COLLEGE PARK - Maryland is ranked 21st in the Associated Press' preseason college football poll, which was released yesterday.
The Terrapins will start this season 10 spots below the No. 11spot they held in last season's final poll, but it is the first time since 1985 (starting at No. 7) that the program has been ranked to begin a season.
Maryland, which won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship last season, was one of only two ACC teams to earn a spot in the preseason poll - Florida State, last season's runner-up, was ranked third.
Terps coach Ralph Friedgen seemed unimpressed.
"It doesn't matter. ... I'd rather comment on that after the season; that's when it matters," he said, despite his stated goal to make his team a regular presence in the rankings.
"We haven't done anything. It's going to change in three weeks anyhow ... if we don't beat Notre Dame."
Last year's 10-2 season, which included a trip to the Orange Bowl, was a major reason for Maryland's inclusion in this year's preseason poll. But 13 starters will return, including All-America linebacker E.J. Henderson and tailback Bruce Perry, who was the ACC's top offensive player in 2001.
Question marks about the team precluded a higher ranking, which is a major reason the Terps were picked third last month in the preseason ACC poll - behind Florida State and North Carolina State. The Wolfpack was not included in yesterday's AP rankings.
Both Henderson and Perry nursed injuries while missing all of spring practice. From last year's defense - the star of Maryland's 7-0 start - six departed starters need replacing.
The offense is in better shape with eight returning starters, but the coaches don't know who this year's starting quarterback will be, let alone whether that player will be able to do what Shaun Hill did while earning first-team All-ACC honors.
Still, Maryland's position is higher than seemed possible heading into last season, when the program was coming off two straight 5-6 seasons.
"Being ranked, it tells us that we can go much further," defensive end Durrand Roundtree said. "We thought we'd be ranked higher, but we're still ranked."
Not rushing things
Henderson, Perry and Chris Kelley - all players who bore watching after off-season injuries - had relatively comfortable starts in fall camp yesterday.
Henderson, who experienced back pains, but opted to return for his senior season before having back surgery in April, said he would "work his way" into practices, not participating in full contact for the time being.
"The back's a little tight, but that's to be expected," he said after a post-practice regimen that included 20 minutes of icing.
Perry, who ran for 1,242 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, but missed spring practice with an abdominal injury, said he's been back in shape for a while, though he aggravated the injury near the end of summer workouts.
Still, he thought he got off to a fast start yesterday.
"I had a good practice and, as a team, we had a good practice," he said. "I felt good and ready to get back into the swing of things."
News of Kelley's return earlier this week came as a surprise - after three months rehabilitating from a serious knee injury - but he seemed to flow back into the competition for starting quarterback.
Kelley chose not to speak about his first practice yesterday, but he appeared to get a percentage of repetitions more or less equal to Scott McBrien and Orlando Evans, the other two candidates to replace Hill.
Offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe, who also coaches the quarterbacks, cited a long throw to freshman receiver Danny Melendez as evidence that Kelley is anything but tentative.
"I was pleased with Chris," Taaffe said. On the deep ball, "he really had to be able to drive off of that back foot to be able to throw it. That had to be 60 yards in the air. That was a good sign that he could drive off that foot, no problem."
That said, Kelley's return could be moot if McBrien continues to play like he did yesterday, according to Friedgen.
"Right now, I think Scott is vastly improved," Friedgen said. "Scott was better. Scott was much better" in comparison with the other quarterbacks.
Mike Locksley, who has coached the running backs at Maryland for the last six seasons, described his group as "the strongest unit I've had since I've been here." He said there are as many as six tailbacks capable of contributing - from Perry to freshmen Josh Allen and J.P Humber.