UM seeks win against N.C. State, bowl berth


COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen was curious about something this week, so during a team meeting, he asked any player who had been around for the Terps' trip to the Gator Bowl two seasons ago to stand up.

Only 15 players got out of their seat.

"That was kind of sobering for me," Friedgen said. "They don't really know what [bowl games] are all about."

Clearly, these are not the Maryland Terrapins of several years ago. Though Friedgen's first three teams won 31 games and played in three New Year's Day bowl games, the program has gone just 10-11 since. Young players have been thrust onto the field early and often, and while the results have been encouraging at times, they have been, in the end, mostly frustrating.

As a result, it can easily be argued that tomorrow's game against North Carolina State in Raleigh represents a tipping point for the program. With a win, it's almost certain that Maryland (5-5, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) will garner an invitation to a postseason bowl game, restoring the momentum the Terps have built up in five seasons under Friedgen.

But with a loss, at the very least, perception of the program may change a bit. Maryland would join Duke and Wake Forest as the only ACC teams to post back-to-back losing seasons the past two years. Questions about whether the Terps can compete in the new-look ACC now that Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College have joined the league would only grow louder. And keeping the best local recruits from signing elsewhere would only grow more difficult.

"Recruits don't want to go somewhere where they're sitting at home watching bowl games on TV," said Maryland cornerback Josh Wilson. "They want to be playing."

Bowl games, at least until Division I gets serious about the idea of a playoff, are still the way college football programs measure success.

"A bowl game for us means everything," Wilson said. "It's like going to the playoffs. ... We've taken for granted what a great accomplishment it is, and now it's time to get back."

Friedgen said Wednesday that he spoke with ACC executives this week, and they told him the league was expected to get eight postseason bowl invitations. Win against the Wolfpack, Friedgen was told, and you're in.

"They just won't tell me where," Friedgen said.

The most likely scenario appears to be that Maryland would play Utah in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco on Dec. 28. Utah has already been extended an invitation and Emerald Bowl officials have agreed to take an ACC team (preferably the winner of the Maryland-N.C. State game) if the Pacific-10 can't come up with enough bowl-eligible teams.

If Arizona State were to beat Arizona today, and Stanford were to beat Notre Dame tomorrow, both of those schools would become bowl-eligible, and Maryland might then end up in the Music City Bowl in Nashville. The Music City Bowl has agreed to take an ACC team this year - one year before the bowl was scheduled to enter into an official deal with the league - because the SEC doesn't have enough bowl-eligible teams to fulfill its eight contracts. If the Terps win, they should know for sure where they're going by Monday.

Friedgen said he wouldn't go so far as to call the season a disappointment if Maryland doesn't end up in a bowl game, if only because he feels this year's team has worked hard enough to get there. Last year's team bickered internally at times, it didn't always listen to the coaching staff, and the offense was dreadful most of the season. This year's squad is much different."

"I'm kind of pulling for these guys. That's how I feel," Friedgen said. "They've worked so hard. They're deserving of [a bowl]. I've been on teams that have won more but haven't worked as hard. That's kind of a frustrating thing from my standpoint."

Regardless, none of the Maryland players want to spend the holidays the way they did last year, wondering what might have been.

"I remember watching some of those games, especially some of the games we would have been eligible for, and thinking that we should have been there," said Terps punter Adam Podlesh. "But things didn't go our way, we didn't have the season we wanted to, and that makes you want to go even more this time so you're not sitting on your couch again."

NOTES -- Terps linebacker D'Qwell Jackson was named one of three finalists for the Bednarik Award this week, given to the Defensive Player of Year in college football. Maryland tight end Vernon Davis was also named a finalist for the John Mackey Award, given to college football's best tight end. ... Friedgen said freshman quarterback Chris Turner will serve as the team's third-string signal caller tomorrow because Jordan Steffy is sick with strep throat. Turner is redshirting this season. ... Keon Lattimore is expected to miss the game as well with a shoulder injury.

Maryland @N.C. State

Tomorrow, noon, ESPN, 1300 AM, 105.7 FM Line: N.C. State by 3

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