COLLEGE PARK -- No one will catch Joe Krivak blowing this one out of proportion. The Maryland coach won't put a "crucial" tag on it. Critical? Uh-uh.
"It's our third game of the season and our first Atlantic Coast Conference game," Krivak said as he prepared his Terps for the encounter with No. 16 Clemson Saturday at Memorial Stadium. "It's no more than that. With our schedule, you have to regard any game like that.
"We have the 10th toughest schedule in the country. The ACC team with the next toughest is 40th. It's been this way for years. We're playing seven teams that went to bowls last season. The only team playing more is Notre Dame, with eight."
Maryland hasn't beaten Clemson since 1985, but that doesn't seem to disturb the Terps. Although the Tigers have outscored the Terps 125-48 since a 17-17 tie in 1986, defensive coordinator Greg Williams, for one, feels that is not a sign as to how this year's game will develop.
"Clemson has very little experience at running back, quarterback and wide receiver," Williams said. "They're talented, but . . ."
But. Whereas Clemson's No. 1 tailback, Rodney Blunt, is a freshman, Maryland has a nose guard in Rick Fleece "with over 1,000 plays," according to Williams.
Whereas sophomore fullback Howard Hall had only 142 plays entering the season, Terps linebacker Jack Bradford "has over 1,000." Clemson's quarterback, DeChane Cameron, is in his first year as a starter. The split ends are freshman Terry Smith and sophomore Stacy Lewis.
Williams ticked off the names of some more members of Maryland's seasoned defense. Left cornerback Mike Hollis "has 1,000 plays and there's a big difference between the Scott Rosen [right cornerback] of two years ago and the Scott Rosen of now."
Williams feels there is considerable significance to all this.
"Clemson had better players then," he said. "Now they have new ones. On defense, we have the same guys, and they've improved."
The strength of Clemson's offense is clearly the line. Everybody except the center is back, and the anchor is 275-pound tackle Stacy Long.
"On defense," Krivak said, "they not only have good size inside but defensive ends who go like 265 and 285 and all run the 40 in 4.6 or better. They present problems. They have great perimeter speed."
The Terps arrive at their third game in a position in sharp contrast to last year. Then, they were 0-2, having lost to North Carolina State and West Virginia, each by four points. This time they have decisions of seven and four points over Virginia Tech and West Virginia.
"I don't know if there's a lot of difference in the effort," Krivak said. "It's just that there's such a fine line between winning and losing."
Krivak is not prepared to say what it all means, pointing out that injuries, breaks and making or not making big plays make it foolhardy to predict prosperity for the rest of the season based on the 2-0 start.
"Coming to practice now is more fun," said left guard Ken Oberle. "When we were 0-2 last year, it was more of a drag."
* No. 1 right guard Ron Staffileno, who banged up his shoulder against West Virginia, will miss the Clemson game. Sophomore Kevin Arline will start. Safety Ron Reagan (sprained left ankle) will be replaced by Johnny Vessels.
* The Terps scored big in voting for ACC Players of the Week. Quarterback Scott Zolak, who earned the offensive back honor for the second straight week, passed for a career-high 313 yards.
Although Gene Thomas caught the winning TD pass, Barry Johnson was the league's receiver of the week on the strength of his five catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. O'Neil Glenn, named the top offensive lineman, made the key block that enabled Zolak to get off the pass to Thomas.