Saturday, September 6, 2003

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden knows Maryland will beat the Seminoles one day. Despite a 13-0 record against the Terrapins, including last season’s 37-10 victory, Bowden acknowledges that the dominance eventually will end.

“It’s going to happen one of these days,” he said. “You don’t beat people forever. We’ve had their number, for some reason. I can’t explain why, but nothing lasts forever.”

It very well could last another year though.

The No.11 Seminoles (1-0) are hefty 15-point favorites over the visiting Terrapins (0-1) tonight at Doak Campbell Stadium. After a 37-0 rout of North Carolina, Florida State appears ready to return to college football’s elite following two relatively subpar seasons.

The Seminoles’ 14-year streak of top-five finishes in the Associated Press poll ended when they slipped to 8-4 in 2001 and 9-5 last year. The Seminoles did win the ACC title in 2002, but that’s not enough in Tallahassee.

“For a lot of teams, nine wins is spectacular, but for us it’s disappointing,” running back Greg Jones said. “Our expectations are a little higher.”

Expectations were high at Maryland this season before last week’s 20-13 overtime loss at Northern Illinois. The Terps now need to beat their nemesis to avoid an 0-2 start that probably would preclude any major bowl bid. The Terps are suddenly answering questions about whether the two-year resurgence under coach Ralph Friedgen can be maintained.

“I hear all this stuff like our season’s over if we don’t win,” Friedgen said. “That’s a bunch of baloney. … I think we’ll go down there and play a [heck of a] football game myself. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t.”

Said safety Madieu Williams: “A lot of people are off our bandwagon right now, but that’s how it goes. When we win, they’ll be back.”

Friedgen found some encouragement in the loss to Florida State last year, and Maryland overcame a 1-2 start by winning the next eight games and earning a trip to the Peach Bowl.

Maryland trailed Florida State 30-0 at halftime, and Friedgen wondered if the Byrd Stadium scoreboard would need a third digit. With the loss essentially assured, Friedgen asked his team “to play with pride and heart.” The Terps won the second half 10-7.

“At that point, I knew we could have a good football team because we had the character not to give up,” he said. “We played them toe to toe in the second half. You could say that’s loser talking, but if we got beat by 62 points, then that’s loser talking. It’s hard to play hard when everything seems to go wrong. I really thought that turned our season around because the next week we played West Virginia and had a breakout game. That’s what wins football games — it’s what kind of heart you have.”

That’s why the Terps endured four rainy practices this week, and it is also why injured receiver Steve Suter and running back Bruce Perry are ready to return after missing a month each. Maryland knows its season is far from over.

“Our team has a lot of belief in ourselves even after last week,” Friedgen said. “I keep preaching to them it’s about heart, perseverance. I was hoping beating a team like Tennessee [in the Peach Bowl] would give us tremendous confidence to make the next step. We stubbed our toe.”

Even though the Terps never have come within 10 points of the Seminoles, Bowden understands why Maryland has such hope. After all, in the last two seasons Florida was beaten by N.C. State twice and North Carolina.

“Any time you lose, the other people [in the ACC] can gain confidence,” he said. “We dominated so much early when we joined. A lot of that mystique has been removed the last couple years.”

Said Maryland receiver Jafar Williams: “It’s good to get Florida State early because the deeper in the season they get, the better they get.”

Maryland wants to deny Florida State’s deep passing game while stopping quarterback Chris Rix from scrambling. Rix has thrown for 577 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception in two victories over Maryland.

“[Maryland] might take the [defensive] approach, and probably will, ‘Let’s not let Florida State have anything big. Let’s keep [them] in front,’” Bowden said. “That means we’ll have to do what they let us do.”

Said Rix: “If I had to pick, I’d probably want them to go man and test them deep. I’ll take the short passes, but I’d rather go deep.”

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