Everything seems to be in place now. The University of Maryland's football coach has a new four-year contract. The Terps are coming off their first winning season and bowl appearance since 1985, and the university, during the off-season, gave Byrd Stadium a $13.2 million face lift that included new seats, new restrooms, a huge concession area and a five-story press box.
Excitement. Hysteria. Euphoria. The Terps are hoping to ride those emotions into today's season and Atlantic Coast JTC Conference opener against Virginia at Byrd Stadium (noon).
"When we come out of that tunnel," said Maryland coach Joe Krivak, "if we're not excited after what's been done to this facility, then I'm going to have to test to see whether they're breathing or they're alive."
In other action involving state teams, Navy plays host to Ball State (7 p.m.) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium; Morgan State will be looking to rebound from an opening-game loss to North Carolina A&T when it faces Norfolk State at Foreman Field in Norfolk, Va. (7 p.m.); Bowie State opens at home against Livingstone (1 p.m.); and Frostburg State starts at Grove City (1:30 p.m.).
The Terps want to prove that last year's 6-5-1 record and appearance in the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl was no fluke.
The Terps also want to show that last year's 35-30 come-from-behind victory over then-No. 8 Virginia was for real, and that Maryland's program is on the way back to where it was when the Terps were a league power in the mid-1970s and 1980s.
"It had to be demoralizing for Virginia to lose to us, then to Virginia Tech the following week on its way to the Sugar Bowl," said Maryland starting senior defensive tackle Lubo Zizakovic. "We have to get back to the old Maryland, where we beat Virginia all the time. Virginia is a good team, but there are a lot better teams on our schedule. I think it's important that we get off to a good start."
In Annapolis, Navy and Ball State will meet for the first time. Navy coach George Chaump said he won't name his quarterback until game time, but don't be surprised if sophomore Jason Van Matre -- a tailback last year -- gets the nod over junior Brian Ellis.
"Ellis has more experience, he's more polished, he's more knowledgeable and he's more confident," Chaump said. "Jason Van Matre is one of those guys who makes quick decisions and has the ability to make a big play out of a bad play."
Neither has taken a snap in college, which could prove a problem against a Ball State team that returns nine starters to a defense that finished second in the nation in yards allowed (222 per game).
"It still is a pretty good defense," said Ball State coach Paul Schudel. "It may not be as good as last year, but I think the level of competition has a lot to do with that."
While some teams look at having a game under their belt as an advantage, Schudel doesn't agree after last week's 15-7 loss to Miami (Ohio) University.
"If you look at our performance last week, you would wonder if it was an advantage or not," Schudel said of his team, which had minus-8 yards rushing and just 178 yards in total offense. "I guess it is an advantage if we got some of the rough spots out of our offense and defense."
Despite that Ball State loss, Chaump is still expecting a close game.
"We scouted the game, and Miami just came up with a very good game plan," Chaump said. "We still have a great respect for Ball State. They have a very good football team."