Terps picked 5th in ACC's 6-team Atlantic

Friedgen eager to rebuild after fall to 5-6

Va. Tech, Fla. State early favorites

College Football

July 26, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

HOT SPRINGS, Va. - A year ago, a rebuilding Virginia Tech football team was picked by many to finish toward the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference and Maryland, riding the crest of three straight seasons with at least 10 wins, was still being given a fair amount of respect.

What happened? The Hokies, playing their first season in the ACC after coming over from the Big East, finished 10-3 and leapfrogged over perennial powers Florida State and Miami to win the league. Meanwhile, the Terrapins were among the biggest disappointments, falling to 5-6.

This year's preseason poll of media gathered at The Homestead resort reflected the current status of both programs: Virginia Tech was announced yesterday as overwhelming favorite to win the Coastal Division, and Maryland finished fifth in the voting among six teams in the Atlantic Division.

"I'm kind of happy where I'm picked," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. "Last time we were picked there, we won the league [in 2001]. When we went to the Super Bowl [with the San Diego Chargers], we were picked 28th out of 28 teams in the NFL. And last year Virginia Tech wasn't picked very high."

The Hokies were not the only team to benefit from what they accomplished last season. Boston College, which this year moves over from the Big East to complete the ACC's transition to a two-division, 12-team league, was picked to finish second in the Atlantic Division, behind only Florida State.

"We don't put any stock in that poll one way or another," said Boston College coach Tom O'Brien, a former assistant at Virginia. "I think it's a situation that you all picked Virginia Tech so low last year and then kind of bloodied your nose with what they did that nobody wanted to make the same mistake twice."

There were few surprises.

That North Carolina State and Clemson received first-place votes in the Atlantic Division - the Wolfpack got two and the Tigers one - seemed one of the few oddities, given that neither team contended last season, finishing tied for seventh and sixth, respectively.

What also was a bit shocking was that a voting body that tends to look askance at newcomers chose Boston College defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka over Florida State tailback Leon Washington as the league's Preseason Player of the Year. Senior linebacker D'Qwell Jackson was the only Maryland player picked to be all-conference.

The new divisional format, and the league's first championship game, has created more excitement than uncertainty among the coaches.

"I think the championship game will be awesome," Friedgen said. "Just the fact that we've already been moved to prime time, I think the networks are telling you the respect they have for the ACC."

The Terrapins will be a long shot to reach that game, scheduled for Jacksonville, Fla., on Dec. 3, with the winner guaranteed a BCS invitation. But stranger things have happened, such as Maryland winning 10 games in Friedgen's first season and playing in the Orange Bowl.

After two more 10-win seasons, and two more bowl invitations, last year was something of a shock in College Park.

"It was the first losing season I've had in something like 18 years," Friedgen said. "I guess I was due, who knows? We weren't as good as what we should have been, we were probably better the other years than we should have been. I think our kids realize now that you've got to do the little things for the big things to happen."

NOTES: Friedgen reiterated that junior Sam Hollenbach, who began last season as the team's fourth-string quarterback and ended it by leading Maryland to a victory in the final game over Wake Forest, remains at the top of the depth chart going into preseason practice. "It's his job to lose," Friedgen said. Sophomore quarterback Jordan Steffy, coming off knee and arm surgery, is expected to be ready when the team opens camp next month and will be given a chance to compete with Hollenbach.

ACC preseason media poll

Members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association cast their preseason ballots yesterday at the 2005 ACC Football Kickoff. The results:

Atlantic Division

Team (1st-place votes) Total

1. Florida State (65) 522

2. Boston College (24) 458

3. N.C. State (2) 346

4. Clemson (1) 265

5. Maryland 222

6. Wake Forest 119

Coastal Division

Team (1st-place votes) Total

1. Virginia Tech (62) 517

2. Miami (29) 487

3. Virginia (1) 356

4. Georgia Tech 281

5. North Carolina 197

6. Duke 94

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