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For Texas, the game in El Paso is a warmup for next September. The squad consists of six seniors and well over 50 underclassmen, including half a dozen freshmen who are already starters, most notably linemen Joe Shearin and Terry Tausch, who started all year long; Tight End Lawrence Sampleton, who emerged as a big-play virtuoso, and A. J. Jones, who superseded senior Johnny (Ham) Jones as the leading Longhorn rusher. Junior Mark McBath is the quarterback, but only because yet another prize frosh, Donnie Little, is out with torn ligaments in his left thumb. "I'm not exactly looking past this game," says A.J., "but I am anxious for next season to get here."
For Maryland it's here and now, a last shot at gaining any satisfaction from an in-and-out season. In September the Terps figured to go nowhere, but after eight games they were unbeaten, ranked No. 5 and talking—well, dreaming—of bringing home a national championship to College Park. Then, suddenly, they lost 27-3 to Penn State and 28-24 to Clemson, dashing hopes of the Atlantic Coast Conference title, to say nothing of the national crown.
Both teams have defenses that yield points grudgingly—Texas 12.4 a game, Maryland 11.4. Maryland is stronger up front with Charlie Johnson, Bruce Palmer, whose 13 sacks topped the Terp season record held by Randy White, and Linebacker Neal Olkewicz, who leads the team in tackles with 188. But Dwight Jefferson, Steve McMichael and Bill Acker of Texas combined for 362 tackles and played lead roles in limiting opponents to an SWC-low 2.3 yards per carry. And Longhorn Safety Johnnie Johnson is deservedly an All-America.
Thus, both offenses figure to be in for a frustrating afternoon. The Terps will call often on Tailback Steve Atkins, a 1,261-yard rusher who should do well, now that Mickey Dudish, the often-injured blocking fullback, is back in the lineup. Texas has a track team for a backfield and is more apt to break long ones, especially Flanker Johnny (Lam) Jones, the Olympic sprinter who netted 8.5 yards a carry and almost 18 yards a catch.
The Longhorns are favored by a touchdown and, unless they get overanxious for next season to arrive, the spread seems to be about right.
Pittsburgh and North Carolina State have much in common: 8-3 records, option offenses, inexperienced quarterbacks, meager passing and the potential for playing each other to a standoff in Orlando, Fla. in a game that each team approaches as a special challenge.
"We're playing for pride," says Pitt Coach Jackie Sherrill. "We've won three straight bowls, Sun, Sugar, Gator, and we'd like to make it four."
The Wolfpack, a winner in last season's Peach Bowl, would like to make it two in a row, not only for themselves, but also for the benefit of the ACC, which is trying to upgrade its football image.
The key to the game is the matchup between the aggressive Pitt defense, which has allowed an average of only 113 yards rushing, and the North Carolina State running attack headed by Ted Brown, an All-America who ranks fourth among alltime NCAA rushers.