Maryland Coach Ron Vanderlinden keeps talking about how much progress the Terrapins are making in his third season. That progress will be measured today at noon at Byrd Stadium against a West Virginia team that is not quite sure where it is headed.
The Terrapins are unbeaten in two games, but those were against a very weak Temple team and Division I-AA Western Carolina. Veteran players know how important today's victory would be, mostly because under Vanderlinden the Terrapins have only beaten Temple (three times), Duke (twice), James Madison and Western Carolina.
West Virginia (1-1) has allowed 50 points in two games, including 27 in a victory last week over Miami (Ohio).
"But year after year that's a good team," Maryland defensive end Peter Timmins said. "Everybody in the country knows if you go and beat West Virginia, you're making a name for yourself."
In other games involving area teams, Virginia (1-1, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) opens its home season against Wake Forest while trying to recover from a 19-point loss to Clemson that caused the Cavaliers to exit from the nation's top 25 rankings. The Cavaliers have beaten Wake Forest 15 consecutive times, the longest active winning streak by one ACC team over another.
Also, Navy (1-1) hosts Boston College, and Howard (0-2) plays Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference rival Bethune-Cookman in the inaugural River City Classic in Cincinnati.
West Virginia had a 39-point lead on the Terrapins midway through the third quarter last season and won, 42-20. But the Mountaineers had to rebuild their entire offensive and defensive lines this season and Coach Don Nehlen said: "We haven't done very much on defense."
Still, Mountaineers quarterback Marc Bulger needs just 121 yards passing to reach 7,000 for his career and two touchdown passes to hit 55. He passed for 235 yards and three touchdowns last week.
"Bulger makes their receivers better," said Maryland cornerback Lewis Sanders.
For Virginia, injuries remain a problem for a defense that allowed Clemson quarterback Brandon Streeter to pass for a school-record 343 yards during the Tigers' 33-14 victory last week. Defensive end Travis Griffith (sprained ankle) is out and cornerback Dwayne Stukes (strained quadriceps) and cornerback-safety Antwan Harris (strained hamstring) are listed as doubtful and questionable, respectively.
So the Cavaliers might be forced to rely on freshmen and sophomores to fill four starting and seven backup roles on defense against a Wake Forest team that probably will stay on the ground much more than Clemson did.
"After [Clemson passed so effectively], they might want to pass," said junior linebacker Yubrenal Isabelle. "We've got to buckle down and prepare. We have to check ourselves."
In a 34-15 season-opening victory over Army last week, senior tailback Morgan Kane accounted for 211 of Wake Forest's 320 rushing yards. Quarterback Ben Sankey, whose main target is senior wide receiver Jammie Deese, threw just 13 times -- the fewest attempts in a game in Coach Jim Caldwell's seven years at the school. Highly acclaimed freshman quarterback C.J. Leak also played against Army, although he did not throw a pass.
Virginia tailback Thomas Jones has averaged 123 yards and 29 carries in two games this season. Quarterback Dan Ellis has completed half of his 58 passes but has been intercepted three times. The Cavaliers have yet to score a touchdown in the first half.
Howard's ground game has gone well during losses to Jackson State and Hampton, with Jermaine Hutchinson gaining 190 yards and scoring six touchdowns. Quarterback Bobby Townsend struggled last week against Hampton, completing just 12 passes in 37 tries. The Bison ran well in a 32-25 victory over Bethune-Cookman last year in Indianapolis, but the Wildcats finished with an 8-3 record, including a loss in the Heritage Bowl.
Bethune-Cookman is unbeaten in two games this season and features a "Wyatt-bone" offense, so named for Coach Alvin Wyatt. Sophomore quarterback Pa'Tell Troutman has run for 198 yards in leading the option-oriented attack. The Wildcats' defense has forced seven turnovers in those two victories.
For the first time in three games, Navy will be on at least near-equal footing with an opponent. The Midshipmen were blown away by then-ranked No. 10 Georgia Tech in the first game and whipped Kent by 20 points last week. A year ago, Navy outscored Boston College by 19 points in the fourth quarter and won, 32-31.
Both offenses are proficient and both defenses are suspect. The Eagles beat Baylor in their opener two weeks ago and are led by tailback Cedric Washington (177 yards rushing) and quarterback Tim Hasselbeck (13 for 29, 101 yards).
The Midshipmen will seek balance on offense with quarterback Brian Broadwater, who has passed for 284 yards and run for 184 in two games, and fullback Raheem Lanbert, who has averaged 6.4 yards on 30 carries.
Special correspondents Jeff Seidel, Steve Argeris and Rich Scherr contributed to this report.