ANN ARBOR, MICH., SEPT. 28 -- On a schedule filled with what Coach Joe Krivak whimsically refers to as "opportunities," Maryland faces its biggest challenge of the season here Saturday against sixth-ranked Michigan.
Unbeaten Virginia, just one rung below the Wolverines in the Assoicated Press poll, hosts William and Mary. Another team with a perfect record, Howard, puts the nation's longest Division I-AA winning streak on the line in Atlanta against Morehouse College. Boston College will be in Annapolis to play Navy.
In an impressive slate of national contests, No. 3 Auburn hosts No. 5 Tennessee and Virginia Tech travels to No. 2 Florida State. Meanwhile, No. 1 Notre Dame should not need a third consecutive miracle against Purdue in South Bend, Ind.
Maryland officials have proclaimed September as Miracle Month for the Terrapins, who have won three games in the final three minutes of play and almost came away with one against Clemson. Maryland undoubtedly would be pleased to find itself in a similar situation Saturday, but there are very few people who expect that to happen, including the oddsmakers who have installed Michigan as a 22-point favorite.
Sensing the enormity of their task, the Maryland players throughout the week admitted that one key for a possible upset would be the Big Ten squad taking the game lightly, coming as it does after games against Notre Dame and UCLA and before the conference opener against Wisconsin.
Such hopes might be plausible against a cocky, overconfident team, but Michigan (1-1) does not appear to know how good it is, stressing that a solid effort is crucial to the team's improvement.
"We've got lots of room to go; I honestly don't think we've played that great yet," said Michigan tackle Tom Dohring of an offensive unit that has averaged 31 points and 519 yards per game. Michigan tailback Jon Vaughn leads the nation in rushing (244.5 yards per game), but is just one cog of a speed-oriented attack that appears capable of embarrassing Maryland on the ground and in the air.
"One of the things we have to do is maintain a wall along the line of scrimmage," said Maryland defensive coordinator Greg Williams. "You can't allow Vaughn to cut back but rather make him continue in the direction that he starts, because if you don't he'll find a seam and then he's gone."
Even if the Terrapins stop Vaughn, the day will still be long if the defense has to stay on the field as much as it has in the first four games. Thus the offense, whose 14 turnovers have aborted a number of scoring opportunities, has to improve for Maryland to entertain any upset hopes.
Speaking of impressive attacks, Virginia (4-0) has outscored its opponents, 194-31, this season. That would not seem to augur well for William and Mary, but for some reason the Cavaliers usually have trouble with the Indians; last year Virginia had to overcome a very sluggish first half to escape with a 24-12 victory.
"I think it's execution, it still comes down to that," said Virginia Coach George Welsh. "They've made first downs on us, they've moved the ball, they've made some big plays. They do things well; they execute. You can move the ball on just about anybody if you execute -- I think that's their secret against us."
Virginia is not the only team that William and Mary (2-1) has been able to perform against. The Indians lead Division I-AA in total offense, averaging 502 yards per game.
Under Coach Steve Wilson, Howard's forte has been defense. The Bison led Division I-AA in total defense last year, and despite having eight new starters, are No. 8 this season.
Entering Saturday's nonleague game against Division II Morehouse (1-2), the Bison have won seven straight, including three this season. They have won 19 of their last 20 over non-Division I-AA opponents. Howard has won five straight over the Maroon Tigers by a combined score of 220-78.
Last week Howard was a 23-20 overtime winner at South Carolina State, a factor that has been in Wilson's mind all week.
"As a coach, when you come off a huge victory, you must try not to allow your team to have a letdown," he said.
Although Navy is 2-1 and undefeated at home and its opponent is 0-2, it is the Eagles who are favored in the matchup at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. That is because Boston College has lost to nationally ranked Pitt and Ohio State, while Navy has struggled to beat Division I-AA Richmond and Villanova; in their only game against a I-A team, the Midshipmen were crushed by Virginia, 56-14.
"We've got to play better. Richmond and Villanova are not two of our tougher games and we didn't put them away," said Coach George Chaump. "We've got to establish ourselves by beating a I-A team. That's what we need for this program -- a win over Boston College. That would get us going in the direction we'd like."
The last two times Virginia Tech and Florida State met, the Seminoles won, 41-14 and 41-7.
"We're tired of getting embarrassed by Florida State. We have something to prove here," said Virginia Tech linebacker Archie Hopkins.
But Hopkins admitted that the Hokies defense is not as good as it was a year ago. That could mean trouble against a team that averages nearly 200 yards rushing and more than 41 points a game.
The winner of the Auburn-Tennessee matchup would appear to have the inside track for the Southeastern Conference title -- and a possible national championship.
The Volunteers' plan is to try to rattle Auburn freshman quarterback Stan White, who seems to have grasped the meaning of the game. "I'm not going to let anything put any added pressure on me," he said. "It's a big game, it's a big SEC game and a night game, but I just have to do my job."