For all of the Maryland football team’s robotic recitation of standard cliches – “one game at a time,” “we’re treating this like a one-game season,” “the next game is the most important game” and so forth – never during Coach Randy Edsall’s tenure in College Park has a preseason goal felt this tangible, this close to reality. A win Saturday at Wake Forest would be the Terrapins’ sixth of the season, not only matching the victory total from Edsall’s first two seasons at Maryland, but making the team eligible for a bowl game for first time in three years.
Big deal? Maybe not.
“No different than game one,” Edsall said Tuesday. “We look at the season in its entirety, not five games, not two games, not seven games. We look at each game separately, and what we have our focus on is to get the win. If we get a win, we put it in the bank and let it draw interest, then hopefully at the end of the 12 we have enough wins in the bank to achieve the goals we’ve set for ourselves.”
But Maryland hasn’t sniffed this particular goal since Edsall took over, and Saturday’s road trip to Winston-Salem, N.C., represents its first opportunity to reach six wins since Oct. 30, 2010, when Ralph Friedgen’s Terps attained bowl eligibility against, coincidentally enough, Wake Forest.
“This a huge game for us,” said quarterback C.J. Brown, who will return from a concussion suffered at Florida State on Oct. 5. “Our biggest goal this week is to get the win, become bowl eligible, cross one of our goals off the list.”
So maybe the Terrapins won’t outright admit it, but Saturday’s game means more than most. It’s a chance to complete a one-season turnaround that, regardless of competition, has Edsall entering uncharted waters. Maryland hasn’t started the season this hot since 2001, when a 7-0 start catapulted the program into the Orange Bowl.
At this stage, a Bowl Championship Series appearance would seem to be a long shot, but national analysts have Maryland slotted anywhere from the Sun Bowl in El Paso on New Years Eve to the Belk Bowl in Charlotte on Dec. 28. That bowl projections have entered the discussion midway through October represents a small victory for a program that’s enjoyed few of them since Edsall took over.
“It would be huge, especially this early in the season, to go 6-1 and put yourself in a position where you want to be at this point in the season,” Brown said. “Cross it off, then hey, every win after that, better bowl, better opportunity to keep getting better. It’s a big week for us as a team to go down there and pull off the victory.”
An up-and-down club sitting at .500 through six games, Wake Forest has wins over Presbyterian, Army and North Carolina State and losses to Boston College, Louisiana-Monroe and Clemson. Senior wide receiver Michael Campanaro – of “Simpsons” parody fame – ranks among the ACC’s most reliable pass-catchers and nose tackle Nikita Whitlock is a handful for any offensive line.
The Terps will continue to relay the same cliches, because Edsall coaches his teams with tunnel vision. A win should bring celebration all the same, and if bowl implications happen to come along, so be it.
“It’s exciting,” center Sal Conaboy said. “It’s obviously one of our goals, but it’s also the next game, and we understand that. Our goal is to get the next win, and if we get that it takes care of itself. It’s nothing different.”
At this point, a reporter challenged Conaboy, the man tasked with blocking Whitlock. How could a program with six combined wins in 2011 and 2012, with season-ending injuries suffered to four quarterbacks last season, after all manner of exodus happened following Edsall’s first year, so easily shrug off the prospect of bowl eligibility?
Conaboy thought for a second then smiled.
“A little bit,” he said. “A little different. You try not to think about it. You try not to focus on it, and that’s it.”