- The Washington Times - Monday, September 2, 2002

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.
It's fortunate that last night's 20th Kickoff Classic was the last because of new NCAA rules prohibiting such preseason skirmishes. That way nobody can blame the Maryland Terrapins for killing it off.
Notre Dame's 22-0 victory was about as un-Classic as you can get. You couldn't blame hordes of Marylanders in the Giants Stadium throng of 72,903 for wanting to escape early to I-95 south or the nearest bar, whichever appeared first.
Nobody is suggesting that last season's NCAA Cinderella coach, Ralph Friedgen, has turned into a pumpkin, but this Maryland team isn't going to frolic through a 10-1 regular season even with certified non-powers Akron and Wofford on the schedule. It may be a quite a while before the Terps scare anybody except fans who bought season tickets on the premise that Friedgen's second season would be another mostly joyful romp.
But first things first, no matter how ugly. Against a Notre Dame team that doesn't appear particularly tough in Tyrone Willingham's first coaching season, Maryland's offense puttered and sputtered like the worst of the Joe Krivak-Mark Duffner-Ron Vanderlinden outfits that polluted the College Park air from 1987 though 2001.
It isn't Friedgen's fault that quarterback Shaun Hill graduated after last season or that tailback Bruce Perry, the 2001 ACC offensive player of the year, presently is hors de combat because of a pulled groin. The fact remains, however, that starting quarterback Scott McBrien and tailbacks Jason Crawford and Mario Merrills had no luck at all advancing the ball as Notre Dame piled up a 356-133 edge in net yardage.
It didn't help either that Carlyle Holiday, Notre Dame's elusive junior quarterback, passed for 226 yards while setting up a school-record five field goals by Nick Setta, the Fighting Irish's version of Big Foot.
With the Terps in arrears 16-0 in the third quarter, Friedgen finally summoned his alternate quarterback, sophomore Chris Kelley. And if you're looking for a symbol of everything that went wrong with Maryland's offense, how about this? On his first play, Kelley was sacked for a 9-yard loss.
What's that you want more sad symbolism? Well, on his first of many efforts, Maryland's career punting leader, Brooks Barnard, boomed a 7-yarder that missed equaling his career average by a scant 37 yards. And when McBrien returned in the waning minutes, he promptly suffered his third interception of the evening.
It was one of those nights, folks and it suggested that the Terps haven't come close to completing the l-o-o-n-g leap from patsy to powerhouse. This was a big game because of Notre Dame's unmatched football tradition, but Maryland came up very small. Invisible might be more like it.
And what else is new? Over the decades, even some of the Terps' toughest outfits have tended to vanish like presumed Meadowlands resident Jimmy Hoffa in key games. Even last fall, the Terps showed few signs of ranking among the nation's true elite.
Yes, they ended lengthy runs of futility in the ACC by dispatching Clemson, which had won the last eight games of the series; Georgia Tech, against which Maryland had been 3-10 since 1989; and North Carolina, which had licked the Terps seven of the last eight times. But Maryland's two losses were more one-sided than the Spanish-American War: 52-31 to Florida State during the regular season, and 56-23 to Florida in the Orange Bowl.
If you're scoring at home, that's a miserable minus-27 average against these two perennial bullies. The Terps don't play the Gators that often, thank heaven, but the Seminoles have whacked Maryland by an average of 36 points in 10 non-contests since 1992. Ouch!
It would be extremely prudent, therefore, for Terps fans to hold off with the "we're No.1" chants until Maryland proves it can consistently beat or even compete against top opposition. At this point, "we're No.20" seems like a more realistic goal for the next couple of seasons.
A better (and possibly even more painful) test probably will come in Week3, when Florida State tomahawk chops its way into Byrd Stadium. (In between the two games, Maryland plays Akron, which is sort of like the United States confronting the Soviet Union, the Canary Islands and China in that order during Cold War days.)
So let's not start pipe dreaming that Maryland football soon will collect the kind of national championship and national acclaim earned so proudly by Gary Williams' basketball brigade last spring. But that's nothing for Friedgen's troops to be ashamed of, despite last night's licking, because even the suggestion would have brought snickers one short year ago.
The Terps should be grateful for small blessings and forget their smelly trip to the Jersey swamps as soon as possible.


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