Terps state case today


RALEIGH, N.C. - For the last decade, fifth place represented the outer limits for Maryland's football teams in Atlantic Coast Conference play.

But with a win over North Carolina State tonight, the No. 10 Terrapins can break ground previously untouched by eight of the nine ACC schools - an undisputed league title in football. The feat would assure the Terps a bid in a Bowl Championship Series game, most likely the Orange Bowl or the Sugar Bowl.

So even though Maryland (9-1, 6-1) has already clinched a share of its first title since 1985, senior safety Tony Jackson would expect his teammates to approach tonight with the same desperation it did the last time it faced the Wolfpack (6-3, 4-3).

That was when Maryland came back from a 15-point deficit to beat N.C. State, 35-28, in double overtime. The 2001 Terps seem to come to this matchup from a vantage point different than their 2000 counterparts, who were hanging on for dear life in pursuit of a bowl bid they never got.

But just as last year's thriller over a solid N.C. State team showed the Terps could win a must game to keep their bowl hopes alive with two games to go - arguably the biggest victory of the Ron Vanderlinden era - a win tonight would surpass the respective 1995 and 1998 campaigns of Virginia and Georgia Tech, teams that merely shared the ACC title with Florida State.

"To me, it's about the same importance," Jackson said, comparing the impact of the two games. "We have to take it as a must-win game. We've come too far not to."

Last year's win puts Maryland, for this game, out of its familiar role of avenger. Five of the Terrapins' nine victories have come against teams they lost to in 2000, breaking long streaks in two of those series.

After beating Clemson last weekend to break an eight-year losing streak against the Tigers, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said his team still suffers (or thrives) from a lack of respect.

The players don't expect that luxury against N.C. State, prepared to face a team with a score to settle (despite winning eight of the past 10 meetings with the Terps) and its own bowl berth on the line.

"They'll be pumped up pretty good for the game," senior reserve safety Rod Littles said. "They're playing for a bowl game, so they'll be playing for all they've got."

In a tie for third place with North Carolina, the Wolfpack is looking more and more like the team people thought it would be when it was picked to finish among the ACC contenders before the season, coming off a 9-3 finish in coach Chuck Amato's 2000 debut.

But after a 2-0 start, N.C. State's fortunes sagged with three losses in the next four games for a 1-3 league mark heading into the last month of the season.

"Three weeks ago, everyone was writing this season off," Amato said after his team became the first ACC team to beat Florida State at home last Saturday, a victory that put Maryland in position to accomplish what was unthinkable before this season. "Maryland is going to come down here and will want to be 10-1 and be the outright ACC champion. They want to make sure that they go to the Orange Bowl. That's not to say that we don't have a lot at stake."

Including the Florida State game, N.C. State has a three-game winning streak. While the team's offense is led by one of the league's top quarterbacks in sophomore Phillip Rivers, the running game has powered this turnaround.

Tailback Ray Robinson, who rushed for 106 yards last week, leads an attack that has averaged 192 yards the past three weeks, after averaging 63.8 during the earlier four-game swoon. The whole package impresses Friedgen.

"They have a lot of impressive, skilled athletes," Friedgen said. "The quarterback is very accurate and very dangerous, they also have a good running back in Ray Robinson. ... We're going to have our work cut out for us."

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