Maryland's football players agreed yesterday that something very positive happened to their season Saturday, 1,000 miles away in Atlanta.
Previously unbeaten Georgia Tech, emerging as the best team in the Atlantic Coast Conference, lost to North Carolina State. And that kept Maryland, with a 2-3 record overall, in control of its destiny as the Terrapins try to defend their ACC championship in this second half of the college football season.
All the Maryland players interviewed yesterday said that while they were disappointed with the team's one-point loss Saturday at Penn State, they felt confident about their chances of defending their league title and getting invited to a bowl game for the third straight year.
"Coach (Bobby) Ross pointed out that with Georgia Tech losing, everything is in our own hands," said sophomore linebacker Chuck Faucette. "We've got tunnel vision right now; all we see is the ACC championship."
Saturday, in the last true home game of the year, Maryland plays N.C. State. Then, after a week off, the Terrapins play at Duke, at North Carolina, at Miami in a nonconference game, in Baltimore against Clemson and at Virginia in a game that, strangely enough, could decide the conference championship.
Maryland and Virginia each are 1-0 in the conference, and North Carolina hasn't played an ACC game yet. (Games with Clemson do not count in the ACC standings since the Tigers are on probation.)
Since Maryland does not play Georgia Tech, it would seem the Terrapins' game at North Carolina on Nov. 3 could be one of the league's biggest attractions.
But as Maryland sophomore receiver Sean Sullivan said yesterday, "You can't just take out a pad and paper and say, if we win this one, and if we win that one, and figure out what should happen. I know people get tired of hearing this, but we can't afford to do anything other than take one game at a time, starting with N.C. State."
Eric Wilson, Maryland's senior inside linebacker, said the ACC is too balanced to figure out much of anything. "It's got more balance than in a long time," he said. "Some of the teams aren't as dominant as they're used to being.
"Everybody has to reckon with Virginia now. Georgia Tech is playing good and hard -- I don't know what happened on Saturday. Carolina has had a season similar to ours. They've struggled, but lost to some good teams."
Quarterback Frank Reich, trying to recover from a separated shoulder, said he thinks the Terrapins can repeat and win all their remaining games. "I see us winning the rest of them," Reich said, "even the one at Miami." Then he addressed the bowl issue, saying, "Even though the ACC champion has no direct affiliation with a bowl game, if we can win the ACC somebody would have to look at us."
But Maryland can't afford a fourth loss and hope to qualify for a postseason invitation.
"It's going to be tough," Sullivan said. "In the past two seasons we finished with the same number of losses we have now, only halfway through the season. But I know we have the ability to win the rest of our games."
Senior tight end Bill Rogers, who attended Georgia Tech as a freshman, said the seniors will have added incentive this week because "this is the last game we'll play in Byrd Stadium, the last time we'll have a real home crowd.
"We don't want to lose one game," Rogers said, "because one loss in the ACC could be the deciding factor. You'd hate to sit around waiting for somebody else to lose."