COLLEGE PARK - Starting with football coach Ralph Friedgen, the Maryland Terrapins have spent all week forcing themselves to respect an opponent they are expected to crush tonight at Byrd Stadium.
Never mind that the Wofford Terriers represent a tiny Division I-AA school of 1,100 students in Spartanburg, S.C. Forget that the Terriers were a late throw-in to Maryland's schedule, when Troy State pulled out of its date in College Park last spring after agreeing to a deal with Missouri. Dismiss the notion that the Terps (2-2), aiming to climb above .500 for the first time, are bigger, stronger, faster, better in every way.
This week was all about Maryland contemplating the highly improbable event of an upset, and preparing to squash any chance of such a catastrophe.
So what if Wofford's charter flight to get here marked only the fourth time in the school's 113-year football history that the Terriers have flown to a game.
Wofford is a dangerous, undefeated team that is one week removed from going on the road to shock I-AA powerhouse Georgia Southern. The Terriers, ranked No. 103 in the weekly Sagarin Ratings - above Troy State, Navy, Eastern Michigan and Kansas, among others - bring an effective run-heavy triple-option attack and a defense that has allowed only 4.3 points a game. They must be respected.
Friedgen and his players said as much all week, and they managed to do it with straight faces. After all, the Terriers did take a 14-7 first-half lead a year ago against Clemson before surrendering 31 unanswered points.
"They're 3-0, and I've seen them do a lot of things on film that have hurt people. One missed tackle, one missed assignment, and they can really hurt you," Maryland middle linebacker E.J. Henderson said.
"Normally, you could look past a team like we played last week [Eastern Michigan, 45-3 losers] because they do things we've seen before," Terps cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "This team doesn't do anything we've ever seen before."
"I am very impressed by this team," said Friedgen, who has cautioned his players about looking ahead to next week's test at West Virginia or the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule that unfolds after that. "This is a tough team, a dangerous opponent. This is a very well-coached team that plays very hard. We'd better be ready to play. This is their bowl game."
The Terps, who are such heavy favorites that no betting line was established for tonight's affair, have worked on familiarizing themselves with Wofford's option offense, a combination of the wing-T and the wishbone. And even though the Terriers have an inspirational story in wide receiver Isaac Goodpaster - he is legally blind with 20/200 vision and was the team's leading receiver last year - Wofford generally abhors the pass.
The Terriers have beaten Newberry, South Carolina State and Georgia Southern by averaging 324 rushing yards and only 42 passing yards. Look for Henderson and Maryland linebackers like Leon Joe and Leroy Ambush to be very active, and for defensive backs like safety Madieu Williams to offer much run support.
"I just don't want to give up a big play-action pass if they do throw one," Foxworth said.
Tonight is also about the Maryland offense feeling good about itself for the second straight week, beginning with quarterback Scott McBrien, who is coming off the best game of his career and maybe his best week of practice.
And it's about the Terps possibly getting the first carries of the year out of junior tailback Bruce Perry, who tore his left groin muscle nearly six weeks ago, had another setback in practice on Wednesday, and might see some action. Senior Chris Downs will start his fourth consecutive game in Perry's place.
Mostly, it's about the Terps confronting the fear of failure against an overmatched opponent. Or is it the fear of embarrassment?
When asked to imagine losing to Wofford and what life would be like afterward, defensive tackle Randy Starks said, "I don't think our fans would respect us. And I wouldn't be going out anywhere this weekend."