland since Nixon was whomping McGovern in 1972.

Under patient and persistent Dick MacPherson, the Orange are pretty decent, if not quite good, capable of winning when the other guys keep beating themselves.

There were excuses for some of the four fumbles Maryland lost and one or two of the nine zillion dropped passes. But the Tommy Neal fumble on first down midway through the fourth quarter, the Donald Brown fumble on a kickoff shortly thereafter and the triple-trouble on fourth down soon after that caused even Coach Bobby Ross to blanch.

So many unforced errors were as surprising to Ross as they were inexcusable.

"We haven't been dropping the ball in practice," he said. "We've been much, much better at holding on to it (in workouts) than at any time since I've been here."

This may be the year Ross puts his full signature on Maryland football. He has said the Terrapins will be unable to poke their noses inside the top 10 regularly without speed.

Having coveted speed his first two years, Ross now seems to have it. There are swift runners who can execute an 80-yard drive in one play instead of 15; receivers who can stretch defenses always and whoosh by 'em for touchdown passes now and then.

Speed should have sunk Syracuse. Instead, Maryland's burners either forgot to bring the ball along on their dashes or teammates found a way to mangle matters when they did.

The Terrapin even the feeblest football mind fell in love with very early was Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof, a freshman wide receiver who can outrun everything but midterms.

"He reminds me of a young Wes Chandler," said Gil Brandt, scouting sage of the Dallas Cowboys. "He has that fluid speed and catches the ball with his hands."

Well, the infant Wes Chandler only touched the ball twice. First time, he was open by at least a half acre, caught the ball and completed what seemed a 67-yard touchdown play.

Maryland had scored on its first possession, so this one very likely would have been terminal for the pass-poor Orange. One Syracuse player knew doom was not at hand.

Tim Green figured there was no way Maryland's Tony Edwards could not be called for holding on the play. Sure enough, a yellow hankie could be seen verifying Green's wisdom; Maryland was red-faced the rest of the game.

That play seemed so neat, the fellow called Ziz so swift and sure-handed everyone expected it to at least get tried another time. Aim deep and tell Edwards to harness those hands.

Never happened.

Incredibly, Ziz only saw the ball one more time, for a 21-yard gain when victory no longer was possible.

How come?

"We weren't backin' away from him," Ross insisted. "It just didn't go right. Maybe the (quarterback) reads weren't correct."

Precious little else went right.

Also, might that kickoff fumble by Brown come from fatigue? He had played nearly every down on defense as well as being indecisive on some punt returns.

"I asked him if he was tired," Ross said. "That was a consideration. He said he was fine, and he looked fine. I don't think that was part of it."

The most encouraging words about the Maryland offense came from the Syracuse coach.

"All those guys who made mistakes for them are young," MacPherson said. "They'll be a great football team, and this season will prove it."

Important as it was, the victory was not the most wonderful in his three-plus years at Syracuse.

"If I called it the greatest," MacPherson reasoned, "I'd have to call the next loss my worst."

Still . . .

"This game was the key to our season," Rhodes Scholar candidate Green admitted. "We had to establish ourselves against a good football team like Maryland -- and also on the road. We had to keep that carryover attitude (from winning the final three games last season)."

The last thing Ross wants just now is carryover attitude. Although he hinted ever so slightly about a possible quarterback switch, Ross likely will come to terms with this being one of those horrid games a team must endure occasionally and stay with his lineup.

For young players, not getting a quick chance for redemption is even worse than playing badly.

Next week cannot come soon enough for the offense. Or even the defense, which while heroic at times did surrender gobs of rushing yardage on obvious running downs. The punting and punt returns also were often unacceptable.

But Terrapin heads should not shrink too far inside their shells. Losing to a team once every decade or so hardly is shameful.