Heaping bowlful of hope for UM

At No. 23 after beating Clemson, Terps eyeing ACC championship

November 06, 2006|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun reporter

CLEMSON, S.C. -- As the Maryland football players trickled out of the visiting locker room Saturday and made their way to the team buses, a small crowd of fans lingered in the cold to congratulate them on their stunning 13-12 win over then-No. 19 Clemson.

The fans weren't the only ones there with a vested interest.

Representatives from the Gator Bowl and Champs Sports Bowl watched from the press box as the Terrapins earned their seventh win of the season and solidified a bowl appearance for the first time in three years.

And yesterday the team cracked the Top 25 rankings - coming in at No. 23 - for the first time since the middle of the 2003 season.

FOR THE RECORD - In the sports section yesterday, it was incorrectly reported that, before Sunday, the last time the Maryland football team was in the Top 25 rankings was in the middle of the 2003 season. The Terps were last ranked Oct. 9, 2004, at No. 23.
The same article also incorrectly indicated that the Bowl Championship Series has the first pick of teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Gator Bowl has the second. The BCS automatically places the ACC champion in one of its five bowl games. The Peach Bowl then has its choice of ACC teams, followed by the Gator Bowl.
THE SUN REGRETS THE ERRORS

Though some outside the program have been discussing possible postseason scenarios, those within it have been cautious about celebrating and reluctant to think - or talk - about the possibilities. Instead, the Terps have readjusted their goals. In a two-week span, Maryland's notion of success skyrocketed from six wins to the ACC championship - which guarantees the winner an automatic berth in one of five Bowl Championship Series games.

After all, they don't want to go to just any bowl.

"We're not done, nearly," defensive lineman Jeremy Navarre said. "The bowl is locked in now, but how good a bowl we're going to go to is what we're thinking about now.

"We got six wins, that's one goal down," he said. "You have to re-establish your goals once you accomplish them when you've got time left like this. Now we're thinking ACC championship. That's our mind-set. Anything less than that, we're not going to be happy with."

After four straight conference wins, the Terrapins (7-2, 4-1 ACC) are in a tie with Wake Forest (8-1, 4-1) for first place in the Atlantic Division. A struggling Miami team is coming to College Park on Saturday with a 2-3 league record, and Maryland has a legitimate shot at sustaining its surprising momentum.

Senior Dan Ennis, who kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired Saturday, said he doesn't think the team could be more unified than it is now.

"It's a great position to be in, especially with ACC championship hopes in mind," he said. "You can never be satisfied with what you have. You always have to set new goals. At this point we still have our sights set on bigger and better goals. This game was one step to get to the goal."

Still, quarterback Sam Hollenbach remained levelheaded about his team's position.

"Bowl eligibility is great, especially with seven wins," he said. "That's what we thought it would take, but at the same time you want to guard yourself against a letdown. We have three games left in the regular season. When Monday rolls around, it's going to be all business and we've got to get ready for win No. 8."

The fact that this team is even in a position to get an eighth win is quite a turnaround. In the third game of the season, Maryland fell behind 28-0 in the first quarter to West Virginia, an embarrassing start on national television for a program trying to recoup from back-to-back 5-6 seasons. That game was followed by a 14-10 win against Florida International, in which Maryland nearly lost to a team it was expected to trounce.

There was also the 20-point deficit against a subpar Virginia team, but the relentless Terps came back to win, 28-26, and haven't lost since.

They've made it interesting, though, winning the past four games by a combined 12 points. Maryland senior cornerback Josh Wilson described his team's recent success as "magic."

"It's huge for the program and our confidence and where we came at the beginning of the year - West Virginia, Florida International - everybody saying we may not be able to do it," he said. "Just to keep going and keep this momentum and this magic going ... It's exciting out there every game. We get better every day."

Ed Bender, a member of the Gator Bowl committee, saw the Terps keep the top offense in the league out of the end zone. The BCS has the first pick of teams from the ACC, but the Gator Bowl is second.

"We're looking for a strong team with a good record," he said. "Of course, Maryland came three years ago, traveled very well and represented the ACC very well. Basically, the name of the game is keep winning."

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said that's his main focus.

"Right now I'm worried about Miami," he said yesterday. "That will be my bowl game."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

>>>Miami@Maryland Saturday, 3:30 p.m., chs. 2, 7, 1300 AM, 105.7 FM Line: Maryland by 2 1/2

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