Maryland snaps up Gator Bowl invitation

Suspense ends as school accepts bid to Jan. 1 game

foe still to be determined

November 25, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - After a day of worry and suspense, Maryland's football team got to breathe a sigh of relief yesterday when officials from the Gator Bowl formally extended the Terps an offer to play in the Jan. 1 game in Jacksonville, Fla.

Maryland (8-3, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), which quickly accepted, had hoped to secure an offer from the Gator Bowl's nine-member committee on Sunday, the day after the Terps' dramatic, 26-24 victory at N.C. State.

But when that didn't happen, Terps coach Ralph Friedgen and athletic director Debbie Yow began to worry about a repeat of last season, when the Gator Bowl passed over Maryland and invited N.C. State.

"I admit, I didn't sleep that well [Sunday night]," Yow said.

It turns out there was little reason for concern. Gator Bowl chairman Bob White and team selection chairman Susan Hamilton officially extended the invitation to Yow and Friedgen during an afternoon teleconference.

The Terps will play a Big East team - West Virginia, Miami or Pittsburgh - in the game, which is held at Alltel Stadium, will kick off at 12:30 p.m. and be televised by NBC.

"I think it's a heck of an accomplishment for our players and our coaches," Friedgen said. "Anytime you go to a New Year's Day bowl three consecutive years, it says you're on the right path. ... Right now we're choosy about which bowl we want to go to. When we came here, we just wanted to go to any bowl."

Gator Bowl officials decided to invite Maryland yesterday, even though they could have waited to see the outcome of the Terps' game at Wake Forest on Saturday.

"Maryland is in second place now [in the ACC], and regardless of what happens Saturday, they're still going to be in second place," White said. "We just think they'd be the best team to have."

The Gator Bowl doesn't have an opponent for Maryland just yet. West Virginia is believed to be the front-runner, but bowl officials will wait until the weekend to select a second team.

If West Virginia beats Temple on Saturday, earning a share of the Big East championship, the Mountaineers likely would be Maryland's opponent.

Maryland and West Virginia met earlier this season in College Park, with the Terps winning, 34-7. Part of the delay in extending the invitation to Maryland was getting both schools and conferences to agree to a potential rematch.

The Gator Bowl also will have representatives at the Miami-Pittsburgh game and could select the loser of that game. The winner most likely will earn the Big East's berth in the Bowl Championship Series.

"It depends on when the BCS acts," Hamilton said. "We've got a real logjam at the top of the Big East Conference."

Maryland, which last played in the Gator Bowl in 1975, has agreed to purchase a minimum of 12,750 tickets, though Yow said she thinks the school will sell far more.

"Our ticket office is already hectic, but in all the right ways," Yow said. "Requests by fax and by e-mail are pouring in."

Yow said she expected more fans to travel to the Gator Bowl this year than traveled to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta last season, when about 15,000 Terps fans saw Maryland defeat Tennessee, 30-3.

The reason, she said, is simple economics. Before the Peach Bowl, Maryland fans already had turned out in large numbers at the basketball Final Four in Atlanta and at the football Kickoff Classic vs. Notre Dame in East Rutherford, N.J.

"That was a huge issue for us last year," Yow said. "We had drained our fans dry. It was for all the right reasons, but with two straight Finals Fours and the Kickoff Classic, there is an end to how much discretionary spending any one person can afford.

"This is much better timing for us. We haven't had that scenario this year."

Yesterday's announcement also allowed Friedgen to finalize his recruiting schedule for the next month. Friedgen said the team likely will leave for Jacksonville on Christmas, and begin taking part in the bowl game activities Dec. 26.

"I have 17 homes I need to get into before we go down there," Friedgen said. "I'm very excited about where we are recruiting right now. ... When you have a nationally televised game, it gives you that much more credibility with kids. We're being received well everywhere we go."

NOTES: Thirteen Maryland players were named to the All-ACC teams yesterday. Kicker Nick Novak, defensive tackle Randy Starks, guard C.J. Brooks and return specialist Steve Suter were selected to the first team.

Tight end Jeff Dugan, defensive end Kevin Eli, linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, cornerback Domonique Foxworth, safety Madieu Williams and punter Adam Podlesh were named to the second team, and center Kyle Schmitt, cornerback Curome Cox and safety Dennard Wilson received honorable mention recognition.

Suter and Novak were first-team selections for the second year in a row. Podlesh is the first Maryland freshman to be named to an All-ACC team.

(All-ACC first team, 2c)

Next for Terps

Matchup: Maryland (8-3, 5-2) vs. Wake Forest (5-6, 3-4)

Site: Groves Stadium, Winston-Salem, N.C.

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 7

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