COLLEGE PARK -- Dressed in black, fans stormed the field, running and jumping and swirling about. All the bad that had dominated the first two months of the season was suddenly lost in the giant black hole, swallowed whole by a single win.
Forget the lawn signs and the political commercials and all thetelevised debates you?ve seen over the past several weeks: Campaign season for the Terps didn?t really begin until last night. For the first time since 2003, with last night?s 27-24 win, the Terps can start talking about bowl season again.
Maryland football, despite having just one respectable win on its schedule, is back.With a balanced offense, an exciting four quarters and a blocked kick in the final seconds, the Terps defeated Florida State in a win that was certainly emotional and ultimately could prove pivotal for the program.
The win means that for the first time in three years, the Terps will not finish with a losing record.
The win means that Maryland is bowl-eligible and should expect to play football in December. And the win means coach Ralph Friedgen can loosen his collar a bit, as the heat cools and his detractors disappear into their caves for at least aweek or two.
Put simply, last night?s win means that at season?s end, there?s a good chance we?ll all be saying that Maryland football is back on stable ground. Those across the nation prepare to label the Seminoles? 2006 season the Bobby Bowden Farewell Tour, but that?ll be just a footnote in the Terps? record books. It doesn?t really matter that last night?s win came against a downtrodden Florida State team. The fact remains that it came against a Florida State team.
As they prepare for Clemson, the toughest foe remaining in a relatively tough final four weeks, the task in front of Maryland now is to prove that last night?s game was no fluke.
Bowl committees will use a variety of criteria ? and not many particularly favor Maryland. When they scan the eligible teams, committee members will wonder whether a school?s fans travel, whether the team has intriguing storylines and whether they can score points.
That means that over the final four weeks of the season, the Terps will try their best to woo bowl committee members with their on-the-field play and with shoulder-rubbing away from the stadium. Bowl representatives showed up to watch the Terps win over North Carolina State on Oct. 21, and they were back on campus Friday, meeting with athletic department officials and listening to the Terps? sales pitch. Officials representing the Gator Bowl, the Meineke Car Care Bowl and the Champ Sports Bowl watched yesterday?s win from the press box. Maryland athletic department officials already had planned on sending out literature and information to bowl committee members in the next couple of weeks, a campaign that surely picked up some steam with last night?s impressive win.
While Maryland athletics director Debbie Yow and senior associate athletics director Chris Boyerchatted up committee members high above the field, Terps players made their best sales pitch down below. After making just nine pass attempts a week earlier against N.C. State, Friedgen opened up the offense and quarterback Sam Hollenbach threw for three touchdowns. Despite last night?s win, the Terps? track record still leans on the mediocre side, something they?ll strive to correct in the comingweeks. With the win over the Seminoles, the combined record of the Terps? 12 opponents this year is 60-42. But the combined record of the teams Maryland has beat is only 17-30. Those numbers might not get a whole lot better. Threeof their final four opponents were ranked in the top 25 last week ?No. 10 Clemson, No. 18 Boston College and No. 24 Wake Forest. The fourth foe is Miami, a team the Terps haven?t played since 1987 and haven?t beaten since 1982.
Even if they lose all four of their remaining games, the Terps should be assured of a bowl. For starters, the 6-2 Terps need only finish among the top eight in the 12-team ACC, which seems like a pretty good bet considering the woes of 0-8 Duke, 1-7 North Carolina, and the tough remaining schedules for 4-5 Virginia and 3-5 N.C. State. With Virginia Tech, Clemson, Boston College, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech having already secured bowl eligibility by winning at least six games apiece, it?d seem that 5-3 Miami and 4-4 Florida State are in good position to lock up the conference?s two other spots. Barring a series of surprises in the remaining conference games, the question facing Maryland football is one it welcomes. For at least this morning, we can stop asking what?s wrong with the offense, and we can stop asking when Friedgen will replicate his past successes. And we?re no longer asking whether the Terps play in a bowl. We?re justwonderingwhich one.