COLLEGE PARK -- The University of Maryland enjoyed its first bowl appearance since 1990 last season, but the Terps' blowout loss to No. 5 Florida State, 37-10, last night showed how much is needed before Maryland can become a consistent national power.
Florida State went 8-4 last year, a subpar season for the Seminoles. Now they are 3-0 and poised to challenge for a national championship again. Maryland was 10-2 last year and played in the Orange Bowl, a fantastic accomplishment for a program that has struggled for more than a decade. But after last night, the Terps are 1-2 and struggling again.
The program isn't where it was under former coaches Mark Duffner and Ron Vanderlinden, but the Terps still need to make huge strides. It will take another three or four years before Maryland makes that climb. Until then, the Florida States, Floridas and Miamis are out of range.
But at least the Virginias, North Carolina States and Georgia Techs are on the radar screen, even with Maryland still lacking quality depth.
Where are the Terps' holes?
Just about everywhere.
Maryland is still a year away from having a quarterback who can master coach Ralph Friedgen's offense. The Terps still don't have a quality backup for star running back Bruce Perry, who missed his third straight game with a groin injury. Their receivers are too inconsistent, and there are no playmakers in the secondary.
But the most vital missing ingredient is time. There is no doubt that Friedgen will complete the turnaround, it's just going to take time and plenty of patience.
Friedgen and his staff are now getting into the homes of blue-chip players who wouldn't even grant them the time of day last year, but it's going to be awhile before he can plug in players yearly like Mr. Run Up The Score, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.
The Seminoles had 280 yards of total offense in the first half, 183 passing. Flanker Anquan Boldin had three catches for 79 yards. Split end Talman Gardner had two for 82.
That's not even the deepest position on the team. Four of the Seminoles' running backs could be starters for the Terps, but last night Florida State gave the Terps strong doses of Greg Jones and Nick Maddox. Sixty-one of the 85 players on the Seminoles' roster are from the talent-rich state of Florida, and Florida State is loaded on both sides of the ball.
So loaded, in fact, that the Seminoles can win with a quarterback like Chris Rix. The sophomore has talent, but he is not exceptional. He has a great supporting cast. Friedgen doesn't have that luxury. In Maryland's offense, the quarterback has to make reads and often calls the plays at the line of scrimmage.
Maryland was lucky to have a tough, savvy quarterback in Shaun Hill last season. Now they have junior starter Scott McBrien and backup Chris Kelley, a sophomore. The offense has gotten better, but not nearly efficient enough to beat a Florida State.
McBrien completed nine of 17 passes for 135 yards in the first half, but also threw two interceptions, one that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Rix late in the first half. He has a strong arm, but also needs to develop a touch and become more settled in the pocket. He was replaced by Kelley with about 11 minutes remaining in the game, but Florida State was already ahead 30-3.
McBrien and Kelley will get better, and so will the offense, because Friedgen's scheme allows the quarterback to put them in the right formation and situations to make plays. But the Terps have to be nervous about the secondary. Florida State completed long passes almost at will in the first half.
Gardner had a 26-yard catch over the middle early in the second quarter. Boldin had a 44-yard grab about two minutes later. Gardner then had a 56-yard touchdown catch with 1:39 left in the half.
What was surprising was that the Maryland defensive backs were in position most of the time to deflect the pass or intercept, but they just didn't make the plays.
"Hopefully, we learned tonight," Friedgen said. "I will look at this tape real hard, and see where we've got to get better.
"I'm disappointed that we don't play our best against teams the caliber of Florida State University. One of these days we're going to need to punch through that barrier and get a win that will give us confidence."
Maryland, though, will be able to gain some confidence in the next two weeks. The Terps play Eastern Michigan and Wofford. Their real season begins Oct. 5 at West Virginia, followed by ACC opponents who are more in their class.
Meanwhile, Florida State will be in the hunt. The Seminoles are good enough to win a national championship, but in the end the inconsistent play of Rix and the poor red-zone play calling of Bowden will probably cost them.
But they are in the position that Maryland covets. The Seminoles have a legitimate shot every year. Right now, Maryland can only dream about it. The Terps are still a couple of years away.