With three games remaining this season, the Maryland football team has its sights set on one of the most successful seasons in school history. Starting tonight at Clemson, the 19th-ranked Terrapins know their postseason possibilities range from a repeat trip to the Orange Bowl in Miami to the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte.
By winning out, the Terrapins (8-2, 4-1 ACC) likely would play in either the New Year's Day Gator Bowl or in one of the prestigious Bowl Championship Series games.
"We know what is in front of us," quarterback Scott McBrien said, "and what we have to do in order for this to be a successful season."
Said linebacker E.J. Henderson: "We're just trying to grind and get three more wins. Then we'll take time out and realize what we've done."
Since Coach Ralph Friedgen took over before the 2001 season, Maryland has done a lot to restore luster to the program. Last season, the Terrapins played in a bowl game for the first time since 1990 and won the ACC title for the first time since 1985, which also was the last time they won at Clemson. A victory tonight also would extend Maryland's winning streak to eight games, which would be its longest since 1978.
"It seems like everywhere we go, we've got one of those records that we've got to beat," Friedgen said. "Haven't beaten so and so since such and such."
A victory, though, will not be easy. Clemson (6-4, 4-3) has won its past two games, with redshirt freshman Charlie Whitehurst replacing Willie Simmons at quarterback and guiding the Tigers to their two highest point totals of the season. Friedgen said he is particularly concerned about Clemson's skill players, who have the speed and size that Friedgen covets but does not have on his own roster.
Clemson runs a no-huddle, spread offense that Maryland will try to counter by making last-second adjustments before the ball is snapped. Friedgen said Clemson's coaches often try to find out what defense an opponent will use, then the Tigers will change their play to adjust to the defense.
"They do a lot of that from the press box," Friedgen said. "They will come to the line of scrimmage, get in a formation and the coaches [upstairs] will observe it. Then they'll step back" and coaches on the sideline will send in new signals.
Friedgen said he thought Maryland lacked emotion at the start of its 24-21 victory over No. 22 North Carolina State last week. He said each week he tries to hammer in the message of what the next game means to the team.
"We're into November and still in the title chase," Friedgen said. "If that doesn't motivate you, I don't know what else should. Every game we play from here on out, we're still in the hunt. Florida State has to lose, I understand that, but how many teams can say they're still in it?
"I think every game we win, it takes on a little more significance as far as what kind of season we're having. If we win the next three games, then we would really have had a great season. If we don't win the next three, then it's probably been an okay season. With every game we win, we've got a chance to be a really special team in Maryland history."
While Maryland's recent history at Clemson is forgettable -- the Terrapins' 35-14 loss there two seasons ago was a moral victory in that they scored a touchdown at Clemson for the first time in five trips -- Friedgen said he has many fond memories of Death Valley. Two seasons ago, he was Georgia Tech's offensive coordinator when the Yellow Jackets won at Clemson on a last-second touchdown pass. Before that, he remembered several key victories from his tenure as an assistant coach at Maryland and Georgia Tech. Friedgen would like to put one more in the file.
"Now is the time you've got to reach down and get motivated," he said. "It's been a long season. But if you're going to be a great team, it's not easy. Otherwise, a lot of teams would have [done it]. That's your challenge right now."