Bowl win in hand, Terps eye big prize

After routing Tennessee, players talk of winning national title next year

Friedgen: `We're not there yet'

January 02, 2003|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - More than once in the 24 hours since No. 20 Maryland's 30-3 dismantling of unranked Tennessee in the Peach Bowl, Terrapins players announced that they want to do more than simply "reach the next step" in 2003.

"There's no reason why we can't go to the national championship and win the game," Maryland junior wide receiver Latrez Harrison said yesterday morning.

"We've got to raise the stakes around here. We went up against a traditional powerhouse team and beat them, 30-3, so that should have let everyone know that we're for real."

A logical progression for the Terps would be to beat a ranked nonconference team, or to take out Florida State, which is 12-0 in head-to-head matchups, before talking about trips to New Orleans and the Bowl Championship Series in the Sugar Bowl next year.

But with only four positions for which Maryland needs replacements for every play - not including punter Brooks Barnard - little about the team's prospects seems dim.

For the first time since Scott Milanovich performed for the Terps in the mid-1990s, the program will enter the 2003 season with an experienced quarterback, and Scott McBrien's supporting cast should be better than Milanovich's.

Harrison, who had four catches for 74 yards in the Peach Bowl, will return as one of McBrien's weapons. So will Steve Suter, who had a 79-yard punt return, and Bruce Perry, who was Offensive Player of the Year in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2001.

Defensively, the Terps will return their entire secondary - including All-ACC cornerback Domonique Foxworth and fellow corner Curome Cox, who had a 54-yard interception return for a touchdown Tuesday.

Moreover, Maryland will get an accommodating schedule outside the ACC.

In ascending order of difficulty, the team plays host to The Citadel, travels to Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois and gets regional rival West Virginia at home.

Maryland stands to gain the most as Florida State's grip on the ACC becomes increasingly tenuous and with no one else in the league appearing poised to jump on the opportunity.

"The sky's the limit," Suter said. "I don't see us losing a game, to tell you the truth. I hope we can make the big game. I want a national championship, and I think we've got a good shot."

That's the confidence that comes from a convincing victory against Tennessee - perennially one of the nation's top programs and one that earned a national title in 1998.

In four previous games against similar programs dating to last season, Maryland had lost by a combined 167-64, so any semblance of competitiveness would have been a sign of progress.

Those results were probably a factor in the lethargic response among Terps fans to Peach Bowl tickets. While the school's ticket office announced 15,000 in sales, many of those seats stayed unfilled throughout the game, a condition that may change with the win.

"If we have wins like this, it will help our credibility," coach Ralph Friedgen said. "It does put us on another level. Maybe we'll bring more fans than we did this year."

At the same time, the Terps have toppled a program suffering its worst season since 1988, also the last time the Volunteers went through a campaign without a win over a ranked opponent.

Despite his team's landmark victory, Friedgen nonetheless waved off the notion of the Terrapins winning the national championship next season.

"We're not there yet. We don't have enough depth to do that yet," he said, alluding to Maryland's troubles on the offensive and defensive lines, something he hopes to shore up in this recruiting cycle that ends on Feb. 5.

Maryland's few personnel losses are major ones.

Linebacker E.J. Henderson leaves as the team's second-best tackler, with 473. He received All-America honors in consecutive years and won the Butkus and Bednarik awards this season.

Barnard, center Todd Wike and tackle Matt Crawford were first-team All-ACC selections this season, while defensive end Durrand Roundtree has started the past two years.

Friedgen looks at what he has to work with next season, and while he's pleased with what he has, he's realizes what he's lost.

"I've had situations like that and not had good teams," he said. "There are a lot of intangibles that make up a great team. We played three guys who never played in a game before and went up against a very fine offensive line. But because everyone helped them and did what they were supposed to do, we were able to be successful. So it's not just the talent."

NOTES: It is unclear how serious the groin injury is to defensive tackle Randy Starks, who sat out all but one play of Tuesday night's game. Defensive back Reuben Haigler came out with an ankle injury and reserve tight end Derek Miller broke his leg during the game. ... Friedgen will travel to Orlando, Fla., later this month to coach an all-star game, hoping to complete three recruiting weekends before leaving. ... Maryland is mulling the idea of expanding Byrd Stadium's seating capacity if season-ticket sales increase significantly from the school's figure of 23,000 in 2002.

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