Whereas at one time the daunting 1990 schedule seemed far too much to overcome, today the Maryland Terrapins see only opportunity: a chance for a winning season, contention for the ACC championship, perhaps even a bowl bid.

All of which may be riding on Saturday's game against 23rd-ranked Georgia Tech at Byrd Stadium. A victory and Maryland goes to 4-2, 2-1 in the ACC with upcoming games against Wake Forest, Duke and North Carolina. Similarly, it's the first of five straight conference games for the Yellow Jackets (3-0, 1-0).

"The winner has a chance to win a lot more games," said Maryland assistant coach Tony Whittlesey. "The loser can still be a winner but they'll certainly have a lot of dogfights to get there."

In the short term, Maryland will be looking to get back on the winning track following a 45-17 loss to Michigan. Long term, this could be the Terrapins' springboard.

"This is a game that could carry us through the second half," said defensive tackle Larry Webster. "How we've played in the first five games is no surprise to us. We've been good, great sometimes. The league has changed some. Duke appears to be going down and Clemson is really so-so, so we have a good chance to succeed in the ACC."

Another sign of the import of the day is that Coach Joe Krivak -- perhaps against his better nature -- has labeled the game "important."

He said: "I don't like calling games crucial but it is an important game and we know it. There are a lot of people who will hack each other in the next three or four weeks. For us, everything -- in terms of the ACC -- is in front of us."

The surprise to many is that Maryland is in position to be concerned about such matters as title chases and bowl games, senior linebacker Jack Bradford saying that "it's been a long time since we've been able to think about stuff like that at this point of the season."

Entering the year, the Terrapins couldn't allow themselves any delusions of grandeur, not with a schedule that included seven 1989 bowl teams and just two teams that finished with fewer than six wins. Krivak and others have complained about the schedule all season, questioning whether the players would be able to psyche themselves up week after week.

But now, having acquitted themselves so well in the opening five weeks, and with the chance of huge rewards before them, it's hard to believe the Terrapins will let down.

"We can't afford to slack off in the ACC," said linebacker Scott Whittier. "If we had an easy out-of-conference schedule you might be okay losing an ACC game, but we don't have that -- all our conference games are must-win situations."

Scoring appears to be the biggest problem Maryland faces against the Yellow Jackets, whose defense didn't allow a touchdown against North Carolina State, Tennessee-Chattanooga and South Carolina. Led by free safety Ken Swilling (three interceptions), their defense is ranked eighth nationally -- third against the pass -- with 10 interceptions.

That would make it incumbent on Maryland to be able to run successfully. The Terrapins had their best rushing day of the season (131 yards by the running backs) last week.

Georgia Tech has a running and passing threat in the same player -- quarterback Shawn Jones. Last season's ACC freshman of the year, Jones has passed for 524 yards and three touchdowns.

Although he's also rushed for two touchdowns, Jones's running has been curtailed in part because of a sore ligament in his right arch. Even so, the sophomore is the quick, option-sprintout-type quarterback that has given Maryland trouble this season.

"We've got to hit him hard and make good tackles because it seems that once he gets into the open field he always gets 20 yards," linebacker Glenn Page said. "He's dangerous in the open field, so the linebackers have to be able to come up to stop him if he's able to sprint outside of the containment."