Bowl bids for Terps rest on 6 ACC games Despite 2-3 record, team on rise hoping upset at Clemson could spark surge

October 10, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

The moral victories over Atlantic Coast Conference powers and Top 10 teams Florida State and Virginia were a much-needed shot in the arm.

The meteoric rise by freshman Randall Jones to No. 1 quarterback has been like a storybook.

But still, Maryland is no more than a 2-3 football team with an 0-2 record in the ACC. The two wins over James Madison and Temple did not excite anybody.

"What we need to do is win," said Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden. "We need to get a win and get ourselves to even and get a little more confidence. There's no reason we can't accomplish some significant goals this season. I don't want to wait, and my players don't want to wait."

The real test for Maryland is a Waerig season-ending stretch of six ACC games, beginning today at noon in Clemson's Death Valley.

Many ACC observers say the Terps now have a legitimate chance to win four of those six games and that they are capable of upsetting No. 23 North Carolina State (3-1, 1-0) and fast-starting Georgia Tech (3-1, 2-0).

Five more wins would likely assure Maryland of a bowl bid, and four might even be enough.

Maryland should have an emotional edge in the Georgia Tech game Oct. 31 at noon because it will be the first Division I-A football game played at the new Ravens stadium. (Division I-AA Morgan State plays the first college game at the Ravens stadium, meeting Delaware State on Oct. 24.)

For Maryland, the high expectations for its final six games are a major step up from the preseason predictions that had Duke as the only ACC opponent Maryland likely would beat.

Clemson, North Carolina and Wake Forest have suddenly joined Duke on the list of winnable games for the Terps.

Clemson (1-4, 0-3) and North Carolina (1-3, 1-1) have been major disappointments, and Wake Forest (2-2, 1-0) was stunned in overtime last week at home by Division I-AA Appalachian State.

Said Maryland junior tight end John Waerig: "We're confident we can beat all the teams left on our schedule and go to a bowl game. That's what it's all about. We're not the same team we were last year. We didn't bond very well last year, and our offensive line has picked up this year."

There will be some emotional hurdles to overcome down this ACC stretch, and none of them is any larger than those facing Maryland at Clemson.

Maryland has not scored a touchdown in Death Valley since 1991, when it lost, 40-7.

Since that game, Clemson has rolled up a 77-3 margin in three games on its home field. The Tigers have pulverized the Terps, 193-33, in the six home games since Maryland last won there, 34-31, in 1985.

North Carolina has also pushed Maryland around in recent years, outscoring the Terps by a 78-21 margin in the last two meetings and winning seven out of the last eight games.

But all that was before Randall Jones.

"He's one of the guys you just pull for because he's a wonderful young man," said Vanderlinden. "He's very humble, and if there's anybody you're going to give the No. 1 jersey to, it's him because he doesn't care if he wears No. 92. He just likes playing football."

Making the Jones saga even more interesting is the way he earned the popular No. 1 jersey.

"I was kind of holding No. 1 for the right player," said Vanderlinden. "I tried to promote team. All the guys always want the good-looking low numbers, but I told them to take a number and make it special by wearing it. Now Randall is our guy, he's our quarterback and deserves to wear No. 1. He started out wearing No. 38 as a defensive back, but that wouldn't have been appropriate for a quarterback."

Waerig said of Jones: "He brings energy to our team. He is a hard-nosed player and he makes it happen."

Jones, who won the No. 1 job from junior Ken Mastrole, has never been bashful about his love for running the option but he is becoming a more confident passer each week.

"I proved I could pass," said Jones after the 24-10 loss to Florida State. "I'm happy, of course, about starting this week. I'm up for the challenge. Hopefully my game will continue to rise with more pressure put on me."

Pub Date: 10/10/98

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