Maryland gets golden chance to school ACC's new bully

November 06, 2008|By DAVID STEELE | DAVID STEELE,

Week by week, Ralph Friedgen is training himself and his Maryland players to be the most nearsighted football team in America. Good for them, especially this week. That allows the rest of us to cast our gaze far and wide, toward what the Terps can accomplish by beating Virginia Tech in Blacksburg tonight.

On top of that list: making a statement that this program - as representatives of the old Atlantic Coast Conference basketball aristocracy undercut by the football expansion that included Virginia Tech - can beat the interlopers at their own game.

Of course, that's exactly what Friedgen doesn't want to play up for tonight, not after seeing the Terps get ahead of themselves, not just this season but also in previous years in which they seemed close to serious annual ACC and national contention. Too much is at stake in the immediate future, such as their division lead and their conference title game chances.

"I don't look at it as new expansion or old expansion," he said this week. "I just look at it as a team we've got to beat to achieve what we want to achieve."

Nevertheless, the team the Terps have to beat represents a lot. Of the three additions before the 2004 season (along with Miami and Boston College), Virginia Tech has held up its end of the bargain best, with two of the four automatic Bowl Championship Series bids from the ACC. Even if it hasn't stayed in the national championship picture, it remains among the handful of teams with which the college football world identifies the ACC.

Meanwhile, don't believe anyone who tells you the ACC's old guard doesn't swell up with pride when one of their own beats one of the newcomers in football - just as you shouldn't believe anyone who says the old guard doesn't deflate when the newcomers win in basketball.

Maryland's winning at Lane Stadium, on national television, would go a long way toward continuing the leveling of the ACC playing field, at least in perception. The mere act of winning in a place, and at a time, at which Virginia Tech rarely loses would be something that could never be taken from the Terps. The Hokies are 14-3 in this Thursday night national spotlight - including 8-2 at home and 2-0 over Maryland.

It will be a long time before anyone associated with Maryland forgets those two. The first was in 2004, the 55-6 flogging in Blacksburg that famously drove Friedgen to curse during the live halftime TV interview. The other was a year later, a colossal 28-9 letdown at Byrd Stadium. They were two of the signature losses that had the faithful wondering where the promise of Friedgen's first three seasons had gone.

Friedgen knew it at the time. He said this, days after the shellacking in 2004: "I think it's very important for our players to understand, especially our young players, what it's going to take to be a competitive football team in this league right now."

A win tonight would indicate that Maryland did, in fact, long afterward, figure out what it took.

Yet Friedgen has learned a lesson of his own along the way. This season, he told of breaking a practice huddle with a shout of "ACC champs!" - and having the players basically tell him to shut his cakehole because that was too far away to talk about.

"They were right on," he said this week, "and I'm going to hold them to it."

Keep the focus tight. The repercussions - for Maryland, the ACC and college football if the Terps win tonight - will take care of themselves.

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).


Tonight, 7:30


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Line: Virginia Tech by 3

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