To reach bowl goal, Terps first must win

The Baltimore Sun

College Park -- Holding in his hands a Styrofoam cup containing a half-consumed beverage, Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen slumped in a chair in his office and acknowledged that he was "wore out" and "tapped out" from what has been a disappointing season.

The combination of inconsistent play and a season-long rash of injuries has made this perhaps the most taxing of Friedgen's seven seasons as Terps coach.

But if Maryland (5-6, 2-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) can win today in the regular-season finale at North Carolina State to pull to .500 and become bowl-eligible, this might not be such a bad season after all.

"It's been a good group. It really has. It [the players' effort] really has been the one bright spot in a tough season," Friedgen said Wednesday. "I told the team I've been coaching 39 years, and I will remember this team. And I really would love to win this football game, not for anything else but that they deserve much better than they've got."

The Terps hardly have been perfect, even factoring in the inordinate number of injuries. Last week's 24-16 loss at Florida State, a week after Maryland knocked off then-No. 8 Boston College, was just another example of how wildly the team has fluctuated from good to bad, sometimes from play to play.

And in Friedgen's mind, no player exhibited that inconsistency more than quarterback Chris Turner, who earned the coach's wrath by appearing to lose focus late in the first half against the Seminoles. Friedgen benched Turner for a couple of series before reinserting him for the second half.

Friedgen said the source of his consternation with Turner, who is third in the ACC in passing efficiency since he took over for injured junior Jordan Steffy on Sept. 29 against Rutgers, is that the quarterback has great ability but seems to wander mentally from time to time. It can drive a self-proclaimed perfectionist to distraction, himself.

"I expect things to be done right, and I expect them to be done right every time," Friedgen said. "What frustrates me sometimes about Chris is he's only a redshirt sophomore. He can do things really good. Really good. Some days, he's way ahead of his years. But he loses focus and he's back doing some stupid ... thing. That [ticks] me off when I know what he can do."

But Friedgen said Turner has had a good week of practice and is back in his good graces, though the coach left no doubt that he would yank him again if needed today against the Wolfpack (5-6, 3-4), which also needs a win to become bowl-eligible.

Practically speaking, a victory would only qualify the Terps for a bowl and a couple of extra weeks of practice. Miami (5-6) would become bowl-eligible with a win today at Boston College, which already has clinched a spot in the ACC championship game next weekend.

Still, there is speculation that the Terps-Wolfpack winner would get the ACC's guaranteed spot in either the Emerald Bowl on Dec. 28 in San Francisco against a Pacific-10 Conference team or the Humanitarian Bowl on Dec. 31 in Boise, Idaho, against a team from the Western Athletic Conference. Neither bowl is of the highest profile, but if the Terps get to either, it would help prove their ability to overcome the challenges they have faced this year.

"We've fought through adversity and through a lot of different things," junior linebacker Erin Henderson said. "We're still hanging together. We're still going to go out there and play for each other like we always do."

Henderson, who has played despite knee and back ailments, is among the Terps who have scrapped through injuries this year. It's that band of brothers mentality that has endeared this team to its coach and perhaps made Friedgen himself push a little harder to get it to its goal: a postseason berth.

"Their goal was to go to a bowl game, and with all the adversity that they've had this year, with all the time the ball didn't bounce our way this year, for them to achieve that goal would tell them, I think, that they were a success this season against all the odds," Friedgen said.

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