It's fairly uncommon for Maryland to be favored to win at North Carolina, even more uncommon for Virginia to have a good chance of winning at West Virginia, and most uncommon for Notre Dame to be so concerned about Navy.
But Maryland, now possessing the 13th-ranked offense in the country, will be playing against a defense that is allowing more than 400 yards a game. This Maryland-Carolina game, which begins at 12:15 p.m. (WJLA-TV-7) in Chapel Hill, isn't accompanied by the high national rankings of the past two years.
Maryland, at this point, is probably a better team. But as Carolina linebacker Carl Carr said yesterday, "We've got as much at stake in this game as Maryland." Among the things at stake: position in the Atlantic Coast Conference and bowl invitations. A loss would knock out Carolina from both. A victory would put Maryland one game from its second straight ACC title.
Virginia's 1:30 date with West Virginia in Morgantown has taken on national significance. If the Mountaineers, whose only loss this season is to Maryland, can get past Virginia they have a very good chance of going to a major bowl.
But the Cavaliers, unbeaten in their last six games, could take a major step toward their first bowl appearance. The Mountaineers have won the last six games in this series and have lost once to Virginia since 1950. But history aside, Coach Don Nehlen said this week of Virginia, "They're the quickest team we've played."
Notre Dame's dominance over Navy could come to an end today in East Rutherford, N.J. The Midshipmen have dealt well with the loss of Napoleon McCallum, so well, in fact, that the passing offense -- led by quarterback Bill Byrne -- is 20th in the nation.
In past years, this series hasn't been big on suspense. Notre Dame has beaten Navy more times than it has beaten anyone else. Navy has lost 20 straight to Notre Dame in the longest continuous intersectional series in the country.
Notre Dame's embattled coach, Gerry Faust, said this week, "This is a different kind of Navy team than we've seen in the past. So much of what they had planned to do revolved around McCallum. But with him out and with Byrne coming on the way he has, there's been a whole new look to their offense. They've really opened things up."
Although Carolina leads in its rivalry with Maryland, 25-21-1, things off the field haven't been so evenhanded. The past two years, North Carolina and Maryland have been involved in the ACC's most open family feud. The bad-mouthing and ill will reached such a level, in fact, that North Carolina'a director of athletics, John Swofford, wrote Dick Dull, his counterpart at Maryland, and suggested that the two schools develop a better relationship.
North Carolina Coach Dick Crum, who hasn't been shy on criticizing Maryland in the past, said Thursday, "That's been a thing we've been concerned about. (The relationship between the schools) hasn't been good, and it's important that it improves."
Crum insisted, "Maryland's sideline will be well protected. Nobody will be harassing (Maryland Coach) Bobby Ross and his staff from behind his bench while they're trying to coach the game." That was a reference to Crum's anger last year over what he perceived as rowdy Maryland fans behind his bench, and his suggestion that barbed wire might be a good solution.
Fringe issues aside, Carolina has lost two straight close games to Maryland. This doesn't appear to be the best time for Carolina to get even. The Tar Heels like to run, but Maryland has the best run defense in the ACC.
Maryland is averaging a league-leading 242 yards passing per game; Carolina is allowing opponents to complete 60 percent of their passes.
Carolina does have Ethan Horton, the fourth-leading rusher in the nation (132 yards per game). But Maryland can more than offset that now that the offensive line is settled and making holes for Rick Badanjek, Tommy Neal and Alvin Blount, the backs who have given the Terrapins four straight 100-yard games.
Crum either is trying to set up Maryland or is being realistic when he says, "I don't think this game will have the meaning it had in the past when both teams had better records and one team or both were ranked. It just doesn't have the impact or carry the clout. The impact game, I think, is Maryland-Virginia (Nov. 24)."
Scouts from at least five bowls -- the Peach, Fiesta, Citrus, Sugar and Gator -- will be at Mountaineer Field, and they won't just be watching West Virginia (7-1).
Nehlen's concern about Virginia backs Howard Petty and Barry Word is legitimate. Petty has rushed for 520 yards in 101 carries (six touchdowns) and Word has 416 yards in 74 carries.) Throw in the improvement of quarterback Don Majkowski, and the Cavaliers look good.
But West Virginia's scoring defense, fourth in the nation, contained Boston College and is capable of frustrating Virginia.
Ads have hyped the Navy -- Notre Dame matchup with the phrase, "This Means War!" Maybe. More important, Navy has a chance to nail its third "name school" of the season. The Midshipmen started the year by beating North Carolina, came from behind last week to tie Pitt and now face a team that upset Louisiana State last week, but has had problems most of the year.
Also this afternoon, at 1:30, Howard will be a heavy underdog at home against Delaware State, led by junior tailback Gene Lake, who holds the Division I-AA career rushing mark.