- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2006

There might be no number more magical to a college football program coming off a few down years than six.

It’s the number of victories nearly every team needs to become bowl eligible, a ticket to think of a distant locale and another game rather than staring at the prospect of offseason workouts and a nine-month wait before playing again.

Maryland, stuck just shy of the postseason the last two years, has piled up five victories a bit faster this fall. Nearly half the season remains, leaving room for dreams far greater than playing on the blue turf of Boise in December.

No. 6, though, is a priority for the Terrapins (5-2, 2-1 ACC), who receive their first chance to secure bowl eligibility tonight when Florida State (4-3, 2-3) visits Byrd Stadium.

“Everybody’s like ‘Why can’t you get to six?’ ” wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said. “We have a chance to do six midway through the season. To get it out of the way would be big, so we don’t have to worry about it anymore, don’t have to answer questions anymore about it. If we get six, then everybody will be talking about ‘Now, can you get 10?’ I’d rather hear about 10 than worry about six.”

Clearly, the Terps have greater things in mind for their season, especially when they peer at the ACC’s parity-ravaged Atlantic Division. The division race took another odd turn Thursday when Virginia Tech shellacked front-runner Clemson, leaving Boston College, Maryland and Wake Forest as the only Atlantic teams with one league loss.

With a month remaining in the season and any attempts to divine the division race murky at best, it seems a bit early to suggest anyone specific could play for the conference title. But a sixth win — and with it likelihood of a postseason berth — would probably make picking up future victories a bit easier.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. …,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “I think we have our hands full just concentrating on this game. The more we win, the more each game will become important.”

Tonight is already important for the Seminoles, the once-vaunted national power who have battled tough luck, injuries and inexperience while losing nearly as many league games in a 36-day span (three) as they did in their first 10 years in the ACC (four).

The Terps remained vigilant all week about respecting the Seminoles, though recent history has taught them not to view Florida State as a team of immortals, either. Maryland pulled a 20-17 shocker two years ago at Byrd, then led at halftime last year before a mistake-filled second half led to a 35-27 loss.

“A couple years ago, we might have been a little intimidated by them,” guard Donnie Woods said. “Over the years, we’ve started to know we can play with them. On the other side of it, they’re going to come up here wanting to put us back down to where they think we belong.”

Added Friedgen: “I think they’re upset now and they’re going to play real hard. I think I got them at the worst possible time ever.”

Friedgen also faces a curious offensive matchup. The Seminoles are stingy against the run, and Maryland tailbacks Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore probably won’t find quite as much space to maneuver tonight. However, Florida State has proved susceptible to the pass with its young secondary.

That could lead to a breakout game for the Terps’ passing attack, which has remained restrained for much of the season. Quarterback Sam Hollenbach attempted only nine passes last week, but will almost certainly be forced to air it out more to a group of eager young receivers.

“They do a great job stopping the run and they like to go zero coverage, which gives the receivers a chance to go one-on-one, and you have to be able to beat one-on-one coverage,” wideout Isaiah Williams said. “That’s every receiver’s dream and it’s our chance to do it. It’s a big stage.”

Big enough that it could propel the Terps to a greater season than many expected when the team convened for camp more than two months ago.

For it to become a reality, though, Maryland must quickly secure that sixth victory that eluded it the last two years.

“We have a tough schedule and we knew that going in,” Hollenbach said. “We need to get the wins where we can get them. Our goal is not to get to six and then we’re all right and we can coast through. That’s not the point of our season.”

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