COLLEGE PARK -- A 4-0 start earned Maryland a No. 17 ranking, but since then the Terps' national stock has plummeted.
The Terps' last two games were a 31-3 flop at Georgia Tech in their first national television appearance in six years, and a 9-6 win on the road against Wake Forest, the worst team in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Those scores are why Maryland (5-1, 3-1) is a two-point underdog to Clemson (3-3, 2-2) at Byrd Stadium on Saturday.
"We're 5-1, but people still don't respect us," said Brian Cummings, the redshirt sophomore who regained the starting quarterback job with a strong relief effort at Wake Forest.
"It's homecoming, we haven't lost at home and Clemson is 3-3, but people still think they're going to beat us. People just don't believe in us."
But several postseason bowls are watching Maryland. Top-ranked Florida State is a shoo-in for one of the alliance bowls, but the ACC also has deals with the Gator, Peach and Carquest. Officials from the Gator and Carquest are expected at Saturday's game.
The Terps are in as good a position as any of the five teams that are in the running for the ACC berths in those three games. No. 14 Virginia is in second place, but the Cavaliers are notorious for their late-season swoons, and they finish with Texas, Florida State, Maryland and Virginia Tech, which are a combined 19-4-1.
Maryland and Georgia Tech share third place, but the Yellow Jackets figure to lose to Florida State on Saturday, so they'll have to win three of their last four just to have the bowl requirement of six Division I-A wins.
Clemson has only two I-A wins at this point, and must take four of its last five to meet the bowl requirement.
Like Maryland, North Carolina must also play Florida State, so the Tar Heels are looking, at best, at a 7-4 finish.
If the Terps can solve Clemson's defensive scheme -- Maryland hasn't scored against the Tigers since 1992 -- they can become the first among the five to reach six I-AA wins. They also would clinch their second winning season since 1985, another reason this is the biggest game they've played in four seasons under coach Mark Duffner.
"It's huge," Cummings said.
No bye week for Gore
Both Clemson and Maryland will play with two weeks' rest, but Maryland free safety Lamont Gore didn't spend the free time lounging.
The Rev. Tom Kalita, the Terps' team chaplain, secured two tickets for Pope John Paul II's Mass at Camden Yards on Oct. 8, and Gore and Jim Boyle, a freshman offensive lineman from Delmar, N.Y., won a drawing for them. The Terps' victory over Wake Forest was the night before, and Gore had about four hours' sleep before the drive to Baltimore.
Monday is a scheduled day off for Maryland's players, but Gore awoke at 4 a.m. three days ago to attend the Million Man March in Washington.
"To be a part of two historical events of such sociological significance was extraordinary," said Gore, who prepped at DeMatha.
"The unity at both events was just amazing."