Won-lost records in college football usually require an explanation, as the 5-3 mark Maryland carries into its game at North Carolina State on Saturday suggests. A 5-3 record has been good enough to push Notre Dame and Southern Mississippi into the top 25 nationally. And the five victories are what Maryland managed the past two seasons combined.
The way the Atlantic Coast Conference is taking shape this season, however, 5-3 (2-3 in ACC play) for the Terrapins is not particularly impressive. Their victories have been over Temple (now 2-6), Division I-AA Western Carolina, West Virginia (3-5), Wake Forest (4-4) and North Carolina (1-7). And losing a chance at their sixth victory Saturday against a Duke team that had been 1-6 sets up several possibilities, some good and some bad.
As Coach Ron Vanderlinden said yesterday, the Terrapins are bunched with four other teams--Clemson (4-4, 4-2 ACC), Virginia (4-4, 3-3), North Carolina State (5-4, 2-4) and Wake Forest (1-4 ACC)--for at least three bowl spots.
The ACC gets five bowl bids if it has at least that many teams eligible for postseason play, but top-ranked Florida State and No. 7 Georgia Tech seem certain to get the ones in the Bowl Championship Series and the Gator Bowl, respectively (although if the Yellow Jackets win the rest of their games--their season finale is against No. 14 Georgia--they might get one of the BCS's two at-large spots, enabling the ACC to have six bowl bids).
All the remaining teams still are short of the victories necessary to be eligible for a bowl game. That's six for everyone but North Carolina State, which needs seven because it has a 12-game season and teams must have a winning record to play in a bowl game. Because of Clemson Coach Tommy Bowden's flair and the school's ability to guarantee a large following, the Tigers would be the most attractive bowl team. After the BCS, the ACC's bowl arrangements do not require bowl officials to invite teams in their order of finish. The Peach Bowl gets the third choice of ACC teams, the Micron/PC Bowl the fourth and the Aloha Christmas Classics (the Aloha Bowl-Oahu Bowl doubleheader) the fifth.
"If Maryland went 8-3 and Clemson went 6-5," one bowl representative said, "Clemson would get picked ahead of them."
Clemson figures to get those six victories, with Duke at home Saturday and road games against Georgia Tech and winless South Carolina to follow.
Wake Forest visits North Carolina and Duke the next two weeks and finishes at home against Georgia Tech.
Virginia, which has consecutive games at home against Georgia Tech and Buffalo (0-8), might well need to beat Maryland at Byrd Stadium in the teams' regular season finale Nov. 20 for that sixth victory.
N.C. State, after meeting the Terrapins, plays North Carolina in Charlotte and at No. 18 East Carolina. That makes the Maryland-N.C. State matchup critical for both teams, because Maryland's last two games are at Florida State and at home against Virginia.
Vanderlinden put the best spin possible on the 25-22 loss to Duke, saying there were "well over 20 different things that could have occurred that would have led to a win, most of which would have led to a fairly relaxed win."
However, Duke also could look back at numerous errors.
The Wolfpack presents a problem Maryland has not come close to solving in its three losses--a mobile quarterback (Jamie Barnette) capable of plucking the defense from a spread formation. Georgia Tech's Joe Hamilton had 474 yards in total offense against the Terrapins, Clemson's Woodrow Dantzler 435 and Duke's Spencer Romine 380, counting the 24 he lost on sacks.
"I thought before the season that we'd match up better with passing teams," Vanderlinden said. "But the opposite has been true. We've played the run better. . . . We've not played as well in the secondary [during the losses] and we need to build depth on the pass rush."
Terrapins Notes: Two lineup changes on defense appear likely. Sophomore Tony Okanlawon worked with the first team for most of practice yesterday ahead of Renard Cox, whose problems against Duke included allowing a 69-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Richmond Flowers on a stop-and-go pattern. Also, sophomore Charles Hill was ahead of junior Kris Jenkins at defensive tackle. . . . Special teamer Chad Killian may have partially torn his Achilles' tendon in practice.