COLLEGE PARK -- This isn't what they envisioned three years ago, when their freshman season ended with a bowl game and a winning record.
Maryland's seniors play their final game at Byrd Stadium today (12:10 p.m.), and the home team locker room is the only place TC Terps' victory is a topic of discussion. Florida State, No. 1 in the nation in scoring offense, scoring defense and every poll, figures to breeze to an Atlantic Coast Conference-record 16th straight victory.
Coach Bobby Bowden has the Seminoles primed for their first national title, and they concede they're looking ahead to next week's game at No. 2 Notre Dame. With its fourth shutout last week, Florida State (8-0) tied the ACC record for consecutive wins set in the mid-1970s.
The record-setter? Maryland, which had a 15-game win streak from 1975 to 1976. It's one of the high points of the Terps' tradition, which has taken a beating in recent years. Since Maryland tied Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl in 1990, the Terps have gone 6-24, including coach Mark Duffner's two seasons in which he has tried to rebuild with new talent.
Eleven seniors will be recognized today, but they realize they are involved in one of the lesser chapters in Maryland history.
"We don't want to be considered losers," Jim Panagos said. "We weren't going to be like the previous classes, and go 2-9 or 3-8. Here we are 1-7, and Lord knows where it's going to end up."
This could be the first Maryland team to lose 10 games. If statistics hold up, today's game could provide one of Maryland's worst losses: Florida State leads the nation in scoring offense (43.8 points per game), and Maryland is last in total defense (555.0 yards per game).
Of course, the Terps aren't thinking that way. Senior linebacker Jaime Flores said the teammates he has talked to "can't wait to play" Florida State. "It's like a kid with a new toy," Flores said. "They can't wait to see how they stack up against a great team."
The odds have been stacked against Maryland's senior class. The class that entered in 1989 has lost more than half of its members to attrition, then was wiped out by injuries this year. Only five seniors appeared in the Oct. 16 victory over Duke. Panagos is one of three seniors who hasn't played this year. He led the Terps in sacks in 1992, but was told to give up football in July, after his second back surgery in four years.
Mark Sturdivant, Maryland's top defensive lineman, will play today for the first time since he broke his leg in the opener against Virginia, but tackle Madison Bradley most likely will miss a second straight game with back problems. The career of linebacker Chad Wiestling was ended, in effect, by a knee injury during practice before the Virginia Tech game.
Superback Mark Mason and wide receiver Jason Kremus are the only senior regulars on offense, and both were among the players injured last week at Clemson. Kremus has 18 catches, but has been blanked in two of the past three games. Mason has 541 yards rushing and 1,710 for his career, ninth-best in Terps history.
The seniors haven't forgotten last year's 69-21 loss in Tallahassee, when Florida State's Fast Break offense -- a shotgun with no huddle -- debuted with touchdowns on its first seven possessions. The Seminoles set ACC records with 858 yards and 40 first downs, and quarterback Charlie Ward passed for 395 yards and ran for 111.
Ward sustained bruised ribs in the second quarter of last week's 54-0 victory over Wake Forest, and even though he practiced this week, he might not play today.
Ward doesn't need to play to bolster his front-running effort for the Heisman Trophy. With only a handful of snaps after the first series of the second half, Ward has completed 69.7 percent (168 of 241) of his passes for 2,011 yards and rushed for 242.
Florida State is the first visiting No. 1 team to play at Byrd Stadium, and there is considerably more to the Seminoles than Ward. Linebacker Derrick Brooks is a finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top lineman. Junior cornerback-punt returner Corey Sawyer is the 1990s' version of an earlier Seminoles' standout, Deion Sanders. Split ends Kez McCorvey and Tamarick Vanover also have game-breaking speed.
"If we're out of position by a step, big plays will occur," Duffner said. "Florida State has terrific players across the board. It's the biggest challenge we've ever had. You look for an area in which they're good -- I'm not talking average, just good -- and I can't find that."