The Maryland Terrapins' bowl hopes will be tested today when they play North Carolina in an Atlantic Coast Conference game at Byrd Stadium.
Howard University's postseason hopes also are at stake today when the Bison travel to North Carolina A&T for a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game. A loss by the Bison likely would eliminate them from the Heritage Bowl race. Meanwhile, Navy hopes to rebound from a tough loss to Air Force when it hosts Akron. Virginia and fourth-ranked Virginia Tech are idle.
Although Maryland is 4-2 (1-2 ACC) and North Carolina is 1-5 (0-4), Terrapins Coach Ron Vanderlinden said the Terrapins must avoid being lulled by the Tar Heels' poor start, which has been at least partially the result of season-ending injuries to starting quarterback Ronald Curry (torn Achilles' tendon) and standout senior linebacker Brandon Spoon (ruptured biceps tendon).
"North Carolina is talented," Vanderlinden said. "They have recruited very well and have been to seven straight bowl games. I am not looking at their current record as a way of telling how good they are. We will have to play better this week than we did against Clemson."
Last week against the Tigers, the Terrapins allowed 542 yards (435 by quarterback Woodrow Dantzler, who rushed for 183) and lost, 42-30. A victory in that game would have left Maryland needing only one more win to qualify for bowl consideration. That makes today's game extremely important for the Terrapins, who have a home game against Duke next week, but then play North Carolina State and Florida State on the road before finishing at home against Virginia.
Aside from improved defense, the Terrapins today will need more high-level play from quarterback Calvin McCall and running back LaMont Jordan. McCall has completed 66 of 128 passes for 981 yards and four touchdowns. The redshirt freshman has thrown only two interceptions, giving him the ACC's best interception rate, and he usually has directed the offense smoothly.
Jordan leads the team in rushing and receiving. He has rushed for 708 yards and 11 touchdowns, and caught 15 passes for 198 yards and one touchdown.
"I think they're very sound in what they're doing," North Carolina Coach Carl Torbush said. "They're very multiple and they're moving around well. They're a good football team."
North Carolina is in the midst of its worst season since it was 1-10 in 1989, and stands one loss from an end to its streak of consecutive bowl appearances. Spoon's injury has further depleted a defense that returned just four starters and over the past two seasons has seen the departures of numerous star players, including Dre Bly, Ebenezer Ekuban, Russell Davis, Greg Ellis, Vonnie Holliday, Brian Simmons, Robert Williams and Kivuusama Mays.
The Tar Heels' offense is still trying to find a way to compensate for Curry's injury, suffered two weeks ago against Georgia Tech. Redshirt freshman Luke Huard is listed as the starting quarterback, but he injured his shoulder in last week's 20-12 loss to Houston in Chapel Hill, N.C., and has completed 14 of 35 passes for 139 yards in four games. His backup likely will be safety Antwon Black.
Howard travels to Greensboro, N.C., to face North Carolina A&T. The Aggies surprised Howard, 17-6, last season with a tough defense and solid running game--the same elements that have driven their success this season.
Howard starting quarterback Bobby Townsend should return today after missing last week's game against Towson and the end of the previous week's loss to Florida A&M with a sprained foot.
Wide receiver Elijah Thurmon (42 catches, 766 yards, 3 touchdowns) and running back Jermaine Hutchinson (597 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns) continue to spark an offense that's been sluggish at times in recent weeks. The defense also has been inconsistent, and both must play better today.
The Aggies are led by quarterback Rodney Woodruff (415 yards passing), plus running backs Maurice Smith (522 yards), Eric Farmer (300 yards) and Adrian Parks (208 yards) in a run-oriented attack. North Carolina A&T leads the MEAC in several defensive categories, including scoring, passing defense and total defense.
Navy, after three losses in its past four games, will try to get back on track against an Akron team that has averaged 42 points in consecutive wins over Ball State, Ohio and Bowling Green.
A win would guarantee Akron (5-2) its first winning season since 1992.
The Midshipmen are led by quarterback Brian Broadwater, who has rushed for 607 yards and seven touchdowns, and is on pace to become just the seventh Navy player to run for 1,000 yards. The defense has been playing especially well lately, holding West Virginia to 92 yards rushing and shutting out powerful Air Force until early in the third quarter.