Rebuilding Terps on verge of breakthrough, Vanderlinden says

But powerful, deep ACC presents large obstacle

College Football

August 22, 1999|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- The Maryland football team appears improved at every position this season except the two inside linebacker spots, where Eric Barton and Kendall Ogle have departed for shots at careers in the NFL.

But have the Terps improved enough to make some serious waves in a tough Atlantic Coast Conference, which has the Associated Press' preseason No. 1 team, Florida State, in addition to No. 11 Georgia Tech and No. 24 Virginia?

That was the question for coach Ron Vanderlinden yesterday as he met with a touring group of ACC sportswriters.

"I believe the wait is over," said Vanderlinden who takes a 5-17 record into his third year at Maryland. "We're right on the brink of breaking through. I admit it's been harder rebuilding this program than I thought. But I probably didn't understand how good this conference was when I came here. I believe this was the best conference in the country last year."

Florida State extended its NCAA record to 12 straight finishes in the AP top four with a No. 3 ranking, Georgia Tech was ninth and Virginia, 18th. Five ACC schools went to bowls and came out with a 3-2 record, and the league has had more first-round NFL draft picks (15) than any other conference over the past two years.

With back-to-back 1-7 ACC records, Vanderlinden has had trouble convincing the ACC writers that his program is on the rise. In July at the annual ACC Kickoff gathering, those skeptic writers picked the Terps to finish last.

But at least two national publications do not believe Maryland will finish at the bottom of the ACC this fall.

Athlon Sports has selected the Terps sixth, ahead of Clemson, Wake Forest and Duke. Street & Smith's chose the Terps to take eighth place, with Wake Forest last.

The two primary areas of improvement this season for Maryland are at quarterback and the defensive secondary.

Vanderlinden has a talented young prospect in strong-armed freshman quarterback, Latrez Harrison, but the coach has been reluctant to talk too much about him.

Harrison is going to make mistakes, but there is no substitute for a quarterback who has shown a consistent ability to put the ball on a dime.

If the Maryland program was riding high, Vanderlinden would have time to possibly redshirt Harrison, but this is a team that needs to win more right away.

That's why Harrison seems to be right in the middle of a three-way battle for the No. 1 job along with sophomore Randall Jones and redshirt freshman Calvin McCall.

"Latrez is as talented as any recruit I've had here," said Vanderlinden. "He's right up there with LaMont [Jordan], who didn't come here with all the fanfare that Latrez has but LaMont can play."

Vanderlinden said yesterday it is time to chose a starting quarterback because the season opener against Temple is only 11 days away.

"We need to start working with the top two players at each position," he said. "I'm sure we'll have a good idea by Monday who our starter will be."

NOTES: Starting cornerback Tony Okanlawon (pulled right hamstring) is now given a good chance of being ready for the opener after being regarded as "iffy" and starting right guard Jamie Wu's injured back disks (irritation, not bulging) are less serious than first thought.

Maryland will return to red home jerseys this season after wearing black for two years.

Maryland 1999 schedule

Date Opponent Time/TV

Sept. 2 at Temple 6

Sept. 11 Western Carolina 6

Sept. 18 West Virginia Noon/ESPN2

Sept. 30 at Georgia Tech 8/ESPN

Oct. 9 at Wake Forest tba

Oct. 16 Clemson 1

Oct. 23 North Carolina 1

Oct. 30 Duke 1

Nov. 6 at North Carolina State tba

Nov. 13 at Florida State tba

Nov. 20 Virginia 1

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