Lots of pluses for Terps' seniors, but minds

No-bowl-bid possibility leaves group wincing

College Football

October 29, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - With four games left in the regular season, there are multiple ways to look at Maryland's senior class.

On one hand, this group of football players has been more successful than any previous group in school history.

The seniors have won an Atlantic Coast Conference championship, played in three straight bowl games and helped fill a stadium that was once half-empty on Saturdays. They stayed out of trouble, and the ones who have stuck around have either graduated or are on track to do so this spring. There is much to be proud of.

On the other hand, unless something drastic happens, such as a win over Florida State tomorrow, this senior class will be the first under coach Ralph Friedgen to fail to play in a postseason bowl game. (Right now Maryland needs to win three of its next four against Florida State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest to have any shot.)

It's already the first senior class to fail to win 10 games, the first to lose three straight games, the first under Friedgen to lose more than two conference games in the same year and the first to lose two home games in the same season.

For a group of athletes who, prior to this year, knew nothing but success, none of this has been easy to deal with.

"We're going to have to start accepting that things haven't gone as planned," said Maryland senior center Kyle Schmitt after the Terps' 10-7 loss to Clemson. "That's tough. That's something I haven't had to do since I've been here. I don't know. I might only have four games left in my career, so I'm not going to quit."

There have been daily discussions this year about Maryland's youth, and how the team's inexperience has contributed to its 3-4 record. But Friedgen has also made the point several times this season that some of his older players have not performed up to expectations or up to their potential.

"It's [been disappointing], but there have been circumstances where they haven't been totally healthy, either," Friedgen said.

"Some of them have been nicked up, some of our linemen, and to their credit, they've been playing. I thought they played a little bit better last week, so maybe that's a sign they're getting better. What I was hoping was that they would play to my expectations based on what I'd seen in the past, and then we'd get these younger kids coming along."

The desire is certainly still there for most of this senior class. Two weeks ago, senior safety Chris Kelley was so upset and emotionally charged in the final seconds of Maryland's 13-3 loss to N.C. State, Friedgen himself had to physically restrain Kelley as the teams were preparing to shake hands. But little things that always seemed to go the Terps' way the past three seasons have been different this year.

"The confidence is there, but it's definitely taken a hit in the last three weeks," said Schmitt, who has played despite lingering effects from a concussion.

The differences from a year ago have been subtle. Cornerback Domonique Foxworth doesn't have an interception after getting eight the previous two seasons. Wide receiver Steve Suter hasn't returned a punt for a touchdown after doing it six times the past two years.

Defensive end Kevin Eli doesn't have a sack after leading the team in sacks last season. Offensive guard C.J. Brooks has battled a "stinger" much of the year and is just now getting healthy again.

Senior kicker Nick Novak has been decent (10-of-15 on field goals and 18-of-18 on extra points), but he's also missed two field goals in close games after making nearly every single one of those kind of kicks the past two years.

"I haven't lost confidence in Nick," Friedgen said. "He could win a big game for us any day. Hopefully he'll do it Saturday."

After Maryland's loss to Clemson, Foxworth was asked a question he wouldn't have dreamed of having to answer two years ago: Was this loss easier to take because you played better than in the previous two losses?

"I'm not any happier about the last week than this week," Foxworth said. "It all hurts. Losing is losing."

Despite their frustrations, Schmitt said the Terps realize it's not too late to finish strong and turn things around. Many of the younger players, who were expected to struggle this year, are starting to play well now that they have some experience.

If Maryland can put it all together starting this week, who knows what might happen?

"I know the odds are against us," Schmitt said. "We've got to win three of four [to qualify for a bowl game], but we've got a lot of pride in that locker room, and a lot of guys who are willing to keep working at it."

NOTE: Friedgen said yesterday he expects junior wide receiver Derrick Fenner (ankle) to play against Florida State.

Next for Maryland

Matchup: No. 5 Florida State (6-1, 4-1) vs. Maryland (3-4, 1-3)

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: Tomorrow, 3:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Florida State by 10 1/2

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