TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State fans will be playing the oddest sort of guessing game today when the Seminoles host Maryland.

Might they be seeing coach Bobby Bowden, 80, on the Doak Campbell Stadium sideline for the final time? Bowden, whose 387 career wins rank him behind only Penn State's Joe Paterno among Football Bowl Subdivision coaches, has declined to discuss his future.

Like Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, Bowden has started to face questions from fans, including some who think it's time for him to step aside.

"It's a soap opera," said Patricia Kidd, a Northern Virginia resident and 1984 Florida State graduate who says Bowden is "tarnishing" his image by coaching so long.

It's not clear who needs a win more - Bowden to become bowl-eligible or Friedgen to end Maryland's slide.

Friedgen said he wishes the best for Bowden, whom he considers "a character."

"To me, he's been great for college football and he's been great for Florida State," Friedgen said.

Jim Smith, chairman of Florida State's board of trustees, has suggested it might be time for Bowden to step down. Bowden's wife, Ann, told USA Today that her husband is planning on coaching another year. The university will make the call after the season.

In the meantime, Seminoles fans are left to wonder - and to debate the proper course for a man who has led the team to 27 consecutive bowl games but finished 7-6 in 2006 and 2007 and 9-4 last season. The school's recent records pale compared with the 1987-2000 period, when the Seminoles never lost more than twice in a season.

At 5-5 this season (3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), Florida State needs one more win to become bowl-eligible. The Seminoles end the regular season at undefeated Florida.

Like Maryland - which has designated offensive coordinator James Franklin as head coach Ralph Friedgen's eventual successor - Florida State has already named its next coach. Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher is under contract to replace Bowden.

The question is when.

Stacy Mizrahi, president of the Seminole Club of Baltimore, said the university is in a sensitive position.

"I personally think that Bobby has earned the right to not be forced out during a down year, and he's certainly earned the right to have a say in how he should leave the program," Mizrahi said. "The situation is delicate. The FSU boosters rely on Bobby for fundraising - yet they also rely on the success of the football program."

Florida State fans are guaranteed today to see at least one of their team's coaches at his last home game. Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, in his 26th season as a Seminoles assistant, has announced his retirement.

"The thing that concerns you is that you have to be careful that you don't have too many distractions," Bowden said of Andrews' departure and a pre-game ceremony for 17 seniors playing their final game at the stadium. "Our kids have to keep focus on the main thing that this day is all about, and that's playing the University of Maryland."

Bowden has acknowledged his disappointment at how the season has unfolded. The Seminoles had plenty of key players returning from last season's team that beat Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl.

"It's been disappointing, the fact that we've lost so many close games," Bowden said. Besides anticipating the return this season of talented quarterback Christian Ponder, Bowden said: "I thought we had good receivers, we had the offensive line returning intact."

The Seminoles endured Ponder's season-ending shoulder injury two weeks ago and a defense that the coach said "has not improved. They're playing too many young folks and not playing as well as they normally can play."

Redshirt freshman E.J. Manuel completed 15 of 20 passes for 220 yards in his first career start, a 41-28 win over Wake Forest.

With quarterback Chris Turner (knee) out, Maryland (2-8, 1-5 ACC) also gave a backup his first start last week. Jamarr Robinson, who will start again against the Seminoles, rushed for 129 yards - third most by a quarterback in school history - in a 36-9 loss to Virginia Tech.

It was Maryland's fifth loss in a row.

"Is it lack of effort? No," Friedgen said. "Maybe they're pressing, I don't know."


Today, noon

TV: Chs. 13, 5

Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM

Line: Florida State by 18

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