Scott Milanovich holds a dozen Maryland passing records, was a preseason All-American and was recently rated the nation's seventh-best NFL quarterback prospect by one draft expert.
He's No. 2 in College Park, however. Coach Mark Duffner passed on the chance to keep Clemson guessing for two weeks and instead announced last night that Brian Cummings would start the Oct. 21 homecoming game against the Tigers.
Cummings was the starter while Milanovich served a four-game suspension for gambling. The Terps began 4-0, but Milanovich started in a 31-3 loss at Georgia Tech and at Wake Forest Saturday. When he struggled again, Cummings entered and produced three solid drives in the last 34 minutes, which, coupled with a solid defense, provided Maryland (5-1, 3-1) with a 9-6 Atlantic Coast Conference victory.
Milanovich didn't receive any substantial practice time until the short week of the Georgia Tech game and hasn't been able to regain the form he showed last October and November, when he was one of the hottest quarterbacks in the country.
Duffner was asked if Milanovich's NFL aspirations made his decision more difficult.
"The most important thing is what's going to help the team," Duffner answered.
The Terps got a visible lift when Cummings began warming up after four ineffectual series under Milanovich in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday night.
"It's a different mentality when Brian comes in," linebacker Ratcliff Thomas said. "He's like the underdog. Scott's the glamour boy. He's [Cummings] a great competitor and a great guy at quarterback. The fans, everyone responds to him differently."
Duffner said the intangible argument didn't have an impact on his decision, but the breaks have gone the Terps' way when Cummings has been in the game and against them when Milanovich has played.
fTC Consider a crucial play from each of the past two games involving slot receiver Geroy Simon. At Georgia Tech, an illegal block by Simon took away a long touchdown pass and run from Milanovich to Jermaine Lewis. At Wake Forest, he had a hustling recovery after Mancel Johnson fumbled a long pass from Cummings, and it kept alive an eight-minute possession that sealed the win.
Cummings has played a prominent part in all of Maryland's victories, and the five are its most under Duffner and one shy of the minimum needed to be considered for a bowl. Milanovich, meanwhile, has started and finished four Terps wins in two-plus seasons as a starter.
The less-mobile Milanovich has produced no points the past two years against Clemson, which is also idle this week. More recent history, however, affected Duffner's decision, as the sight of the worst team in the ACC wasn't enough to get Milanovich back in the groove.
Cummings threw for 222 yards but was off the mark on several passes. The matter of practice time is paramount, and both quarterbacks were rusty, Cummings from being No. 2 the past two weeks and Milanovich from being an afterthought in the practice plan up until then.
"Scott hasn't had the number of reps in practice he needed, and it's been pretty difficult for him to overcome that," Duffner said. "Brian was hurt in the opening game [a sprained ankle], and Orlando Strozier and Trey Evans took all the snaps in practice the following week."
Reached at his College Park apartment last night, Milanovich declined to comment. Cummings said Saturday that the Terps have to stick with one quarterback.
"The quarterback is the featured guy; he runs the show," Cummings said. "You've got to get used to one guy out there. It's tough for me and Scott, but I don't care who you are or how much you say it doesn't bother you, it's always in the back of your mind. Throw a friendship into that. It's tough. It's life."
It's a question that Duffner also faced during last year's two-week break before North Carolina, when he needed 13 days to decide that Milanovich had won the starting job back from Kevin Foley. The offense had suffered for two weeks while the two alternated.
Duffner said this situation was different and that Milanovich could regain the starting position.
"Last year, neither one of them [Milanovich or Foley, who transferred to Boston University] really took a clear course over the other," Duffner said. "We needed two weeks of competition just to sort them out. Brian has given us a lift, and he'll start against Clemson, but just like at Wake Forest, both will be prepared to play."