Maryland has been rooting for Virginia, Virginia has been rooting for Maryland, and it probably will remain that way through today. Virginia, if it can beat North Carolina this afternoon in Chapel Hill, would earn the right to play Maryland next week for the Atlantic Coast Conference football championship.
Maryland doesn't have to beat Clemson today since the Tigers are on probation and the game won't count in the league standings, but the Terrapins are not without incentive. First, there will be 60,000 people filling Memorial Stadium for Maryland's first game in Baltimore in 25 years. Second, the Terrapins were embarrassed by a 25-point loss to Clemson last year. As one Maryland player said, "They stuck it in our ear last year. We want to play Clemson badly."
South Carolina's visit to the Naval Academy this afternoon probably has bigger national implications. The undefeated and No. 2-ranked Gamecocks could take another step toward a national championship by defeating the beat-up Midshipmen in a game that begins at noon.
But Maryland-Clemson has the fire. Clemson won all seven of its games against ACC teams last year, but wasn't eligible for the conference title because of probation. The Tigers drubbed Maryland, 52-27, in Death Valley last season, but Maryland won the title, officially, with a 5-0 league record.
Maryland Coach Bobby Ross and Clemson Coach Danny Ford have talked all week about how each team "respects" the other. On the field, maybe.
But a scene on Oct. 27 better illustrates how these teams feel about each other. Clemson landed at Raleigh-Durham Airport for its game at North Carolina State about the time Maryland arrived for its game at Duke.
According to Clemson players, many of the Terrapins began waving their ACC championship rings in the windows of the team bus, taunting the Tigers.
According to Maryland players, the Tigers began waving rings their school had given them to commemorate a 9-1-1 season, 7-0 against ACC teams (which is inscribed on the rings) and bragging that they were the real on-the-field champions.
Ross has politely avoided making any direct statements this week about Clemson and its probationary status. But he clearly wants to win this game very much. Ross, whose only two losses in 16 ACC games are to Clemson, did say, "We sure got whupped up on down there last year. That would have to be in the back of our players' minds."
Ford was not preoccupied with the fact that he hasn't lost in November in four years. At his press conference this week, he expressed concern that Maryland's emotional peak -- built from last year's embarrassment and last week's historic comeback to beat Miami -- could be too much for the Tigers.
" . . . We just need to go up there and try to play well just to keep from getting killed," Ford said. "They're going to be after us. I can assure you Maryland will want to beat Clemson by 84 points because we scored a bunch of points against them last year. And I want to apologize for that. Everything just fell into place. We couldn't do anything wrong because we were just lucky, lucky ducks that day."
The Tigers might be sitting ducks. There is no reason to believe Maryland will not use last week's surge of 42 points in 25 minutes against Miami in a positive way. Simply, a Maryland victory means a bowl bid. A convincing victory means redemption. And the Terrapins usually play best when trying to prove they're a good team.
Ross has other concerns, including a Clemson offense that has become proficient at passing. "In Mike Eppley, their (senior) quarterback, you're talking about a starting ACC basketball point guard who's running an option. And they're throwing the ball more. They're involving other skilled people more. They're using the dropback, play-action, sprint-out and all the sophisticated elements of the passing game.
"Plus, they've got backs like Clemson always has backs. That's what makes our defensive problems a little bigger this year."
Maryland's defensive problems start with tackle Ted Chapman, who probably won't be able to play. Scott Tye, who has played well this season, will be a better-than-adequate replacement, though.
Ross has been asked frequently whether he feels his team is losing the home field advantage by playing in Baltimore. "It's not a neutral site like Florida-Georgia, or like Alabama playing in Birmingham or Arkansas playing at Little Rock," he replied.
Virginia, playing in Chapel Hill, will be trying to extend its unbeaten string to nine games. The Cavaliers, who lead the ACC in rushing offense, total defense and scoring defense, find themselves even being favored. A victory would set off the hype for next week's showdown with Maryland in Charlottesville, plus move the Cavaliers higher up the bowl ladder.
Virginia announced yesterday that Dick Schultz, its director of athletics, had called representatives of the Citrus Bowl and asked them not to consider his school any more.
"We just felt that we could not go to the faculty and ask them to reschedule so many final exams for our players," Schultz said. The Citrus Bowl is played Dec. 16 in Orlando, Fla.; exams at Virginia do not end until Dec. 19.
Navy, with Napoleon McCallum and Bill Byrne, might have had a chance of beating South Carolina, which dismantled Florida State last week. But the Midshipmen appear to have too many injuries to pose a threat today, especially with the Gamecocks driving toward an Orange Bowl bid.
There are those who still can't figure out how South Carolina, with its two-quarterback system and no outstanding rusher, can win consistently. But as a team, South Carolina is sixth nationally with 448 yards a game. The defense isn't especially outstanding either, but it holds when necessary.
Navy might hope that South Carolina is a little cocky and looking toward its season finale next week against Clemson.
In the other area game, Howard, which hasn't had much to be happy about the last two years, ends its season at Howard Stadium (1 p.m. kickoff) against arch rival Morgan State. The Bears were the last team Howard defeated at home, in November 1982. Morgan, which has lost one game by 76-0, is 0-10.