- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2004

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen sees his team’s two straight bowl victories and three 10-win seasons as nothing more than a start.

With the Terrapins expecting another standout recruiting class for next year, Friedgen envisions Maryland joining the nation’s elite.

Then again, the Terps are nearly there now. No.23 Maryland (10-3) should jump in the final college football polls following its 41-7 Gator Bowl victory over West Virginia on Thursday. The Terps join only Texas, Oklahoma, Miami and Washington State as teams with at least 10 victories in each of the past three seasons, and the first three of those teams are considered national powers.

“How any times has Maryland been in the same breath as those people?” Friedgen said. “We’re starting to make a move right now.”

The Terps were a controversial overtime road loss and an injured quarterback away from a 12-1 record and an ACC title that would have landed them a BCS bowl bid. Instead, they settled for winning 10 of 11 after an 0-2 start and claimed the ACC runner-up spot. The Terps won their first game in January since 1952 and set 10 team bowl records.

Considering Friedgen needed to motivate a team sometimes spoiled by its past success, the strong finish was remarkable. Maryland played its best after falling to 5-3 with a 7-3 loss at Georgia Tech on Oct.23.

“I worked hard this season,” Friedgen said. “It’s been a drain on me. This was in some ways a hard team to motivate, but in the same tone it might be more rewarding. This team could have gone the other way very easily. We lost to Georgia Tech and knew it knocked us out of the [ACC] championship, and they kept hanging in there. I may be as proud of this team as much as any because of the struggles, and we still won 10 football games and are a bowl champion.”

The Terps are integrating some of Friedgen’s recruits into key roles, but another year is needed before it’s truly his team. Senior quarterback Scott McBrien and running back Bruce Perry will be replaced by two Friedgen recruits, Joel Statham and Josh Allen, respectively. Freshman tight end Vernon Davis could be a prominent receiver next season after his 28-yard catch against West Virginia.

“They’re going to be young next year, but these young guys have experience,” Perry said. “Thirty-one wins in three years — it’s on the rise. It’s going to keep going up.”

Replacing McBrien will be Maryland’s biggest challenge. Statham is the clear front-runner, though spring practice will help determine McBrien’s heir. Getting someone to run the offense like the two-time bowl MVP, who finished the season with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions in five straight wins, will be difficult.

McBrien often was overshadowed by prominent ACC quarterbacks, but he knew Friedgen’s complex offense. Statham has a strong arm but was tentative in his brief appearances. Working with the starters certainly will help, but Statham could struggle early like McBrien did in 2002.

Replacing the four seniors in the ACC’s best secondary could be a nightmare, though most of the conference’s top passers also will graduate. Junior defensive tackle Randy Starks will decide whether to turn pro in coming weeks. Receivers Jafar Williams and Latrez Harrison, tight end Jeff Dugan and guard Lamar Bryant will be hard to replace.

However, Maryland has several good receivers in Steve Suter, Rich Parson and Derrick Fenner and a solid runner in Allen, so the Terps won’t need to rely on Statham as much as they did on McBrien’s playmaking ability. Kicker Nick Novak is among the nation’s best.

With Big East powers Miami and Virginia Tech joining the ACC next season and Boston College still a possibility, Maryland has to improve or the Terps will fall to middle of the pack. That is why Friedgen is hoping more help is on the way.

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