COLLEGE PARK -- Scott Milanovich and Brian Cummings were sitting on adjoining stools yesterday afternoon, making sense of Maryland's football team switching quarterbacks despite a 4-0 record and a No. 17 national ranking.
His four-game suspension for gambling complete and his swift elevation to starter made official by coach Mark Duffner, Milanovich was asked if he had learned anything on the sidelines.
"The only thing it's given me a new perspective on is that our defense is a heck of a lot better than it's been the last four years," Milanovich said. "That's great to see. In the past, the night before a game, I was thinking I had to throw for 400 yards and six touchdowns for us to be in the game. That's not the case anymore.
"That takes a lot of pressure off of me, Brian, everyone on the offense. That's the reason we're 4-0."
Duffner's decision to start him against Georgia Tech tomorrow night -- Maryland's first nationally televised game in six years -- supported Milanovich's assertion that the last two years would have been even bleaker without him.
"This is the best decision for our team, based on the fact he's a senior, the experience he's gained and what he's accomplished to date," said Duffner, who cited growth at other positions as the key to Maryland's best start in 17 years. "We are where we are because of our improvement as a football team."
When the Terps didn't have a defense, didn't have a kicker and didn't have a prayer, they had Milanovich, who will make his 21st career start against Tech.
In 1993, he was the first sophomore to start at quarterback for Maryland since Boomer Esiason in 1981, and if not for him driving the Terps 99 yards in the last 2:35 of the finale at Wake Forest, they would have had their first 10-loss season.
Offensive coordinator Dan Dorazio blamed off-season experimentation, not Milanovich, for the lack of timing in the passing game last September, when Milanovich lost his starting job to Kevin Foley. Once Milanovich regained the job, he was brilliant, completing 71.7 percent of his passes over the last six games.
Milanovich, a 6-foot-3, 227-pound fifth-year senior from Butler, Pa., is rated the nation's seventh-best NFL prospect. He holds the Maryland career records for completions (525) and touchdown passes (47), and is the most accurate passer in ACC history, with a completion percentage of .661.
"I'm very excited that he's back," said Geroy Simon, who has 12 catches a year after he set an Atlantic Coast Conference record with 77. "Brian did a great job, but with Scott in there, we'll probably throw more. Hopefully, I'll be catching a lot more balls."
A redshirt sophomore, Cummings had his best game of the season last week, passing for 299 yards in a victory over Duke. He had never thrown a pass in college, however, before he was thrust into the lineup as a result of an internal investigation that found that Milanovich had bet a total of $200 on college sports events from 1992-94.
Milanovich's suspension was cut from eight to four games through the NCAA appeals process, and a source close to the player said Milanovich received assurances from Duffner in July that he would start against Georgia Tech if he bypassed the NFL supplemental draft.
"I don't want to make it sound like there was a promise out there," Milanovich said. "At some other places, the coach would have gone with the hot hand. I appreciate the fact he has faith I can come out and do the job."
For all of Milanovich's passing prowess, he's been involved in more controversies than victories with the Terps. The gambling suspension came just as he was in the best physical shape of his career, and had straightened out a shaky academic situation.
"I've learned how to handle adversity, certainly," Milanovich said. "It's easy to be in the spotlight when things are going well. Until you've gone through something like I've gone through, you don't realize the pressure that can be put on your family, your hometown. Nobody realizes the feeling you get when you let people like that down. There's a lot of guilt."
Duffner, who did not rule out the possibility of Cummings winning the job back from Milanovich, gave the news to both before practice Monday. After Duffner's weekly news conference, Cummings' eyes were watery as he explained that there was no quarterback controversy.
"No one in their right mind would want to give up what I had," Cummings said. "People think I'm crazy, but Coach Duff made the decision that this is best for the team, and I respect that. . . . Whether we were 0-4 or 4-0, Coach Duffner told me in the summer that this was going to happen."
Milanovich also will replace walk-on Russell Edwards as punter.