Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien felt uneasy. It was moments after Florida State's 30-16 victory over Maryland last Saturday, and Seminoles players seemed eager to wish O'Brien good luck in the next Atlantic Coast Conference game.
The Florida State players weren't just being polite. The Seminoles need the Terps to knock North Carolina State out of the Atlantic Division title race today for Florida State to claim the crown.
O'Brien immediately felt uncomfortable in the spoiler's role. There are plenty of reasons why Maryland (7-4, 4-3 ACC) wants to defeat the No.21-ranked Wolfpack (8-3, 5-2 ACC) on Senior Day at Byrd Stadium. But winning the title for another school is not one of them.
"Yeah, it was kind of weird just because obviously their fate kind of lies in our hands," O'Brien said. "So we didn't really pay too much attention to that. But it is what it is. We just want to take care of the stuff that we can control."
A week after Maryland's loss eliminated it from contention for the division title, here is what the Terps say they are playing for:
Better bowl position. With their sixth win last month, the Terps became eligible for bowl consideration. Eight days before bids are announced (on Dec. 5), the bowl picture is unsettled.
"We're still in contention for a lot of bowls," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "An 8-4 team is going to look a lot more attractive than a 7-5 team."
The ACC has nine bowl tie-ins. After the Orange Bowl gets the ACC champion, the Chick-fil-A Bowl (Atlanta) -- which is sending a scout to the Maryland-N.C. State game -- gets its pick of the rest. Then comes the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando. After that, the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., and the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., make bids for the ACC teams they want. Then comes the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., and the Military Bowl at Washington's RFK Stadium.
In the selection, team records count, but so do such factors as how many of a school's fans will travel to the game. The Terps could land close to home in Washington, or in a bowl higher up the pecking order.
Win one for the seniors. It will be the final home game for 16 Maryland seniors, who will be honored before kickoff. The list includes linebackers Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten, safety Antwine Perez, running back Da'Rel Scott, receivers LaQuan Williams (Poly) and Adrian Cannon, and punter-kicker Travis Baltz.
"We want to go out winners," Scott said.
Claim a signature win. Although they came close to defeating Miami and Florida State, the Terps have beaten just one ACC team with a winning record. That was Boston College (6-5, 4-4 ACC).
Beating N.C. State would be significant. A Wolfpack win will give them a berth in the ACC championship game against Virginia Tech on Dec. 4 in Charlotte.
N.C. State already has its most wins since 2003. Its athletic director is Debbie Yow, who left Maryland over the summer after 16 years. Yow said she was not giving media interviews in the week before the game.
For Maryland, the Florida State contest was "a game we kind of looked at to get us over the hump," defensive coordinator Don Brown said. "I think N.C. State is another one of those type of games. It's another chance for us to get that done, and get over the hump."
Nine of the past 10 Maryland-N.C. State games have been decided by 10 points or fewer.
N.C. State is led by quarterback Russell Wilson, a redshirt junior who will be a candidate for ACC Player of the Year.
"I think he's the most dynamic offensive player in our league, period," Brown said. "I don't think there's anybody close. He can make all the throws. He can ad lib with his feet if there's nothing there."
Containing Wilson is critical to Maryland's hopes of continuing its turnaround season from last year's 2-10 disaster.
"If we were 9-4 this year, coming from 2-10, I say that that's a pretty big accomplishment," Friedgen said.