- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2008

The process begins before daybreak on a raw winter morning as Maryland’s football players lumber into workouts with the hope of chasing an ACC championship.

Coach Ralph Friedgen is not bashful in expressing his expectations of a conference crown, the drought since his first foray at Maryland in 2001 growing deeper with each passing year. When the dream was dashed after Saturday’s humbling 37-3 loss to visiting Florida State, the Terrapins must face a stark truth: The central point of it all is no longer attainable.

The trouble is there’s a game left after coming so close to an Atlantic Division title. This isn’t like 2006, when Maryland was in it until the final game of the season. Or like last year, when an injury-riddled bunch was playing for a postseason destination - any postseason destination - upon November’s arrival.

The Terps (7-4, 4-3) must play at No. 20 Boston College (8-3, 4-3), a team still stalking the championship Maryland hoped to earn. With the season’s top priority gone, the Terps must find other meaningful reasons to keep going forward.

“That one big thing is out of the picture, but yet we have another game to play and another big bowl game to prepare for once we get this win,” cornerback Anthony Wiseman said. “We can still have a nice season - maybe not an ACC ring, but we just have to get prepared for Boston College.”

There is the element of spoiling the Eagles’ chances to consider. Boston College remained in contention for consecutive Atlantic titles when it won at Wake Forest; it would capture the division by beating the Terps. However, the Eagles will be without quarterback Chris Crane, who broke his collarbone Saturday; redshirt freshman Dominique Davis will make his first career start.

There’s also the possibility of sharing a division title with Florida State, although it would be a bit hollow considering their head-to-head loss ensures the Terps won’t head to Tampa, Fla., for the conference championship game.

But there is the matter of what lies beyond Saturday’s regular-season finale. Maryland will make its third straight postseason appearance, and where it lands could depend heavily on its performance against Boston College.

Play well - perhaps even knocking off a ranked team for the fifth time this season - and Maryland’s stock would improve. Have another clunker and stumble down the stretch with three losses in four games and the Terps could fall down the ACC’s pecking order.

“We’re playing for a good bowl at this point,” quarterback Chris Turner said. “Let’s be realistic: We don’t want to go to a cold bowl; we want to go to a warm bowl. For a lot of guys, that means a lot to us. We want to get out of Maryland and have a good time.”

There are other milestones. Maryland still could win nine games, a plateau that could earn the program consideration for its last end-of-season ranking since 2003. The Terps also could post multiple road victories against ranked teams for the first time since 1990.

Ultimately, the most important thing is the Terps’ opportunity to make the best of a season that’s lacking its primary prize.

“It’s disappointing, obviously,” linebacker Alex Wujciak said. “We can fold or call it quits now, but we’re not going to do that. We’re going to come out here and play these last games like they’re our last. For some people, it could be their last games.”

Note - Friedgen said defensive tackle Dion Armstrong will be examined Monday. Armstrong was walking gingerly as he was helped to the locker room Saturday.

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