Just like last season, the Maryland football team receives a crack at bowl eligibility when it meets N.C. State on Saturday.
This time around, though, the possibilities are far greater.
The Terrapins hauled a losing record into their season finale against the Wolfpack last year, a win needed to secure a berth to whatever postseason game would take them. Maryland summoned its most complete game of the year, demolishing N.C. State 37-0 to wind up in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco.
Yet while a sixth victory is at stake at Byrd Stadium, it´s merely one accomplishment for a team believing it can do quite more.
“We´re thinking big bowls this year,” quarterback Chris Turner said. “We´re thinking somewhere warm this year. I think that´s the biggest difference.”
For as up-and-down as the Terps (5-2, 2-1 ACC) were in the first half this season, it´s easy to forget they can place themselves in the postseason picture much faster than a year ago. In addition, they remain in a four-way tie atop the conference´s Atlantic Division, a scrum that shows no signs of abating anytime soon.
It´s a stark contrast to a year ago, when Maryland was for all practical purposes eliminated from the league title chase before November arrived. The Terps were riddled with injuries and just as apt to produce a clunker as an inspired performance once several players were lost for the season.
While Maryland is no more predictable now than then, it is not faced with nearly as many catastrophic injuries. Losing cornerback Kevin Barnes (broken shoulder blade) for the season this week is a setback, but he is the only opening-week starter who was declared out for the meeting with the Wolfpack (2-5, 0-3).
The more complete roster, last week´s shutout of Wake Forest and developments elsewhere in the league have rendered six wins a far less momentous milestone than in past years.
“No offense, bowl eligibility wasn´t my goal for the season,” linebacker Dave Philistin said. “It wasn´t, ‘Let´s get six wins and we´re going somewhere, even if it´s Boise or maybe the Washington bowl.´ My goal was to win the ACC and proceed to the Orange Bowl.”
In some ways, that is a similarity to coach Ralph Friedgen´s second and third teams at Maryland. In the wake of an ACC title in Friedgen´s debut season, bowl eligibility became more commonplace in College Park and was eventually expected.
A pair of losing seasons changed that, and the sixth victory in 2006 was a significant step. Last year, a postseason berth was merely a coveted reward for enduring a spell of setbacks over a two-month stretch.
“I just think our mentality was different last season,” center Edwin Williams said. “It was more like a survival state.”
Now, the Terps face a different sort of survival. Sharing the division perch with Boston College, Florida State and Wake Forest means countless permutations are possible, especially with several head-to-head games among division contenders remaining.
Those are for Friedgen to fret about. He mentioned to his players this week about how Florida State-Virginia Tech and Boston College-North Carolina could influence Maryland´s status.