CHAPEL HILL,N.C. — CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The University of Maryland will try to secure its first winning season since 1985 and enhance its bowl chances when the Terps meet North Carolina at 1:30 p.m. today at Kenan Stadium.
But Maryland (5-3 overall, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) is facing a North Carolina team (4-2-1, 1-1-1) that is also in the bowl hunt and looking for its first winning season in three under coach Mack Brown.
"For us and Maryland, this is pretty much a must game," said North Carolina nose guard Alex Simakas. "They are looking to get to a bowl game, and so are we. We have some confidence coming off the game with Georgia Tech [a 13-13 tie]."
Maryland has come close to winning seasons in its five previous years, but the Terps have been the victims of bad luck.
The Terps were 5-5-1 in 1986, the last season under Bobby Ross. Joe Krivak replaced Ross, and injuries played a big part in a 4-7 record in 1987. A seemingly completed pass was ruled incomplete on a two-point conversion attempt in a 24-23 loss to Virginia in the final game of the 1988 season, as the Terps finished 5-6. Last year, the Terps lost three times by four points during a 3-7-1 season.
"We have got to get past this hurdle," said Maryland senior linebacker Scott Whittier, in his sixth season after a medical redshirt last year.
"When I first came here, this team was going to bowls and winning ACC championships every year. The seniors want to bring some of that tradition back to Maryland. It starts with a winning season."
Maryland athletic director Andy Geiger said earlier this week that he would start lobbying for bowl bids if the Terps beat North Carolina. The comments seemed to fire up the Terps this week.
"It shows that we're headed in the right direction and we have the proper support behind us," said Maryland cornerback Scott Rosen.
Maryland's chances of a winning season are favorable, because the Terps beat North Carolina, 38-0, last year, and the Tar Heels have many players back from that team. The Terps, though, were in a similar position against Wake Forest two years ago, only to lose, 27-24, by allowing two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Also, Georgia Tech this year had basically the same team that edged Maryland, 28-24, in 1989. Three weeks ago, Georgia Tech routed the Terps, 31-3.
"We can't think about what happened last year," said Rosen. "We have to concentrate on what is at hand. We have got to be mentally ready to play and treat this game the same as if we were playing a West Virginia or a Clemson. There's too much at stake."
This year's North Carolina team, compared with the 1989 version, has experience and an improved rushing attack.
Last season, North Carolina couldn't run (averaging 130.1 yards); this year, the Tar Heels have improved (161.4). The key person is true freshman halfback Natrone Means, 5 feet 10, 231 pounds, who has gained 359 yards on 76 carries.
North Carolina, led by inside linebacker Dwight Hollier (ACC-leading 97 tackles), has allowed only 119 yards rushing, but 202.1 passing. Maryland is averaging 271.6 passing yards, best in the conference.
"North Carolina is a young team, basically the same team as last year," said Krivak. "They are starting to reap the benefits of two to three good recruiting years. This team is starting to come into its own. Means is the young man that has gotten them over the hump, a big-league back who can do it all."
"I anticipate another close game like some of the others we've played this year," said Krivak. "These kids are intelligent. They know the importance of it without anyone having to tell them. I think they'll be ready."