- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2006

Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach caught up with a handful of former teammates in the days before Saturday night’s game against Florida State and was told to enjoy the opportunity awaiting him.

It was the kind of game that had been absent the last two years in College Park, a nationally televised and significant late season tussle with the promise that a victory would compound the importance of the next game.

“Being a fifth-year guy, a lot of my friends and guys I came with, they’re out now,” Hollenbach said. “I’m talking with them, and they’re saying, ‘Man, we wish we could be there right now.’ ”

Imagine how the alums felt after the Terrapins’ 27-24 victory over the Seminoles set off bedlam at Byrd Stadium. They’re talking about bowl eligibility, a slippery prize that seemed to elude the Terps every time they neared it the last two years. And not just the barely-squeezing-into-the-postseason bowl games reserved for middling mediocrities in the bottom half of power conferences.

Maryland (6-2, 3-1 ACC) is thinking bigger as it finds itself atop the ACC’s Atlantic Division with Boston College and Wake Forest and riding its first three-game conference winning streak since 2003. That season ended with a Gator Bowl romp over West Virginia, essentially the last high tide for the program — at least until Saturday, when the Terps toppled a once-redoubtable college power empire notable now for its stunningly pedestrian profile, not that the state of the Seminoles matters a bit to Maryland.

“A win against Florida State at home — it’s going to help everything,” said sophomore defensive end Jeremy Navarre, who blocked Gary Cismesia’s 46-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the game in the final minute. “We’ve got to keep going. The more wins we get, the better off this program’s going to be.”

Of course, there were similar sentiments when the Terps upset the then-No. 5 Seminoles two years ago at Byrd. Maryland promptly was blanked at Virginia before absorbing a bludgeoning at Virginia Tech.

Although Maryland’s six victims this season have a combined 18-31 record, this doesn’t have the makings of a rerun of 2004.

Despite a particularly imposing November schedule that begins Saturday at No. 19 Clemson, the Terps have shown a knack for avoiding the mistakes that doomed them both in recent years and in losses this season.

The Terps are the ACC’s least penalized team, even after being flagged 10 times against Florida State. The offense hasn’t committed a turnover in 11 quarters, and Saturday’s game marked the end of the program’s 23-game streak with at least one giveaway.

It was a welcome development for coach Ralph Friedgen, who has delivered more soliloquies about taking care of the ball than he probably cares to remember. Yet the message seems to have seeped through to the Terps, who also have taken turnovers and created touchdowns during each of three consecutive victories.

“When you start winning that turnover battle, lo and behold by magic and wonderful coaching, you end up winning games,” Friedgen said. “When you’re on the short end of that turnover stat, you lose every time. If you don’t beat yourself, you have a pretty good chance of winning.”

It will need to continue in the final four weeks against three ranked opponents (Clemson, Boston College and Wake Forest) plus Miami, another former Florida superpower struggling a bit this season. The three ranked teams are all Atlantic Division rivals that have been viewed as potential league champions for at least part of the year.

Perhaps it is time to add Maryland to that list as well.

“Up to this point, we’ve just been kind of going along doing what we were expected to do,” Hollenbach said. “I kind of hope we’re still not expected to do much. That’s the best situation, when no one is counting on us to do anything and we can kind of lay low.”

However, respect for the Terps is growing. Maryland received votes in the Associated Press poll for the first time all season yesterday and will play on national TV again Saturday, but that still isn’t enough for a team unsatisfied simply with earning a spot in the postseason.

“It’s big for the program since it’s been so long since we got six, but we can’t stop here,” senior cornerback Josh Wilson said. “You can get six wins in this league and not make it to a bowl. We just have to keep charging, and hopefully we can come out here and surprise you guys.”

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