All week long, Maryland has talked about what a great, fantastic, dreamy football team Miami is.
They have talked about how Vinny Testaverde is every bit as good a quarterback as the departed Bernie Kosar; about how a freshman receiver has comfortably replaced first-round draft choice Eddie Brown; about how the Hurricanes' offense is tougher than Michigan's or Penn State's; about how this Miami team may be as good as the one that won a national title the season before last.
The Terrapins apparently know their stuff. Today at at 3:30, before a sellout crowd of more than 62,000 in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium and a national television audience (WDVM-TV-9), Maryland (6-2) will be playing eighth-ranked Miami (7-1), a team that could be second best in the nation behind undefeated Florida.
The Hurricanes have won seven straight after a season-opening loss to Florida, which is just how the national championship season of 1983 unfolded. A victory today could lead to a New Year's Day bowl game, so there is no lack of incentive for Miami, which also has the stinging memory of losing a 31-point halftime lead last year at home to Maryland.
But the Terrapins, winners of four straight, have some high-level incentive working also. A victory would keep Maryland's long-shot hopes alive for a major bowl bid and could help dissolve the perception that Maryland -- after losing to Michigan and Penn State -- can't beat the big boys.
"The two biggest teams we've faced this year we've lost to," Maryland defensive guard Bruce Mesner said. "This is a chance for us to get some respect back. We haven't beaten the teams we need to, for us to be ranked."
Maryland linebacker Chuck Faucette said, "Winning this year's game with Miami is more important than winning last year's," pretty heady talk considering Maryland's 42-40 victory last year completed the greatest comeback ever in Division I-A college football.
Beating Miami this year probably will be just as difficult for Maryland, if less dramatic.
The Terrapins have waited all season for an offensive explosion, and with the exception of a 10-minute stretch against forlorn Duke, they're still waiting. It's doubtful Maryland can score the way it did last year (six touchdowns in the second half), so that leaves as the primary matchup Miami's offense, averaging 37 points per game, against a Maryland defense that has allowed an average of only 11.
Looking for other dramatic contrasts? Miami has run up an average of 453 yards in total offense; Maryland has allowed less than 300 per game. Miami's Testaverde has passed for almost 300 yards per game; only two teams this season have passed for 200 yards or more against the Terrapins. Miami has four big running backs who have given opposing teams fits; the Maryland defense has not allowed a rushing touchdown this season.
Chances are, however, that Miami won't run much. Coaches overuse the "big play" phrase, but Miami's Testaverde has six touchdown passes this season of 50 yards or longer. "These guys -- every play they run is a potential big play," Maryland Coach Bobby Ross said. "It's going to be a nerve-wracking game as a coach."
As unlikely as it seems, the Miami offense is as potent as ever, even without Kosar and Brown, now NFL rookies with Cleveland and Cincinnati, respectively.
"Testaverde's arm is every bit as accurate as Kosar's," Ross said. "I know a lot of people might not believe it when we say that there's not been a real dropoff, not only without Kosar, but without Eddie Brown. But they're every bit as good as last year, maybe better."
Testaverde unquestionably is more mobile and a better athlete than Kosar. And Irvin, with a 32-yard touchdown reception at Florida State last week, established a school record for consecutive games catching a touchdown pass, with seven.
"The major key for us is to get some sacks, and if not the sacks then constant pressure," Mesner said. "Our defensive backs are very good. But they're going against greatness and we can't just give him time to sit back there and pick us apart."
Maryland can't just depend on its defense, as it has most of the season. Terrapins defenders have allowed only one touchdown or less in seven of eight games this season. But Ross knows the offense will have to sustain some long drives and score early to beat Miami.
And Maryland quarterback Stan Gelbaugh, whose numbers have improved dramatically in four games against mediocre Atlantic Coast Conference opponents, probably needs to have a big day.
He could do that against a Miami secondary that starts three sophomores and a freshman. Miami's success is somewhat amazing, in fact, since Coach Jimmy Johnson has only two seniors among 22 starters. Maryland would like to take advantage of that inexperience.
Tolbert Bain, a Miami sophomore defensive back, said recently, "This was the same time of year we fell apart last season. We're good, but we're not great yet."
Probably, the Terrapins aren't listening.
In other games involving local teams, Virginia plays North Carolina State and Navy plays host to Syracuse.
The Cavaliers (5-3 overall, 3-1 in the ACC) travel to Raleigh for a 12:15 game, seeking to clinch their third straight winning season. N.C. State (2-7 and 1-4) may be playing poorly, but that does not assure the mercurial Cavaliers of anything. Although Virginia was consistent in a 27-7 victory over West Virginia last week, its losses have come from unexpected quarters -- to Navy, Clemson and Virginia Tech.
"Until the last couple of weeks we've been up and down," Coach George Welsh said. "The execution and performance just hasn't been real solid. Whether it's behind us or not we won't know for the next couple of weeks. Just because we played well against West Virginia is no guarantee we can do it again this week."
Navy (3-5) also has been inconsistent and the Midshipmen are running out of time to find a cure. Their 1:30 meeting with Syracuse (4-3) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium can either give them some hope of salvaging the season, or assure a losing record.
The upwardly mobile Orangemen are not the opponent Navy would choose at this juncture. Syracuse is ranked 12th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 13.1 points a game, and has three shutouts this season. The Orangemen have won three of their last four and have discovered an offense to go along with their defense.
"The most frightening thing about them is that they have an offense now," Coach Gary Tranquill said. "If they can control the ball on you and then play defense like they do, that's pretty outstanding."