- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 29, 2008

This, of all seasons, was supposed to set up splendidly for Maryland’s football program. Thirty seniors, no dominant team in the ACC and a remarkable penchant for playing well at the most unexpected moments.

It all arrived at a jarring collapse a week ago, a 37-3 stinker of a senior send-off at Byrd Stadium against Florida State to eliminate the Terrapins from the ACC title race and send players scurrying into the late November night with their most hollow feeling of the season.

“It was just brutal on the morale,” senior defensive tackle Dean Muhtadi said. “Probably half of us seniors had nightmares the night of the game. It was horrible. I don’t think it really sunk in to most of us until Sunday when we were just sitting around in our rooms. It’s a terrible feeling, but we also know the season’s not over.”

That’s the rub facing Maryland (7-4, 4-3), which visits No. 20 Boston College (8-3, 4-3) on Saturday. Unlike 2005 and 2007, when bowl eligibility was at stake - or 2006, when a spot in ACC title game could be clinched - there’s still a game to play without a major accomplishment to secure in the process.

Yes, the Terps can share a division title with Florida State, although the Seminoles would head to the championship game because of last week’s victory. And there’s always the matter of solidifying a place in the conference’s bowl pecking order; chances are, a victory ensures Maryland avoids a second straight postseason trip west.

But more than anything, the greatest possible achievement is to purge last week’s lousy memories and replace them with the welcome thought of two 8-4 regular seasons in three years.

“It’s not an ACC championship and it’s not a trip to Tampa, but eight wins is respectable,” quarterback Chris Turner said. “I think it’s something we can be proud of and our fans can be proud of.”

Yet there remains the matter of shrugging off last week’s loss. In most circumstances, a quick return to form might be expected. Maryland has followed its past six losses with victories, its resilience serving as a counterweight to consistency issues.

But when Maryland lost in ugly fashion to Middle Tennessee and Virginia and was dominated at Virginia Tech, it still could chase a conference title. Not anymore.

“I think we’re all hurting,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “I think our players are hurting, I know I am and I know our coaches are right now. There’s nothing we can do about it now. We missed an opportunity that we had.”

The Terps are left to try to create some differentiation from the conference scrum while showing off for possible bowl suitors. A victory gives Maryland a winning record in the ACC and a win to close out the season, inviting traits for postseason games struggling to measure the league’s schools against each other.

Although any team at 4-4 or better in conference play could be picked over Maryland - and there’s a chance that as many as 11 schools could break even in the ACC - Friedgen hopes the perception value of a little separation would help his program.

“I don’t think we want to be where everybody else is,” he said. “I think there’s a lot to play for.”

There are simple pleasures involved as well. Boston College is attempting to lock up the division title Maryland longed for; the Terps would inflict just as much pain defeating the Eagles as they suffered a week ago.

Boston College redshirt freshman quarterback Dominique Davis will make his first career start in place of the injured Chris Crane. Maryland is 4-0 against ranked teams this season and, dating to last season, has collected six straight victories against top-25 opponents.

Both are interesting subplots, but neither is as important as moving on from arguably the most shattering game of the season.

“I just want to get this win,” Muhtadi said. “We had our freakin’ senior day ruined. I’d hate to ruin somebody else’s, but things happen.”

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