Upset-wary Fla. State won't overlook Terps Seminoles ranked ninth but lacking dominance

October 03, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden knows the chances are small that his ninth-ranked team will lose today against Maryland at Byrd Stadium. Bowden knows the Terrapins have never come close to beating the Seminoles -- or even scaring them -- in the six years since Florida State joined the Atlantic Coast Conference.

And Bowden knows something else.

"They have nearly the same shot as North Carolina State did," Bowden said earlier this week.

The Seminoles looked vulnerable even before they lost to the Wolfpack, 24-7, three weeks ago in Raleigh. The doubts date to spring practice when junior quarterback Dan Kendra went down with a season-ending knee injury.

Lackluster performances in non-conference wins over Texas A&M in the season opener and last week at home over Southern Cal also raised opponents' confidence and Bowden's concerns.

"If we don't play our best and the other team does, they can beat us," said Bowden.

Though the Seminoles have two game-breaking players in junior wide-out Peter Warrick and sophomore tailback Travis Minor, much of their season rests on the relative inexperience of sophomore quarterback Chris Weinke. For all of the life experiences the 26-year-old Weinke might have, playing quarterback for the Seminoles isn't one of them.

A former Toronto Blue Jays farmhand for seven years, Weinke inherited the starting job after Kendra was injured. He made some mistakes in his nationally televised debut against the Aggies in the Kickoff Classic, but the Seminoles managed to escape with the win. Then came the debacle at Carter-Finley Stadium.

After tossing a touchdown pass on Florida State's first possession, Weinke kept throwing. Unfortunately, he kept connecting with the wrong team -- tying a school record with six interceptions.

"What we did was put the ball in his hands, and he wasn't ready," said Bowden.

Unlike other seasons, when the Seminoles had more depth at quarterback, Bowden had no choice but to stay with Weinke. So he has lessened Weinke's load, going more to the running game than at any time in recent memory.

The defeat by N.C. State was only the second in the ACC for the Seminoles, who haven't lost this early in a season in nearly a decade. But they have plenty of company in their misery. Archrival Florida, beaten by Tennessee, is among perennial powers who have suffered early-season losses.

"I think with all things being normal, you'd rather have the wake-up call coming early than late," said Bowden. "At least we go into games telling our kids that we can be had. Sometimes you can tell that to a team, but they don't believe you. But this is the same setting as North Carolina. Maryland has nothing to lose."

The Seminoles come into Byrd Stadium hampered by two injuries. Minor sprained his left ankle in the first quarter of last week's 30-10 win over the Trojans in Tallahassee, and missed practice time this week. Middle linebacker Demetro Stephens broke two bones in his right hand at practice Wednesday and is out indefinitely.

Jeff Chaney, a third-stringer, will start at tailback if Minor can't go. Chaney has rushed for 177 yards. Sophomore Brian Allen will start at middle linebacker, thus fulfilling the pact of four sophomores, including Tommy Polley of Baltimore, who vowed to start at least one game together.

Polley is not thinking about losing what amounts to his personal homecoming -- or any other game. "If you lose two games at Florida State, it's a bad year," he said.

Weinke has recovered from his nightmarish performance against the Wolfpack. Helped by the more conservative game plan in which he threw only four passes in the first quarter of a 62-13 win at Duke two weeks ago, Weinke has gone 50 attempts without throwing another interception. He was 13 of 31 for 228 yards and two touchdown passes against USC.

"Sooner or later, as we go through the schedule, we'll have to make some big plays to win," said Bowden. "Right now we're not making enough of them, but we're not making big mistakes either."

Said Weinke, "I never lost my confidence."

Maybe not. But the Seminoles have certainly lost some of their swagger.

Pub Date: 10/03/98

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