- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 4, 2008

The roster listed 30 seniors, rendering a perennially young team all grown up. The numbers on weight room charts posted just months earlier glittered nearly as much as the ambitions of the men responsible for them.

Yet none of it squared with the reality Maryland faced four weeks ago as it returned home from its first trip of the season. The Terrapins were through two games, and the sense of diminishing returns was undeniable.

A single-digit victory over Delaware was tolerable if not especially impressive. A 24-14 humbling at Middle Tennessee, though, promised a special sort of misery if the Terps couldn’t discover a way to reverse course.

“At that point, your head’s down and you’re not really feeling like you’re worth anything and you know just lost a game you shouldn’t have lost,” linebacker Moise Fokou said. “I’m kind of glad it happened even though you don’t want to say that. We woke up, and we’re playing better.”

Looking back, Fokou and some other players admit in the hours after the Sept. 6 loss even they might have struggled to envision a three-game winning streak and a chance for Maryland (4-1, 1-0 ACC) to enter the season’s first bye week on a roll.

It’s the possibility facing the Terps when they visit Virginia (1-3, 0-1) on Saturday at Scott Stadium. Less than a month removed from arguably the worst loss in coach Ralph Friedgen’s tenure, Maryland is enjoying a run during which it was both lucky (Clemson) and good (California) while collecting victories over a pair of ranked teams.

And almost no one saw it coming.

“For just about anyone else who’s not part of our program, they probably would say impossible, and I don’t even want to know what they would say the odds were knowing we had Clemson and Cal on the schedule,” fullback Cory Jackson said.

Yet there Maryland sits atop the ACC’s Atlantic Division, the beneficiary of quarterback Chris Turner’s crisper play, an influx of forced turnovers, improved special teams work and some sheer good fortune. Things could look even better with a victory over the reeling Cavaliers.

Maryland would be 2-0 in the conference for the first time since 2001, with both victories earned on the road. The Terps would have two weeks to prepare for an estimable Wake Forest team that remains perfect in league play, and they would enter a stretch with four of the next five at Byrd Stadium.

While not easy, it’s as palatable a setup as Maryland could hope for at the season’s midpoint. And it could set the Terps up to roll into Virginia Tech on a six-game winning streak for a nationally televised meeting with the Coastal Division favorites on Nov. 6.

But pegging the Terps’ prognosis is not an exact science. Rather, it’s more like alchemy.

Friedgen is just as bewildered as anyone else at times, so his wariness in the days leading into a meeting with a Cavaliers team responsible for three offensive touchdowns and 14 turnovers in four games is understandable.

“I keep reminding them of the opportunities they have, especially because of last week. I think that put us in position,” Friedgen said. “If we can get this game, we’d be in good shape at the break. This is an important game. To win two games on the road in the ACC, that’s huge.”

The Middle Tennessee memories, however, linger. It makes it difficult to discern which Maryland team will appear, because there is no steady pattern.

Perhaps the Terps will play well for 20 minutes, for three quarters or just sleepwalk until after halftime. All three scenarios unfolded in the last three games.

Yet Maryland always cobbled together a credible stretch, unlike in its lone loss of the season. As a result, the Terps have yet to revisit the humiliation and abject failure of their escapade in Tennessee.

“I think at that point, some of the [online] polls had us ranked 110th out of 119 teams,” defensive end Dean Muhtadi said. “To be honest, I don’t like to lose, I don’t want to lose and none of us do. But that might have been the best thing for this team. A lot of guys have said we might not have played that well against Cal if we weren’t so fired up about losing to Middle Tennessee.”

For all of Friedgen’s talk about defining moments, Maryland could have already experienced its biggest one this season. That would be a change from the last two years, when the Virginia game could be looked upon as a pivot.

In 2006, the Terps erased a 20-0 deficit in Charlottesville to ignite a five-game winning streak. Last year, Maryland lost its second starting offensive lineman in as many games and started a three-game slide with an 18-17 loss at Byrd Stadium.

This time around, the Terps want no part of a change in direction - just a continuation of the track they’ve remained on since the last time they entered a road game as a favorite.

“They always talk about turning points in a season,” Muhtadi said. “For all I know, that might have been the turning point right there. We’ve been on a rampage since then.”

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