RALEIGH, N.C. - Maryland football coaches concede they're facing a "dilemma" in resolving competing goals for the last four games of a trying season in which the Terrapins have yet to win a game on the road.
Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said he knows he must find playing time for at least one young quarterback - most likely redshirt sophomore Jamarr Robinson or freshman Danny O'Brien - to avoid going into next season with a passer who has barely played.
At the same time, Friedgen concedes he's eager - desperate, even - for a win and is not yet prepared to sit fifth-year senior quarterback Chris Turner, who he said is due for a "breakout," 300-yard passing game. Friedgen said he is particularly anxious for a win because, even at 2-6 (1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), his Terps could still be long-shot Atlantic Division contenders if they elevate their play beginning today at North Carolina State (3-5, 0-4), which has lost four games in a row. Friedgen also said his young team needs to gain confidence late in games and learn "how to win."
Left unsaid is that Friedgen, who has taken the team to six bowl games but is facing his fourth losing season in six years, could use a victory to shore up his job security.
Athletic director Deborah Yow has said frequently that Friedgen, like all coaches, will be evaluated at the end of the season. He has two full seasons remaining on a contract that pays about $2 million a year. While the coach has endured frequent criticism on fan Web sites and talk radio, he still has the support of many - though certainly not all - prominent boosters.
The season has taken a toll on the coach, who said he has fought frustration over losses, turnovers, injuries and what he considers a spate of bad luck.
On Wednesday night, Friedgen sat at a table wearing a headset as he was interviewed on his weekly radio show at a Montgomery County steak house. He told a few dozen fans in attendance how it often seemed to be raining during Terps games, particularly when Maryland had the ball. Maryland's last two games - losses to Virginia and Duke - have been accompanied by driving rain. Clear skies are forecast for today.
Friedgen related another "bad luck" story to the fans - how freshman kicker Nick Ferrara was run into by a walk-on player during a recent practice. Ferrara appeared hobbled afterward, but Friedgen said the kicker, whose performance has been one of the season's bright spots, wasn't expected to miss today's game.
Friedgen told the audience at the restaurant that he and the Terps, coming off their bye week, need a win "very, very bad."
But he also must look ahead to next season when Turner is gone.
"I'm in a real dilemma there," Friedgen said. "I don't think Danny really wants to play - I think he'd rather redshirt. Obviously, I want to do everything we need to do to win games, but then we go into next year without a really experienced quarterback."
O'Brien said the decision whether to play now - or bank a year of eligibility - is up to the coaches.
"It's something I think I shouldn't worry about because I have so much on my plate getting better as a quarterback," he said. "I'm not thinking of it as a personal thing. I'm just trying to get better every day and prepare like I am the starter. It's really just about team success - whatever the team needs."
Coaches have said O'Brien and Robinson are nearly even on the depth chart, ahead of freshman C.J. Brown.
Maryland has played 10 true freshmen this season - the most in Friedgen's nine-year Maryland tenure.
Friedgen is known for his loyalty to veteran players. The coach knows how eager Turner is to end his career on a high note.
Turner passed Boomer Esiason for second place on the school's career passing list in the Oct. 24 loss to Duke and now trails only Scott Milanovich. But he has thrown nine interceptions to go with his 10 touchdown passes this season.
"I could have four games left playing football in my entire life," Turner said. "Who knows what's going to happen down the road? For now, I want to go out and just kind of savor every moment - savor the good things and the bad things. I'm probably going to miss Coach Friedgen yelling at me."
Maryland has only one more loss than Boston College and Clemson, the Atlantic Division co-leaders at 3-2. Florida State and Wake Forest are also ahead of the Terps at 2-3.
N.C. State hasn't won since Sept. 26 against Pittsburgh. The Wolfpack has given up an average of 48 points in its last three games.
"It's funny that we still have a chance," Turner said. "There are still options for us. There is something to play for."