- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 11, 2006

For two decades, Miami was as magnetic as any program in college football.

If there was a game worth watching on a Saturday, chances were good Miami was involved. No team was so consistently loaded with as much NFL-caliber talent as the Hurricanes, and no program blended on-field results with off-field flash — for better and for worse.

With the exception of a brief dip in the 1990s, Miami was a must-see school. In some ways it remains that way for those who came of age during the Hurricanes’ dominance, including Maryland’s Danny Oquendo. The sophomore wide receiver admitted Tuesday he “might even be in awe for two minutes” when he stepped onto the field against the famous program.

“What wasn’t it?” Oquendo said. “It was everything. Attitude, winning, coaches, all-star players. They really had it all, especially in the ‘90s and ‘80s.”

But not anymore, and for more painful reasons than anyone could have imagined. The struggling Hurricanes who visit Maryland today are unranked and reeling from the death of defensive tackle Bryan Pata, who was shot and killed outside of his off-campus apartment Tuesday night.

Both teams will observe a moment of silence before the game at Byrd Stadium, and the rattled Hurricanes (5-4, 2-3 ACC) will wear “95” decals on their helmets in Pata’s honor for the rest of the season.

It is uncertain how Miami will respond to the three-year starter’s death. The Hurricanes could be exhausted after a draining week, or they could be emotionally charged after a trying four days.

“I really can’t control that, can I?” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. “I’m sure it’s going to be very emotional for them and I’m sure they’re going to be fired up.”

But so will the No. 23 Terrapins (7-2, 4-1), who share the Atlantic Division lead with Wake Forest and remain in contention for an ACC title.

Maryland is also ranked for the first time in more than two years, and is no longer quite so anonymous after a four-game winning streak punctuated by last week’s 13-12 victory at then-No. 19 Clemson.

“Coach Friedgen brought it up and he said ‘You’re ranked now, but if you lose you won’t be ranked,’ ” quarterback Sam Hollenbach said.

While Hollenbach’s steadiness in recent weeks — including a sturdy 139.86 passing efficiency in that span — has buoyed the Terps, Miami faces uncertainty at quarterback. Mobile redshirt sophomore Kirby Freeman will make his first career start as Kyle Wright nurses a cracked right thumb.

Yet elusive quarterbacks have flustered the Terps this season. West Virginia’s Pat White and Georgia Tech’s Reggie Ball caused enough headaches to help sink Maryland, while the agility of Virginia’s Jameel Sewell and Florida State’s Xavier Lee helped keep their teams in the game deep into the fourth quarter.

In addition to Freeman, the Hurricanes still possess a healthy amount of talent, including a rushing defense that has not permitted any team to top 100 yards this season. And there’s also the program’s image, which remains strong despite a rough season.

“It’s just The U. It’s amazing. Growing up, you’ve got Florida State and Miami and that’s only two teams you think about,” redshirt freshman wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey said back in September — when the Terps’ young receiver corps had not proved much and well before Maryland reeled off four straight victories — Florida State and Miami were simply names on a jersey.

It could turn out to be the most prescient analysis of the year. Maryland is on the verge of becoming the first team to sweep Florida State and Miami in a season since Florida in 1985 and the first program outside the Sunshine State to pull it off since Georgia Tech in 1975.

However, such historical nuggets don’t seem to mean much to the Terps, who have grown accustomed to their substance-over-style approach that is the antithesis of many past Miami teams.

“I don’t think we think we’re anything special yet,” Hollenbach said. “Once January rolls around, if we get to where we want to go, then we will. But right now, we could easily end up 7-6. We know we have a lot of hard work in front of us.”

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