Duffner in '96: One more year?

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Two, four, six.

Eight?

Maryland continued its steady improvement this season, but it wasn't enough to get the Terps into their first bowl game in five years. Coach Mark Duffner's teams have progressed from 2-9 to 4-7 to 6-5, but low-profile Maryland learned it will have to do more than just post a winning season if it wants to go to a bowl.

If a North Carolina State conversion pass had been completed at game's end against North Carolina, the Terps, and not the Tar Heels, would be representing the Atlantic Coast Conference in the Carquest Bowl. Even Duffner, however, seems to realize that Maryland was unworthy, with five losses in its last seven games after a 4-0 start and a No. 17 ranking.

"We're proud of a winning season, but they had hoped for so much more," Duffner said recently. "We beat North Carolina, so it's disappointing that they were selected even though we were both 6-5. If there's a silver lining, it's that next year's team has greater incentive."

Duffner's four-year record is 15-29, and next year will be the last on his original contract, although he probably has earned the one-year extension, through 1997, that he negotiated with athletic director Debbie Yow last December.

As is her custom, Yow will not comment on Maryland's performance until she meets with the coach, sessions that Duffner wants done before Christmas. Duffner presumably will seek another performance-based extension, but Yow probably will want to discuss the past first.

With a 1996 home schedule of Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Alabama-Birmingham and Northern Illinois, and the Browns competing for fans in Baltimore, Maryland needs all the support it can muster. Much of the goodwill that Duffner and the Terps built up in September, however, eroded over the last two months of the season.

The Terps had three pivotal games against beatable teams, and failed miserably in each. They were outscored 79-3 by Georgia Tech, Clemson and Louisville. A victory in any of those games would have put Maryland in a bowl.

The Terps are recruiting tight ends and fullbacks, and the run-and-shoot appears to be history. Duffner showed as much with the late-season installation of the I-formation, but even that move couldn't keep Maryland from finishing last in the ACC in total offense.

With Scott Milanovich gone, the Terps won't have a quarterback controversy for the first time under Duffner, unless Brian Cummings does the unexpected as a baseball pitcher and commands a sizable contract off the June draft.

Duffner said he isn't going to make any staff changes, but he made the same claim two years ago, when defensive coordinator Larry Slade was fired and replaced by Kevin Coyle. The defense has made remarkable strides under Coyle, and will return nine starters.

Autry for Heisman

If I had a Heisman Trophy ballot, Darnell Autry would get my vote.

Tommie Frazier is a great option quarterback and he'll probably receive the Heisman as a nod toward lifetime achievement, but Nebraska still would be 11-0 and in the Fiesta Bowl with Brook Berringer running the option.

Florida's Danny Wuerffel is the most accomplished passer in the land, but backup Eric Kresser set a Gators yardage record in his one start. Eddie George is a marvelous tailback, but Ohio State has a pretty good quarterback and receiver.

Take away Autry and his 1,675 yards rushing, and college football doesn't have its best story in decades. Minus Autry, Northwestern isn't ranked No. 3 and in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1949.

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