STATE COLLEGE, PA. -- Opening the season with losses to Texas and Southern Cal led to Penn State slipping out of the national rankings and, according to Coach Joe Paterno, slipping from the minds of the Associated Press voters.

"The fact that we lost the first two, people are not giving us the credit we deserve," Paterno said Tuesday in his weekly news conference. "We don't want to waste a lot of energy being angry at people because they don't think we are as good as we are. How good we are, obviously the next three weeks will tell. We've not been routed by anybody like some people that are ranked pretty high."

The Nittany Lions have won six straight going into Saturday's game with Maryland, and have returned to their preseason ranking of No. 21.

Scouts from the Hall of Fame, Florida Citrus, Blockbuster, Gator, John Hancock and Cotton bowls watched the Nittany Lions' 31-19 victory over West Virginia last Saturday in Morgantown, W.Va. Paterno and his team, however, won't worry about bowl excursions until after a trip to South Bend, Ind., where they will play No. 1 Notre Dame on Nov. 17. Bowl invitations are officially extended Nov. 24.

A late drive came up short in a 17-13 loss to Texas in the season opener at Beaver Stadium. Penn State then fell, 19-14, at Southern Cal before posting lopsided victories over Rutgers and Temple. Paterno's team then outlasted Syracuse, 27-21, before sweeping Boston College, Alabama and West Virginia in road games.

The Longhorns (6-1) and Trojans (6-2-1) have been Penn State's only ranked opponents; the victories came against teams with a combined record of 23-27.

"Going into the season I thought we were going to have a young squad that had to play itself into being a good football team," Paterno said. "I was concerned about our schedule. We had too many tough away games. Overall, I think we've progressed very nicely. Our pass rush has improved. I think our passing game has been consistent. We started out shaky with our kicking game, but our kicking game turned out to be a plus."

Injuries at tailback and shuffling at quarterback have been Paterno's biggest worries.

Starting tailback Leroy Thompson and backup Gary Brown, at one time the nation's leading kickoff returner, both suffered toe injuries.

With third-stringer Gerry Collins recovering from a preseason knee injury and sophomore Richie Anderson (Sherwood High School) sitting out a redshirt season, Paterno turned to sophomore defensive back Shelly Hammonds, who responded with 208 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries against Boston College.

Collins gained 64 yards and scored once against West Virginia. Thompson played sparingly because his special shoes worn for artificial turf aggravated his injury. Thompson and Collins are expected to be ready for Maryland; Paterno said Brown may begin working out this week.

"I would expect Leroy to play, to start," Paterno said. "Yesterday {Monday} we practiced and that's the best I've seen Gerry. I've always felt he was a big league tailback. Shelly Hammonds is slowly getting better. Shelly's problem is not running with the football. He makes some mental mistakes."

Starting quarterback Tony Sacca had some of his best performances early in the season, but was replaced by backup Tom Bill against Alabama and West Virginia.

Paterno said Sacca missed signals from the bench and failed to pick up the West Virginia blitz. Bill, the starter last season until being suspended for alcohol-related problems, came on and engineered three straight scoring drives after the Mountaineers had closed to 14-12

"Tommy's an older boy, he's been around a lot," Paterno said. "He's a great example to this squad because he's overcome a lot of problems. When he comes into a game a lot of people are pulling for him."

Before giving up 329 yards to West Virginia, the Penn State defense had been ranked in the nation's top 10 in rushing yards, points and total yards allowed.

Although Penn State has won 31 of 33 meetings with Maryland, the Terrapins have not been pushovers. The two played to a 13-13 tie last season at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, snapping a 24-game Penn State winning streak, and the Nittany Lions' previous six victories have been by an average of 4.2 points.

"They look very formidable on defense," said Paterno. "Offensively, they throw the football 40 to 50 times. It's going to be a long afternoon, especially since they've had a week off.

"They're in a different offense than they have been. I don't know what they're going to do with the week off. I would assume they would try to do a few things differently. You've got to hope your defense holds you in there until you get things figured out.

Along with Anderson, two Penn State defenders are also Maryland high school products. Tackle Tyoka Jackson was a first-team All-Met at McNamara High School. Linebacker Brett Wright played at McDonough.