Maryland still stepping up

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The diagnosis of the Maryland football team’s multiple personality disorder was floated weeks ago.

Coach Ralph Friedgen displayed the slightest glimmer of accepting it Saturday, joking that a November schedule littered with possible ranked teams actually might play in the Terrapins‘ favor.

Trouble is, unranked N.C. State’s visit Saturday to Byrd Stadium precedes Maryland’s closing stretch.

The Terps (5-2, 2-1 ACC) were willing to laugh about their tendency to play to their opponent’s perceived level after throttling then No. 21 Wake Forest 26-0, even if they’re not quite sure why it happens.

It was Maryland’s fifth straight victory over a ranked team dating back to last year’s toppling of Rutgers, a sharp contrast to a 4-7 record against everyone else since then.

“I know every Top 25 team [we play] we beat, but we should do that to every team,” linebacker Dave Philistin said after Maryland held Wake Forest to 219 yards of offense. “Maybe you guys can find a way to rank ‘em up. Tell us some good stuff about them. Like their offense is ranked second in the NCAA - something to throw us off.”

No such luck. The Wolfpack (2-5, 0-3 ACC) are the only team in the league without a conference victory and rank 103rd nationally in total defense and 112th in total offense.

For a conventional team, those might be welcome numbers. Maryland, if it has demonstrated anything to date, is anything but conventional.

“Please, man, gas them up,” Philistin pleaded. “Tell us something, even if it’s a lie.”

Very well - but only the truth. N.C. State did upend East Carolina when the Pirates were ranked and unbeaten. The Wolfpack tested Boston College and Florida State in conference games this month. And Tom O’Brien’s team is not nearly as discombobulated a bunch when redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Wilson is playing.

Yet there isn’t enough spilled ink to change the Wolfpack’s record. More significantly for the Terps, there is no way to insert a ranking number before their next opponent’s name.

Maryland’s two most impressive performances this season came in victories over well-regarded California and Wake Forest. And the Terps’ most stirring script so far was a second-half rally to send Clemson reeling from the rankings.

Even the quarterback seems to fluctuate with the opponent. In five career games against ranked teams, junior Chris Turner owns a 68.6 completion percentage to go with seven touchdowns and no interceptions, leaving at least the impression Maryland is a different team against supposedly tougher tests.

“It seems that way, doesn’t it?” said Turner, whose career passer rating is 155.07 against ranked teams but 121.49 against everyone else. “We definitely do step up against the better teams. I don’t think we necessarily take teams lightly.”

Maybe not. Still, it’s hard to fully grasp just why the Terps’ better selves show up against their best opponents.

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