Virginia Coach George Welsh said yesterday he will not make his choice on whether to start Don Majkowski or Scott Secules in Friday's game against Maryland until Wednesday or Thursday.

Regardless of the decision, the starter may not be the finisher because both will play against Maryland, Welsh added.

One certainty in the Virginia backfield going into Friday's 2:30 p.m. Atlantic Coast Conference game against the Terrapins (7-3 overall, 5-0 ACC) at College Park is that Howard Petty will start at tailback. That position was vacated when Barry Word failed to turn in a French paper and was suspended from school last Friday. His loss means the Cavaliers (6-4, 4-2) will be without the top rusher in the conference.

Although the announcement of Petty's starting assignment was no surprise, the quarterback decision was. Majkowski, a junior, was expected to be named the starter today after his one-game suspension two weeks ago by Welsh for drinking a beer in public. But Welsh said Secules, a redshirt sophomore, clouded the issue when he led the Cavaliers to a 24-22 victory over North Carolina in Majkowski's place.

The two will take turns in the first half, with the best performer probably taking over at halftime, Welsh said.

"Both will play," Welsh said at his weekly news conference. "The penalty is over. Majkowski won't necessarily start, but I'm not penalizing him anymore. I think that because of what Secules did against North Carolina, he should play, too."

Majkowski has completed 88 of 178 passes for 1,161 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions. Secules has completed 11 of 22 for 121 yards and two touchdowns, both of the scores coming against the Tar Heels.

The loss of Word, a senior, was a potentially devastating blow to the Cavaliers, who still have a remote chance for an invitation to the Aloha Bowl with an upset of Maryland. A candidate for conference player of the year, he had gained 1,224 yards in 10 games.

"I don't know how it will affect us," Welsh said. "But I think they know what they have to do. I think teams have a tendency to rise on these occasions, to play better because of the adversity."

Word, who reportedly still is in Charlottesville, had been on academic probation since August. Welsh, making his first comment on the suspension, said that although he was aware of Word's academic status, no one knew how close he was to losing his eligibility.

"It was always a possibility," Welsh said. "Any time you're on probation you're susceptible to being suspended at any time . . . In his defense, he had a very difficult academic semester. He got 10 games in. We're thankful for 10 games."

Despite his supension, Word apparently still is eligible for ACC player of the year honors. He and senior offensive tackle Jim Dombrowski, who was named first-team all-America yesterday by the American Football Coaches Association, are considered top contenders for the award.

"I think he's one of the few who deserve it, along with Dombrowski," Welsh said. "He played 10 games. Maybe at a lot of other schools he wouldn't be suspended."

Petty, a redshirt junior from Annapolis who was the primary starter last year, has gained just 401 yards on 121 carries but has been plagued by minor injuries. He began the season at tailback, lost the starting job to Word, and moved to fullback before he was switched back this week.

"I didn't have any reaction (to Word's suspension)," Petty said. "Barry is a good friend and I'm aware of it and that's all."