- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Ralph Friedgen is promising to work himself into a lather this week in response to the feel-good presence of a lightweight on the football schedule.

Duke is the ACC's favorite homecoming opponent, and so it is this weekend in College Park. Corsages go better with a beating.

"I'll be an intense sucker this week," Friedgen said yesterday. "When I get intense, it's not a pretty sight."

That should be taken as a serious threat, considering the wide-lens sight of the Maryland football coach on his best days.

Good things don't just come in small packages.

Friedgen is refusing to take bows at the moment, possibly because history has reduced his chances at the top to precious few. Two more victories will put the Terps in the Peach Bowl, three in the Gator Bowl and four in the BCS morass. Duke and Troy State meet two of the four conditions. Clemson and N.C. State are negotiable, Florida State the unwanted intrusion to an otherwise improbable tale.

Friedgen is the former career assistant coach who was encouraged to think that competence is a beauty contest after being put on eternal hold for so many years. It helped that the Maryland athletic department was desperate enough to see beyond the obvious, the football program so far down that you couldn't find it without an excavation crew.

Six games later, the Terps are No. 12 in the Associated Press poll, their highest ranking since 1985, and Byrd Stadium is a fashionable venue again.

Duke is next up, the formality before the Terps push their record to 7-0 and an away date with Florida State. The Seminoles defeated the Terps 59-7 last season. Longer memories are necessary to recall that Duke upset the Terps two years ago. It was homecoming then, too. Friedgen is sounding that word of caution to his players this week, measured as it is against the Blue Devils' 18-game losing streak.

He is impressed with a number of Duke players; impressed with how Duke rallied against Wake Forest before losing 42-35; impressed with so many things. He must be studying the tape of Mike Krzyzewski's contingent.

"Duke is more than capable of beating us," Friedgen said. "We have to be ready to play. Or we're not going to be very happy."

Happiness is an increasingly relative condition in College Park. Six victories would have been deemed sufficient prior to the season. Six victories are now so much clearing of the throat.

An element of luck, a weak nonconference schedule and a down year in the ACC have contributed to the Terps' coming-out party.

The game in Atlanta last week came with a trace of luck, if Joe Burns forgetting where he was on the field qualifies as luck. He ran out of bounds to stop the clock, the dare to be special the Terps accepted.

"I know we were [lucky]," Friedgen said. "I'm not shy to tell you that."

Shy wouldn't fit the person, not unlike clothes off the rack.

Friedgen meets with fans the Friday before each home game, the occasion dubbed "Breakfast with Fridge." A sense of humor tempers first impressions. The football team is doing the rest.

Friedgen has made his reputation on offense. Yet it is the Terps defense that has been extremely hard on opponents. The Terps have held opponents to 14.7 points a game, the 10th-best mark in Division I-A football. The defense, led by Tony Okanlawon's five interceptions, has forced 21 turnovers, resulting in a plus-2.33 turnover-margin average.

The Terps are one of the 11 remaining unbeaten teams in Division I-A, coming off the program's biggest victory since forever, stoking unthinkable expectations.

Their ascent comes at a good time, given the demise of the Redskins.

At least there is one quality football team in the area. It probably is too late for the Redskins to get Duke on the schedule.

To hear Friedgen tell it, Duke is not half bad. Duke is not half good, either.

As soon as Duke rolls over, Friedgen's next assignment will be to undo the Terps' dark history against Florida State.

If he achieves that, Friedgen just might be able to walk on water.

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