By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun
8:29 PM EDT, October 16, 2012
COLLEGE PARK —
It's hard to miss the illustration of an oversized pyramid posted on a wall inside the Gossett Football Team House.
In and around the black and red pyramid — which Maryland players see as they walk between the locker room and meeting rooms — are words depicting core values and goals of the Terps. Among the goals in block letters at the top are "ACC Champion," "Graduate" and "Bowl Game."
Halfway through their regular season, the Terps (4-2, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) aren't quite comfortable talking about a bowl game. They deflect the subject, as if they could jinx themselves even by discussing the possibility.
But Maryland is close enough — two wins shy of bowl eligibility with six remaining — that not punctuating a potential turnaround season with a bowl game would be disheartening for the team. Qualifying for the postseason after going 2-10 in 2011 could help validate that the program is on an upward arc.
"As we get closer, it's going to continue to mean more and more," said freshman receiver-returner Stefon Diggs, who leads the ACC in all-purpose yards and kickoff return average and has been instrumental in the team's early success.
The Terps can move to within one win of bowl eligibility with a homecoming-weekend victory Saturday over North Carolina State (4-2, 1-1 ACC), which is coming off a bye week.
"You can't really think about a bowl until you get to the fifth win," senior defensive lineman A.J. Francis said. "Once you get to the fifth win, you're like, 'All right, one more.'"
Maryland is the only ACC team yet to lose a conference game. The two teams the Terps have beaten — Virginia and Wake Forest — are a combined 1-6 in the league.
N.C. State, which upset Florida State on Oct. 6, will pose Maryland's toughest conference test to date. Quarterback Mike Glennon leads the ACC with a 349.5 passing yards average.
Bigger challenges will come later in the season when the Terps play Florida State and Clemson.
"All we need to focus on now is N.C. State and this weekend," said Maryland coach Randy Edsall, whose last bowl-game experience came when he took Connecticut to the Fiesta Bowl before arriving at Maryland early in 2011.
The ACC's bowl tie-ins begin with the Orange Bowl and include — closer to the bottom — the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.; and the Military Bowl at RFK Stadium in Washington.
"We want to play in the Orange Bowl and we want to go to the ACC championship," said Maryland cornerback Dexter McDougle. "That's our goal, but we're taking it one game at a time."
Maryland missed the postseason in two of the past three years. The Terps beat East Carolina in the Military Bowl under former coach Ralph Friedgen in 2010.
"I haven't addressed [bowls] with our team at all," Edsall said. "We have our goals that we have each and every year. The prizes that you have when you play this game are, first, winning your conference, and then if you win enough games, you get to a bowl. And those are things that you hope for each and every year.
"To me, you can't look at the big picture until you address the small things first."
At the midpoint of the season, the Terps have asserted themselves as a solid defensive team finding ways to win games in the fourth quarter despite struggling with their running game.
Maryland's rushing is last in the ACC. The team's average of 71.3 rush yards per game ranks it more than 30 yards behind the nearest ACC team.
Still, the Terps have outscored teams 51-31 in the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter has been freshman quarterback Perry Hills' best period. Hills ranks 10th in the conference in passing yardage per game. But, according to Maryland, Hills is 24-for-35 for 390 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
"When the game is on the line," Edsall said, "he's performed at his best."
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