When a player first sees Florida State on the opposite side of the field, Maryland's Rich Parson said, he can't help but think of legacy. The national titles. The venerable coach. Even the wide right field goal attempts against Miami.
"When you first see the uniform, you're shell-shocked a little," said Parson, a senior wide receiver. "Then there's the horse and the guy throwing the spear. That's just show."
Or is it? Maryland has never beaten Florida State in 14 attempts. Even under Ralph Friedgen, whose rebuilding of the Maryland program resulted in three straight 10-win seasons, the closest the Terps have come against the Seminoles is 21 points.
Many Maryland players were steadfast this week, saying they feel no intimidation and that they are as confident as ever they can defeat the ACC's elite. But the older players acknowledged there has been a mental roadblock as much as a physical one.
"I think that's a big thing you've got to get over," senior center Kyle Schmitt said. "We've heard about them since we were little."
Problem is, it would take an exhaustive search to find someone outside the program who believes the streak ends today, when Maryland faces No. 5 Florida State (6-1, 4-1) at Byrd Stadium. Maryland (3-4, 1-3) has lost three straight, much of its confidence on offense and realistic hope of reaching a fourth straight bowl game. Its offense, averaging less than six points in October, ranks among the worst in the country.
Friedgen has lightened the mood in the Gossett Team House this week, urging players to have fun, enjoy the moment and compete. "It's like anything else," Friedgen said. "The more you win, the easier it is to win. The more you lose, the easier it is to lose. You've got to break through. I really think a win this week and next week would really pick this team up."
Friedgen, asked if this game will tell him about the season's final month, said: "I hope not. If we win, I hope it will give us a spark."
The season, which has faded faster than anyone within the program had anticipated, reminds Friedgen of the 1989 Georgia Tech team, on which he served as offensive coordinator. The Yellow Jackets were 0-3 before they beat Maryland and played at 14th-ranked Clemson. Georgia Tech, more than a three-touchdown underdog, won by 16 and lost only once more that season. The next year, it won a share of the national championship.
Some of Maryland's young players who likely will play today seem immune to the Seminoles' mystique, perhaps because their memory banks don't include all of Florida State's success between 1987 and 2000, when Bobby Bowden's team won at least 10 games in 14 straight seasons. Explained Schmitt, "We talk to [the young players] about the show 'Saved by the Bell' from the early 1990s and they don't know what we're talking about."
Said sophomore defensive tackle Robert Armstrong: "If there is an intimidation factor, I don't see it anywhere. We're hungry and have nothing to lose. So we're going to take it to them."
Middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, a team captain, has been telling players to hold themselves accountable. Friedgen, meantime, told players to compete unafraid of making mistakes. He tried to inspire them with tales of the Boston Red Sox coming back from the brink of elimination against the New York Yankees and Mississippi State's shocking upset over Florida last week.
He told Drew Weatherly, who will start at wide receiver in place of injured Derrick Fenner, that he needs to play with more confidence. "I recruited you to beat Florida State," Friedgen told the sophomore.
"It's tough to read everyone in the locker room as football players," Parson said. "But it's important to project the image that you can beat anyone. We practice probably harder than anyone in the nation."
But where will Maryland's offense find confidence to budge Florida State's defense, which ranks ninth nationally in scoring defense? The Terps mustered only seven points against Clemson, which ranks 58th in scoring defense.
"I thought they were very fast last year," Friedgen said of Florida State's defense. "And some of the guys they are playing with this year beat out the guys from last year. That makes me feel real good. I said, 'Where is this guy, he graduate?' No, he's second team now. Oh, my."
Toward the end of the past two home games, both losses, the crowd started exiting long before the game's conclusion. That scenario could potentially occur today, which is of no concern to Schmitt, who said, "I'll go out and play these guys in an empty stadium."
Motivation is high. "Has Maryland ever beaten Florida State?" Jackson asked. "Well, that's it right there."