Terps look for revenge, 4-0 start


COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland isn't in the Big Ten or Pac-10, so it's not as if everything is coming up Roses, but the Terps are leading the kind of charmed existence that could land them in a bowl game for only the second time in a decade.

Coach Mark Duffner's team was in the clouds Sunday when Maryland (3-0) was nationally ranked for the first time since 1986. But if there is any team on the schedule that could bring the Terps back to earth, it's Duke (2-1), which just happens to be the opponent tonight at Byrd Stadium.

The Blue Devils embarrassed the Terps, 49-16, in coach Fred Goldsmith's debut last year, and the prospect of a payback and the program's first 4-0 start in 17 years has done wonders for Maryland's focus.

Duke is the third straight opponent dealing with some serious injuries. Last week, Robert Walker, West Virginia's top rusher, stayed home with a sprained ankle. Two weeks ago, North Carolina's Marcus Jones, the best defensive tackle in the Atlantic Coast Conference, had a knee injury.

And injuries for Maryland?

If slot receiver Richard Roberts sits out with a hip pointer, he will be the first Maryland regular to miss a start, but it wouldn't be a significant loss: The senior co-captain has yet to catch a pass.

The lack of injuries is just one ingredient in the Terps' drastic reversal of fortune. Maryland appeared to be down and out after four straight losing seasons and an off-season in which it lost star quarterback Scott Milanovich to a four-game gambling suspension.

Everything seems to be going the Terps' way: the good luck with injuries, the bounces that have Maryland leading the nation in turnover margin . . . and ESPN's Lee Corso's predicting a Duke win. Even if they lose to the Blue Devils and fall to 3-1, the Terps are at Georgia Tech Thursday for the program's first national television appearance in six years.

"It's interesting how everything has fallen together," athletic director Debbie Yow said. "I know the coach can't look past the next game, but as an administrator, you're always looking down the road, wondering about the possibilities. It would be just a tremendous boost for them to go to a postseason game."

Tonight's game is only Maryland's second in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the politicking has begun for a team that might have to win five ACC games to garner a bowl invitation. Yow has already written to the Gator, Peach and Carquest bowls, which have arrangements with the ACC.

It doesn't hurt that, in moving next year's Florida State game from Byrd Stadium to Joe Robbie Stadium, Yow dealt with the Carquest committee; or that she knows several Gator Bowl officials from her days as a fund-raiser at the University of Florida; or that she'll be able to meet first-hand with Peach Bowl representatives while the Terps are in Atlanta next week.

"By NCAA by-laws, we can't go out and watch teams in person before the first Saturday in October," said Brian Flajole, executive director of the Carquest Bowl. "But it's a funny thing. Before we even got Debbie's letter, we were already scheduled to go see Maryland on Oct. 21."

That would be the homecoming game against Clemson, Maryland's next appearance at Byrd after tonight.

Tonight's game will also be the Terps' last without Milanovich. Without him, Maryland is 95th in the nation in total offense and last in the ACC in first downs. Still, sophomore Brian Cummings has moved the Terps when necessary.

Lost in the budding quarterback controversy -- who will start next week? -- is a defense which is coming off Maryland's best statistical performance in 10 years. It's the main reason the Terps have won each game by at least two touchdowns; four of the Terps' last nine touchdowns followed opponent turnovers.

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