COLLEGE PARK -- Even though Maryland's players are not publicly making much fuss about it, tonight's 7 o'clock game against Syracuse at Byrd Stadium could have a major impact on the Terps for the rest of the football season.
"Coach [Joe Krivak] doesn't like to talk about national rankings," said Troy Jackson, Maryland's senior running back, noting that the Terps have not appeared in the top 25 since 1985.
"But the national rankings are something we're thinking about. We know that if we want to get into the national rankings, we have to beat nationally ranked teams. It's definitely on the players' minds, and it's a goal of ours."
No. 22 Syracuse (1-0) is the first ranked team on the Terps' schedule, which also includes No. 17 Georgia Tech, No. 24 Pittsburgh, No. 5 Penn State and No. 8 Clemson.
Krivak, as usual, downplays the game, but he knows about Syracuse's tradition. He lettered for the Orangemen during the 1954, '55 and '56 seasons as an offensive lineman and linebacker.
Syracuse, ranked No. 24 a week ago, moved up after a 37-10 victory over Vanderbilt in its season opener. Maryland beat Virginia, 17-6, last week in its opening game, earning nine points in this week's poll.
"Since 1987, Syracuse has been to four bowl games consecutively, and nationally ranked three out of those four years," said Krivak, who is 0-2 against his alma mater. "So, as a result, they've been able to attract some real quality athletes. We're going to need the same type of effort as we had against Virginia to win this one."
The game pits Maryland's strong defense against Syracuse's highly explosive freeze option offense. Last week against Vanderbilt, the Orangemen, led by quarterback Marvin Graves, scored 21 third-quarter points to blow open the game. Meanwhile, Maryland forced six fumbles and held Virginia's running game, considered by some to be the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference, to 120 yards.
"We have to control the ball offensively and keep it out of their hands," said Jackson. "They're very explosive."
Maryland hopes to get more balance from its offense tonight. The Terps rushed for 167 yards last week, but had only 125 passing. The mid- to long-range passing game was ineffective. The Terps will face an experienced Syracuse defense that has eight starters back from a year ago.