Terps celebrate top 25 ranking, but Florida State presents biggest challenge yet

October 1, 2013

(Associated Press)

After two midweek practices during the bye, the Maryland football team scattered. Center Sal Conaboy drove home to Pennsylvania and watched his old high school pitch its fourth shutout of the fall. Linebacker Marcus Whitfield celebrated his son’s fourth birthday, buying him clothes because young Jeremiah keeps outgrowing his old ones. Others such as quarterback C.J. Brown stayed on campus, watching college football games and waiting for their teammates to return so they could celebrate the team’s first top 25 ranking since the final Associated Press poll of the 2010 season.

“Of course, when we came back Sunday and Monday, hearing that we’re ranked, there was big hoopla,” Brown said. “If we win this week, we’ll move up more and get more recognition. One game at a time.”

That next game is No. 25 Maryland’s nationally televised visit to No. 8 Florida State on Saturday at noon. The Terrapins are winless in 11 games in Tallahassee and enter on a six-game losing streak to the Seminoles, but morale inside Gossett Team House has reached an all-time high during Coach Randy Edsall’s regime.

The fuss over the ranking — Maryland’s first in-season top 25 ranking since 2008 — faded quickly as the Terps returned to work. They practiced Sunday, entering game-week mode, and circled the wagons around a central message. As hard as it for outsiders to believe, the players insist the Seminoles are just another team and that Saturday is just another game. The ranking is nice, they say, but they hope it represents a launching pad and not a peak.

“To be number 25 is to let them know that we’re out there, and that we have a lot to go,” offensive lineman De’Onte Arnett said Tuesday. “We have 24 more spots to gain, and that’s what we want to do. One game at a time. Right now we’re still an underdog, and that’s fine. If you ask Siri she’ll tell you her favorite team right now is Maryland, because she loves an underdog. And I’m cool with being an underdog, but at the end of the day I like being a winner even more.”

Indeed, the iPhone’s interactive service informs users that she will root for the Terps this week, but only because Maryland ranks at the bottom of the AP poll. Last week Siri loved Fresno State, the week before Texas Tech. But technological love only goes so far.

The Seminoles have steamrolled Pittsburgh, Nevada, Bethune-Cookman and Boston College this season by an average of 36.3 points per game. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston is seen as a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate, and his 73.6 percent completion rate ranks fourth nationally.

Coming off a bye, the Terps hope their extra rest and extensive preparation can help them hang at Doak Campbell Stadium. They have begun receiving recognition around campus, congratulated for an undefeated start in class or at the dining hall. Their Twitter accounts exploded on Sunday afternoon with “BeatFSU” hashtags and motivational quotes. A win would be Maryland’s first road win over a top 10 opponent since 2007 at Rutgers.

“Everyone I guess has a little more swag,” Brown said. “They feel confident because they’re executing, going out and doing what they need to do. Everyone’s getting recognized for it. We’re No. 25 in the country. This is just another big game for us down the road.”

And yet they insist nothing has changed.

“Definitely people are probably thinking playing West Virginia wasn’t just another game, but it’s actually just another game,” linebacker Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil said. A “lot of people have never played Florida State before. For me it’s another game, another chance to get better, another chance to get a W in the column and do something special. Just in terms of the game plan, practice schedule, everything, it’s the same thing.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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