Maryland's final opportunity to make a statement in 1990, a football season that has exceeded expectations in some ways but been maddeningly disappointing in others, comes Saturday at Virginia.

The bowl opportunities the Terrapins players and Coach Joe Krivak spoke of less than a month ago are gone, but Maryland can put a damper on the Cavaliers' pending trip to the Sugar Bowl with a victory at Scott Stadium. There's also the matter of Maryland achieving its first winning season in five years.

"It's about respect -- myself, the coaches, the fans," said linebacker Jack Bradford. "We have to play good this week, it's important to me to end my career on a winning note, or knowing that I'd done all I could to try to get to that point. Once I leave the field Saturday, I'll never be a Terp again."

Any pregame talks by Krivak likely will focus on that theme, not the uncertainty of his future. Addressing the team at the beginning of the week, Krivak, in the last season of the four-year contract he signed in 1987, told the players to put thoughts of his job out of their minds.

"He's already told us that nothing we can do will affect a decision one way or the other, so I don't think it will affect our preparation," said running back Troy Jackson. "I will say that there's more to football than winning games and he's stressed more than football -- but I guess that doesn't count when you're talking money and big business, and I think that's where he's getting caught.

"The important thing is that we just play to win. We're not going to a bowl but the game is still important -- we have to play like we've played all season."

Said quarterback Scott Zolak: "Because it's the last game, I don't think people are making a big deal of the game, like North Carolina was a must game and Penn State was the 'jinx' game. People on the outside are talking like we're just playing out the season, but that's not the case with us. If nothing else, we want to win because it will help build the program for the guys next year."

A victory certainly would provide a satisfying conclusion to a roller coaster year. Before the season, facing a schedule in which nine of 11 opponents won at least six games -- including seven 1989 bowl teams -- most observers said the Terrapins would be lucky to repeat their 3-7-1 record of last season.

However, Maryland won three of its first four games by a total of 12 points and lost to Clemson, 18-17.

"In retrospect, you're disappointed about the Clemson game because we could have won it," said Krivak. "But that might not be fair because any of the four close games that we won {Maryland also had a 23-20 victory over Duke} could have been losses."

The close wins have been one of the high points of the season, but they are tempered by thoughts of what might have been. There was only one convincing victory (41-13 over Wake Forest). There were 28-point losses to Michigan and Georgia Tech, even though the Terrapins stayed with Michigan for three quarters and dominated the statistics.

"It's disappointing because we always had higher expectations than people outside the program ever did," said Zolak. "We've played well, played hard in every game but one, but we wanted to go to a bowl game, we wanted a winning season.

"That's what makes Saturday so important. It may be tough to look back on the year now but this last game is the difference between being 6-5 and 5-6 -- and that's a big difference. We were in the same situation two years ago {when Maryland lost, 24-23, at Virginia}, and all I remember about the season is that last game."

Perhaps no one personifies the erratic nature of Maryland's season better than Zolak. A senior who had completed just 45 passes in mop-up duty during his first four years, Zolak has been both brilliant and awful -- sometimes during the same game.

One of two Maryland players to throw for more than 300 yards in consecutive games, Zolak also has completed a school-record 205 passes for 2,332 yards -- the third-highest season total in school history.

On the down side, Zolak has been sacked 36 times and three of his 18 interceptions were returned for touchdowns.

"I don't feel I have anything to prove to myself -- I think I've played hard every week," he said. "It's my last college game. I would like to play the best game I've played all year, but the main thing I'm playing for is the winning season."