Win would help young Terps zero in on '00

November 20, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

Fifteen practices. Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow believes that would be the most tangible benefit of a victory today over Virginia. Fifteen more practices for a young team, assuming that Maryland's first winning season since 1995 leads to its first bowl appearance since 1990.

Never mind the question of whether the Terps deserve to go to a bowl when they've lost three straight games and four of their past five. You finish with a winning record, you're eligible for a bowl under college football's watered-down require- ments. At 5-5, Maryland faces a one-game season.

Can the Terps win? Uh, that might be another never-mind. They haven't beaten Virginia since 1991. They're starting an injured freshman backup quarter- back. And they've allowed an average of 30.6 points in their past five games after allowing an average of 14.6 in their first five.

Under such circumstances, a victory would be a major accomplishment. And thanks in part to friends in high places -- specifically, Maryland graduate Lenny Klompus, CEO of the Aloha/Oahu bowls -- a victory almost certainly would assure the Terps of a postseason berth.

Not even an Academic All-American could understand all the various bowl possibilities, from the Bowl Championship Series down to the Micron PC/Aloha level. But even if Maryland loses today and fails to realize all the intangible benefits of a bowl appearance, the season must be considered a success.

A blown opportunity, to be sure, but a success.

"If you could have told me at the start of the season that in the 11th game, we'd be playing for a winning season, I would have said that was right on schedule," Maryland coach Ron Vander- linden said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. "And that's exactly where we're at.

"We started out as fast as we did and hit some bumps, but I'm encouraged that here we are going into the last week of the season, and if we can find a way to win this last game, we've had a heckuva season."

Of course, a winning record already would be assured if Maryland had not lost at home to Clemson (5-5) and Duke (3-7). But it's difficult to get too worked up over what might have been, even though the ACC is downright mediocre after Florida State and Georgia Tech.

Remember, the Terps won only five games in Vanderlinden's first two seasons. They've had only one winning record since 1990. And a sixth victory would match their highest total since 1985, during the Bobby Ross Era.

Can Vanderlinden restore the program to such prominence? Well, the chances look a lot better now than they did a year ago. And a bowl bid would only help the rebuilding process, no matter how unworthy Maryland might appear.

"It's still a strong measure of success," Vanderlinden said. "It's a nice reward for our players and fans. That's what a bowl game represents. It's really something your players look forward to."

It's also a selling point for recruits, a rallying point for boosters and a morale lift for the athletic department and student body. Financially, though, it's something less than a windfall.

ACC schools share their postseason football and basketball revenue (what's bad for Florida State in football is good for Florida State in basketball). Yow said that after all the expenses are paid, the ultimate goal is to break even.

Which brings us back to the 15 practices.

Fifteen of Maryland's 22 starters will return next season, assuming that running back LaMont Jordan opts to play his senior year rather than enter the NFL draft. The extra practice time would translate to invaluable experience for 2000.

A win today, and it's a breakthrough season. A loss today, and it's still a significant step forward. Vanderlinden all but predicted victory when he addressed the crowd at halftime of the Maryland-San Francisco basketball game Wednesday night at Cole Field House. But he knows that the Terps are nine-point underdogs. And he knows how much is working against him.

The players know it, too, but they're playing at home, playing for a chance to visit Miami for the Micron PC Bowl or Hawaii for the Aloha. What have they got to lose?

"What's in the past is in the past," senior guard Jamie Wu said. "We can't dwell on what happened. When you start doing that, you kind of fall into bad habits. That's what we've done the past couple of years.

"It became a trickle effect -- you start losing some games and dwelling on it, and it affects the rest of your season. If we dwell on our last couple of losses, then we go into the game losing already. That's not the attitude this team has."

A victory today would prove it.

A victory today would provide both tangible and intangible benefits, benefits that every major program covets, benefits that Maryland hasn't experienced in a long while.

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