COLLEGE PARK - For the second year in a row, there's reason to be interested in the lopsided Maryland-Florida State football series, to be played tonight in front of a sold-out crowd at Byrd Stadium and a national cable television audience.
The Terps, who have lost all 12 meetings against the fifth-ranked Seminoles (2-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), came to Tallahassee last year with a top-10 ranking, an undefeated record and the hope of coming out with a win for the first time. The team left with a 52-31 loss that planted seeds of motivation for both squads heading into this game.
Maryland (1-1, 0-0) overcame that loss to win the only ACC title Florida State hasn't won in its 10 years in the league. And though the Seminoles have won the last 10 meetings by an average of nearly 36 points, they are expected to come into town pumped up, as if a resounding win would somehow reclaim that 10th set of rings they lost last year.
And in these parts, interest from Florida State is a sign of progress.
"I'm expecting their best. Isn't that a change, though?" Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "Since when did they feel they had to give their best to play Maryland?"
Florida State defensive end Alonzo Jackson told reporters over the summer: "We beat Maryland. And Maryland knows we beat Maryland."
Maryland had jumped out to a 14-point lead early in that game and was tied early in the fourth quarter before falling victim to two of its four turnovers.
Despite winning their first league title in 16 seasons last year, the Terps are again seeking respect, particularly after a 22-0 loss to Notre Dame to open the season.
That loss in the Kickoff Classic two weeks ago was another high-profile defeat for Maryland, which also lost to Florida in the Orange Bowl, 56-23.
"It's another big game," Maryland senior defensive end Durrand Roundtree said, "and we've yet to win a big game."
Said Maryland linebacker E.J. Henderson: "When I came here, FSU had been the big dog for so long, and it was one of my goals to leave here with a win over them. I don't think you can take that from them after one season. They're still the big dog. That's the way it's been since I've been here. It [defeating Florida State] would be right up there with everything we accomplished last year."
On the other side, Florida State finds itself in the odd position of playing the role of challenger to the defending ACC champions. The closest the Seminoles had come to that status had been in 1995 and 1998, when they were league co-champions with Virginia and Georgia Tech, respectively.
Having rolled over Virginia, 40-19, two weeks ago, Florida State would like to re-assert its dominance in the conference.
"Back in the day, it didn't matter who you played, you were looking for certain things - basically, a blowout," said Florida State linebacker Michael Boulware, who acknowledged that Maryland is a tougher opponent than it used to be. "They're a good team, so that's going to be hard. So we're coming out playing like they're the greatest team in America."
Coming off a 44-14 win over Akron, Maryland hopes to get a boost from a crowd that will likely exceed 50,000 with temporary bleachers set up at Byrd Stadium.
Yet, as indicated by Friedgen's decision not to play tailback Bruce Perry, who is recovering from a groin injury, the coach would like to look at this game as just one in a season.
"As long as we're going out and giving our best effort and getting better, I'll be pleased," Friedgen said. "I'm not in this for a one-game season. We're going to play 13, maybe 14 games this year. The thing I'm looking for is improvement. Who knows? Maybe we can grow up and be a team like Florida State some day."
Opponent:No. 5 Florida State (2-0)
Site:Byrd Stadium, College Park
TV/Radio:ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)
Line:Florida State by 14 1/2