On a busy day of local college football, Maryland will try to keep its 1990 Atlantic Coast Conference title hopes on track against North Carolina State at Byrd Stadium while Virginia and Duke meet in Durham, N.C., to determine the 1989 championship -- once and for all.

Also, Howard will try to enact another type of revenge and break a lengthy losing streak when it travels to Orangeburg, S.C., to face South Carolina State, and Navy will try to return to the victory column at home against Villanova.

Maryland thought it had turned a corner after nonconference victories over Virginia Tech and West Virginia, but suffered a disappointing 18-17 setback last week to Clemson. Throughout the week, a number of the Terrapins have said that today's game is important not only for evening up the Terrapins' ACC mark but also to show how far they have progressed.

But while the game is considered critical by some of the players, Coach Joe Krivak would prefer not to deal with labels.

"There have been a lot of colloquialisms created in sports -- 'crucial game, critical game' -- I've never thought that one game counted any more than any other," he said. "This is an important game because it's the one that we're playing {today} but we'll still have seven more games left after this one's done."

Two indications of how Maryland may fare today and in those remaining games will be its ability to run with the football and how well it is able to score inside the 30-yard line. Both have been problems this year, the Terrapins ranking last in the ACC in rushing at 60 yards a game and in scoring with 17 points a game.

"I'm disappointed in what we've done, because we haven't been producing enough yardage," said running back coach Tony Whittlesey. "In order to keep the defense honest, we have to have somewhere between 120 and 150 yards per game."

Those numbers may be hard to come by against a North Carolina State defense ranked second in the nation, giving up just 188 total yards and 12 points per game.

Coach Dick Sheridan's team has struggled on offense, though. In a 20-15 decision over Wake Forest last week, the Wolfpack turned the football over five times. That may lead to a quarterback change today, with Charles Davenport, who sat out last week with a bruised shoulder, possibly replacing Terry Jordan.

Maryland, while nursing a number of injuries on its defensive unit, has been impressive, yielding just over 13 points per outing. Thus today's game would seem to shape up as a defensive battle similar to last season's 10-6 Wolfpack victory.

There seemed to be little evidence of defense in Virginia's 49-28 trouncing of Duke last year. The score also appeared to be a clear-cut sign of the Cavaliers' superiority, but at the end of the season the two schools were tied for first place in the conference with 6-1 records.

Virginia went to the Citrus Bowl as the ACC champion on the basis of its head-to-head win over the Blue Devils, but then-Duke Coach Steve Spurrier belittled the Cavaliers' achievement, saying that the team couldn't truly claim conference superiority until it defeated Clemson.

The Cavaliers (3-0, 1-0 ACC) did that two weeks ago, beating the Tigers for the first time in 30 games. Now the nation's 10th-ranked team can set its sights on Duke.

"We beat them last year but I guess they have a legitimate beef," said Virginia cornerback Tony Covington. "They felt we had bad-mouthed them but who's to say? A lot of it has just been blown out of porportion."

There is nothing exaggerated about Virginia's offense, which has averaged 45 points and 532 yards total offense in its first three games. The Cavaliers tuned up for today's game by blasting Navy, 56-14.

In that contest, Midshipmen quarterback Alton Grizzard threw three early interceptions and was decked a number of times but rebounded to throw for more than 200 yards and two touchdowns, impressing Coach George Chaump no end.

While Grizzard, a senior, likely will set an academy record for total offense today in the first meeting with Villanova in a decade, he will have to share the spotlight with another tough quarterback, the Wildcats' Tom Colombo.

Although he's listed at 5 feet 7 ("He's really 5-6, if that," insists Villanova Coach Andy Talley), Columbo, a nephew of former boxing champion Rocky Marciano, has passed for 365 yards this season.

Villanova, which has lost seven of nine meetings between the schools, is 1-1 this season, defeating Maine but losing to William and Mary. The Midshipmen opened their season by beating Richmond, another Division I-AA school, before losing to Virginia.

Howard (2-0) was idle last week, the break in the schedule allowing a number of injured players to recuperate. Among them were quarterback Donald Carr and running back James Carpenter -- both sat out a 29-0 rout of Morris Brown two weeks ago, but are expected to be back in the starting lineup today when the Bison face S.C. State and former Howard coach Willie Jeffries.

Although Howard defeated S.C. State, 10-7, last season in the first meeting between the teams after Jeffries left the Washington school to return to Orangeburg, it has been 18 years and eight losses since the Bison has won there.

That would seem to jeopardize Howard's six-game winning streak, which covers two seasons. A more tangible factor than history could be South Carolina State's defense, which is ranked eighth in Division I-AA, allowing just 215 yards per game.

Howard is almost as stingy, giving up 221.5 yards to rank 12th in the nation. It is uncertain, however, which quarterback that unit will be facing today. One of nine players suspended before last week's 41-0 victory over Presbyterian, regular quarterback Jasper Brooks, watched replacement Robert Hemly rush for 98 yards.