Time also flies when you're very often not even close to having fun. Which is why guard Jamie Wu and the Maryland football team's six other significant fifth-year seniors get close to teary just thinking about today's Atlantic Coast Conference matchup with Virginia at Byrd Stadium. This last regular season game also is their last chance to reach a career-long goal--a bowl.
"It's hard to go year after year when you don't produce a winning record and fans get on you," Wu said. "This year's been different."
It surely has. The Terrapins (5-5 overall, 2-5 ACC) have won as many games this season as they did the previous two seasons combined. That sixth victory, which they need to be eligible for a bowl game, has eluded them each of the past three weeks, however, while Virginia (6-4, 4-3) tries to move up the postseason pecking order by winning seven games for the 13th consecutive season.
All the other major area teams are on the road. No. 2-ranked Virginia Tech needs another convincing victory, this time at Temple, to stay on pace for a chance to play for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl, Navy visits Hawaii for a game that begins at 11 p.m. Eastern Time and Howard can finish its fifth straight season with a winning record by beating Delaware State. The area's Division III playoff team, Catholic, also is on the road for its first-round game against Western Maryland.
The ACC has arrangements for five bowl slots--and Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia already are eligible. Although three teams also have a chance at the conference's two remaining berths--and all three could end up in a bowl because some games have spots that are not assigned to a specific conference--Maryland seems in on one of the ACC's passes with a victory. That's because Wake Forest (5-5) hosts No. 14 Georgia Tech and North Carolina State (6-5) visits No. 23 East Carolina. The other ACC team that needs a victory to be bowl eligible, Clemson (5-5), plays at winless South Carolina.
Two of the ACC-connected bowls, the Micronpc.com and the Aloha Christmas Classic, will have representatives at Byrd Stadium today. They have an interest in both teams, but could leave close to uncertain about their ACC entry. The key will be Georgia Tech. If the Yellow Jackets win today, they likely will remain in contention for one of two at-large bids to a Bowl Championship Series game--and that would keep the ACC's other bowls on hold.
The Maryland-Virginia game matches two of the best runners in the country. Virginia's Thomas Jones leads the nation in yards per game with 170.7, and Maryland's LaMont Jordan is second in the ACC and sixth in the nation at 132.6.
Maryland has been quite good against the run most of the season, but has given up what must seem to its fans like acres of gains through the air. Virginia's Dan Ellis might join a list of quarterbacks, among them Duke's Spencer Romine and Clemson's Woodrow Dantzler, whose modest reputations were enhanced against Maryland.
"We can play a lot better in the secondary," Maryland Coach Ron Vanderlinden said. "We will play a lot better in the secondary."
Maryland closed its practices to the media this week. Vanderlinden indicated that quarterbacks Latrez Harrison and Trey Evans, both injured last week against Florida State, would play.
Harrison, a freshman, suffered a sprained left ankle and played just 10 snaps in his first start since replacing Calvin McCall, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against N.C. State the week before. Evans, a fifth-year senior, played the rest of the game against the Seminoles in relief of Harrison, but had an extremely swollen right arm that kept him out of practice Monday.
Virginia Coach George Welsh, who always closes practice, expects Maryland to show something tricky.
"Especially if they're behind early," Welsh said. "But they won't take stupid chances."
Virginia Tech will be taking a chance if it takes Big East rival Temple (2-7, 2-3) lightly, because the Owls scored a stunning 28-24 upset last season in Blacksburg, Va. But the Hokies were down to their third-string quarterback, Nick Sorensen, their starting safety this season, after losing starter Al Clark and Dave Meyer to injuries.
"We're playing for a BCS game," said Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer, meaning that a victory clinches the league championship and at least a spot in the Orange Bowl. "It's not often you can pin it down, but this week we can."
Junior tailback Shyrone Stith needs 46 yards to become the seventh running back in Virginia Tech history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.
Navy will be going against Hawaii's no-huddle offense, which features quarterback Dan Robinson, who has thrown for 3,069 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. The Midshipmen will be without their leading tackler, free safety Chris Lepore, who suffered a toe injury last week against Tulane.
Howard has won its past three games, all in the final minute, and this Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference affair should be another shootout. The Bison, led by quarterback Bobby Townsend (134 of 295 for 2,146 yards and 11 touchdowns), are second in the league in passing. Delaware State, whose Rahsaan Matthews has completed 125 of 276 passes and thrown 13 touchdowns, is third.