COLLEGE PARK — All week, the media dogged Maryland players with questions about the uncommonly large stakes — for the program and themselves — presented by their game Saturday at No. 8 Florida State.
Surely, reporters would say, this must be the biggest Terps game in years — a national-television contest pitting undefeated and 25th-ranked Maryland (4-0) against a Seminoles team (4-0) that it has never defeated on the road in 11 tries.
But the game’s magnitude was not something the Terps were eager to harp on.
Players repeatedly characterized it as just “the next game” or “another game on the schedule.”
“[A game] at Florida State is a special deal, isn’t it?” one television reporter asked center Sal Conaboy, who refused to take the bait.
“It’s the biggest game because it’s the next game,” Conaboy replied evenly.
Clearly, it is a significant matchup for the Terps, who entered the Associated Press top 25 this week for the first time since the end of the 2010 season. Maryland has not defeated a ranked team since 2010 and has not beaten a top 10 team since 2007.
Saturday’s game is the most hyped for Maryland since coach Randy Edsall’s victorious Maryland debut against Miami in 2011.
The challenge for Maryland’s coaches this week has been to allow players to embrace the moment but not become distracted from their game-week routines.
“I think there's no question this is a big game,” said ESPN analyst Tom Luginbill, a former Georgia Tech quarterback. “It's a barometer for where they are — an opportunity for them on a grand stage.”
But Luginbill said he understands the Terps’ reluctance to get caught up in media attention. Coaches don’t want players peaking for one game and coming up flat the next.
“I think coaches want players to have an even-keel personality,” Luginbill said.
Edsall acknowledged this week that the Florida State game presents “a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous challenge."
But he said there is risk in making too much of one game. He has a particularly young team, with two-thirds of the roster composed of underclassmen.
“It’s still only one of 12 games on the schedule,” the coach said. “We would be doing an injustice to this team if we put so much more emphasis on this game and not put emphasis on the others the same way. At the end of the year, they look at how many. They don’t look at who.”
The Terps will need to acclimate not only to the high stakes but to the large stage.
Doak Campbell Stadium (82,300 capacity) is cavernous compared to Maryland’s Byrd Stadium (54,000 capacity). Doak Campbell is closer in size to some of the stadiums the Terps will encounter next season in the Big Ten.
“We’re not used to playing in front of crowds that are 83,000,” junior linebacker Cole Farrand said. “But I like it. Seeing the [tomahawk] chop going on in the stands. You kind of watch it when you’re little.”
To prepare, Maryland has been piping in simulated crowd noise on speakers overlooking its practice fields this week.
“They put speakers right behind the sidelines,” said running back Brandon Ross, a redshirt sophomore. “You pretty much can’t even hear. I never played down there before [in Tallahassee]. We went down to West Virginia last year. That was pretty loud.”
Edsall said he just wanted to make certain the Terps didn’t feel out of their element at Florida State.
“I’m surprised we didn’t get a citation leveled against us for how loud it was,” he said.
No. 25 Terps (4-0) at No. 8 Florida State (4-0)
When: Saturday at Noon
Site: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.
Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM
Series: Florida State leads 21-2
Last meeting: Florida State defeated Maryland, 41-14, on Nov. 17, 2012, in College Park
Maryland offense vs. Florida State defense: Maryland is averaging 39.8 points per game. Florida State surrendered 34 points and 200 rushing yards to Boston College this past week but is giving up just 136 passing yards per game. Senior cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, a former safety, is expected to try to help neutralize top Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs . "They move [Joyner] around, play him at nickel, he pass rushes," Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. "He's a guy who you need to know where he is and you need to account for." The Terps will get boost from the return of wide receiver Nigel King, who missed the last game with a leg injury.
Maryland defense vs. Florida State offense: The Terps had six takeaways in their win over West Virginia. Their 13 takeaways tie them for fifth in the nation. Maryland is ninth nationally in third-down defense, holding opponents to a 25.4 percent conversion rate. The Terps have not faced a quarterback like Seminoles redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, who ranks second nationally in passing efficiency and is a running threat. Florida State junior running back Devonta Freeman averages 8.7 yards per carry.