COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- Will Maryland crash the bowl scene in style, with the biggest victory of the Mark Duffner era, or will the Terps need help to back into their first postseason game since 1990? The answer will come today a both teams are jockeying for position to see exactly where they'll spend the holidays, in Atlanta or Miami or Jacksonville, Fla., or Shreveport, La. . . . or maybe at home.
"The ACC title is on the line for them, and a bowl bid for us," said senior receiver Jermaine Lewis. "We need another win to make it more solid, and present something to the bowl people."
The Atlantic Coast Conference has contracts that will send teams to one of the big three Alliance bowls, plus the Gator, Peach and Carquest. The Terps, however, may have to resort to angling for a bid to the Independence or Liberty bowls, which could be scrounging for eligible teams.
Gator and Carquest officials will have a chance to see Maryland next week, when it finishes the regular season at Florida State. Peach officials will attend today's game and look primarily at Virginia (7-3, 6-1), which is coming off a monumental upset of the Seminoles.
A Cavaliers victory will clinch at least a share of the ACC title, but they also are inspired by last year's late collapse, which dropped them from the Fiesta to the Independence Bowl. Some speculators say that Virginia doesn't "travel well," meaning that the Cavaliers don't bring many fans with them to a bowl game.
Lately, Maryland (6-3, 4-2) hasn't traveled at all.
The Terps have made only one bowl appearance in the past nine years, and Joe Krivak, now the Cavaliers' quarterback coach, was forced out of his coaching job a year after that 1990 Independence Bowl. That berth was secured with a win at then-No. 8 Virginia, and the Terps have since lost 17 straight games against ranked teams.
This is easily their best record in four seasons under Duffner. Maryland has doubled its ACC win total by sweeping the four teams from North Carolina, but fallen short against tougher competition. After starting 4-0, the Terps lost three of their next four, and performed miserably in some showdowns that were just as pivotal as today's.
"I see a team that went out and beat ourselves," junior linebacker Ratcliff Thomas said of losses to Georgia Tech, Clemson and Louisville. "The good teams, they grow past that."
It will be the final home game for Maryland's seniors. Lewis needs seven more catches to become the all-time ACC leader. Quarterback Scott Milanovich, who will get his first home start of the season after a four-game gambling suspension, holds all of Maryland's passing records.
The Terps, however, will start only four other seniors, and the program still is experiencing growing pains, particularly on the offensive line.
brought Milanovich back as the starter over Brian Cummings. Those wins also brought the installation of the I-formation to complement the run-and-shoot and the occasional huddle.
tight end and a fullback," Milanovich said Thursday, when he broke a six-week silence with the media. "I like the huddle. After a big play, you can yell, scream, get people fired up."
emotion it can muster against Virginia, which ended Florida State's 29-game ACC win streak nine days ago. George Welsh's staff out-coached Bobby Bowden's. The offense has opened up after some early complaints from quarterback Mike Groh, and Milanovich must deal with a Cavaliers secondary that has interceptions in 26 straight games.
The Cavaliers, however, have a nasty habit of playing to the level of their competition.
Besides staving off Florida State's comeback, they led No. 13 Michigan and No. 11 Texas until the last play.
They let up in the second half on Division I-AA William and Mary and Wake Forest, however, and needed Tiki Barber's touchdown with 13 seconds left to beat N.C. State. The only ACC loss was to North Carolina, a team Maryland beat by two touchdowns.
"We've gotten up more for some teams, and that's going to cost us one of these days," said Barber, who needs only 2 yards to set a single-season rushing record. "It definitely helped that the Florida State game was on a Thursday night. We had three or four days to bask in that, and then turn our attention to Maryland. Beating them to wrap up the ACC is plenty of incentive."