This will be Coach Ron Vanderlinden's third year of a five-year contract. And after compiling records of 2-9 and 3-8, this could be the year in which he takes the Terrapins to the .500 level -- or it could be the year in which his job status begins to come under scrutiny. Although the Terrapins played better last year than they did in 1997 and Athletic Director Debbie Yow has said she would like to discuss a contract extension with Vanderlinden after the season, she still wants to see the program keep moving in the right direction.

The team's biggest question will be at quarterback. Sophomore Randall Jones, who started four games last season, came into training camp as the starter. But redshirt freshman Calvin McCall quickly drew even, and after almost two weeks of practice, nothing had been resolved. Maryland will need someone to spark an offense that was 105th overall in Division I-A, mainly because it was 103rd in passing.

The running game could remain solid with junior tailback LaMont Jordan, whose 906 yards rushing last season was second in the Atlantic Coast Conference. But he's going to need blocking and while the offensive line has talent, it lacks depth. Guard Jamie Wu was slowed in camp by irritated disks in his back. If he can't play regularly, the Terrapins could bog down badly -- especially because there also are questions at wide receiver. Moises Cruz's leave of absence from the team because of legal and financial problems further depleted a group that includes one player who caught more than 10 passes last season, senior Jermaine Arrington. It will not be surprising to see a freshman, such as Scooter Monroe, playing wide receiver this season.

The defense improved greatly last year, from 87th in the nation to 53rd. But the departures of starting linebackers Kendall Ogle and Eric Barton, the team's top two tacklers, leaves an enormous hole in the middle. Nose guard Delbert Cowsette has all-ACC potential, but he and linebacker Aaron Thompson will need help. Cornerback Lewis Sanders, one of Maryland's best defensive players in 1997, returns after missing all of last season with a shoulder injury. That should help make the secondary the defense's best area.

The schedule also is not as easy as it may appear. The Terrapins open tonight at Temple, and while the Owls went 2-9 last season, they beat Virginia Tech. Division I-AA Western Carolina is next, but things go uphill from there, with the last three games looking like an extremely steep stretch.

Players to watch.

RB LaMont Jordan (906 yards rushing on 169 carries, 6 TDs)

WR Jermaine Arrington (23 receptions for 366 yards, 1 TD)

K Brian Kopka (22 of 23 extra points, 12 of 18 FGAs)

DB Lewis Sanders (missed last season due to shoulder injury)

LB Aaron Thompson (87 tackles)

Top players lost.

QB Ken Mastrole (59 of 131 passing for 632 yards, 1 TD, 6 INTs; transferred to Rhode Island)

WR Moises Cruz (15 receptions for 183 yards, 2 TDs; redshirting this season)

LB Eric Barton (159 tackles, fifth-round draft choice, Raiders)

LB Kendall Ogle (143 tackles, sixth-round draft choice, Browns)

T John Feugill (three-year starter)

The Schedule.

Tonight at Temple, 6 p.m., no TV

Temple was third in rushing but last in passing in Big East. Seven offensive starters return.

Sept. 11 Western Carolina, 6 p.m., no TV

Six starters lost from the 10th-ranked defense in Division I-AA last season.

Sept. 18 West Virginia, Noon, ESPN2

Mountaineers QB Marc Bulger holds 19 school passing and total offense records.

Sept. 30 at Georgia Tech, 8 p.m., ESPN

QB Joe Hamilton and WR Dez White can't do everything for Georgia Tech. Improvement on defense a must.

Oct. 9 at Wake Forest, Time, TV TBA

Winning season might be needed to save Wake Forest Coach Jim Caldwell's job. 15 returning starters will help.

Oct. 16 Clemson, Time, TV TBA

Things can only get better after worst ACC finish in 20 years. Only ACC win came vs. Terps.

Oct. 23 North Carolina, Time, TV TBA

QB Ronald Curry will benefit from full year as starter. Heels have seven straight bowl appearances.

Oct. 30 Duke, Time, TV TBA

New coach Carl Franks, a Steve Spurrier protege, promises pass-heavy offense. 18 Duke starters return.

Nov. 6 at N. Carolina State, Time, TV TBA

N.C. State WR Chris Coleman (79.6 receiving yards per game) will have to fill Torry Holt's sizable shoes.

Nov. 13 at Florida State, Time, TV TBA

Seminoles QB Chris Weinke, back from neck injury, has WR Peter Warrick and streak of 218 passes without an interception.

Nov. 20 Virginia, Time, TV TBA

Cavaliers have 12 straight seasons with at least seven wins. RB Thomas Jones led ACC last season with 1,303 yards.

COACH: Ron Vanderlinden, third season with Maryland (5-17).

TICKETS: 301-314-7070, 1-800-462-TERP, via the Internet at www.TicketMaster.com

RADIO/TV: WTEM-980, WBAL-1090.

WEB SITE: www.umterps.com

GETTING TO THE GAMES: Capital Beltway to Exit 25B (College Park/U.S. Route 1 South). After about one mile, take right-hand exit onto Route 193 west. Go two traffic lights to Stadium Drive, and turn left.