About the time Sam Hollenbach's second interception was returned for a touchdown and Maryland had finished another maddening afternoon at Byrd Stadium, this one a 31-16 loss to Boston College, representatives from the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and Champs Sports Bowl got up and walked out of the press box, unmoved for the second straight year.

Since playing for the national championship -- or even a top-25 ranking -- is again out of the question, it's now the Meineke Car Care Bowl or bust for Ralph Friedgen's program. Wait. Hold up. The Terrapins could fall back on a Smurf Turf berth (or whatever they call that bowl on Boise State's fluorescent blue artificial turf).

But that's a tough vacation sell for the seasoned Terps' booster. Really, why beat a path to Idaho when Hagerstown is just around the corner?

Friedgen said he didn't "think that one bad game signals the decline of a program." But the Terps fell to 5-5 after No. 23 Boston College beat them back convincingly. And if Friedgen's club does not come up with a victory at N.C. State on Saturday, the Terps will have experienced a precipitous drop-off since 2003.

In Friedgen's first three years, Maryland went a combined 31-8 and played in the Orange, Peach and Gator bowls. Since, the Terps are 10-11 and on the cusp of missing the six-win cutoff that makes teams eligible to play in postseason bowls.

With all due respect to a lot of talented and hard-working college kids, this was no bang-up group that barely missed a BCS bid. The five teams Maryland beat this season have a combined 21-31 record.

Friedgen's best win came at home against Virginia, which was pulverized by Virginia Tech. Al Groh must feel bad today; Maryland's homecoming victory over his Cavaliers was Friedgen's only home win in a 1-4 season at Byrd Stadium.

On the Chick-fil-A peachy side, Friedgen's program is undeniably growing in popularity. More people showed up per game (52,426) than at any time in the history of Byrd Stadium. Junior tight end Vernon Davis and senior linebacker D'Qwell Jackson will most likely become the latest Terps to be plucked in the first round of the NFL draft.

And Hollenbach, a junior, has a lot of the Crocodile Hunter in him. He's able to immediately put his hands back in the reptile's jaw after being intercepted. He has no fear and -- reminiscent of Brett Favre -- no conscience when he drops back. If Hollenbach throws five interceptions forcing a throw to Davis in the back of the end zone, he sincerely believes he will rifle the sixth one in there, through the double coverage. Rotten decision-making and all, you've got to love that kind of confidence.

Lance Ball, who basically saved Maryland from what would have been a paralyzing season-opening loss to Navy with a fourth-down catch and run, almost saved the season yesterday. His team trailing by double digits and showing no offensive life, he bolted 65 yards with about nine minutes left to set up Maryland's last touchdown. A young bull of a sophomore, he ran for 135 yards on 28 carries -- his fourth game over 100 yards in the last six.

More importantly, Ball, Hollenbach, Jackson and Davis were not at an off-campus bar on Halloween night, swapping haymakers with bouncers and putting their eligibility -- not to mention their lives -- in jeopardy. Maybe next year Hollenbach and Ball can demonstrate genuine leadership, unlike the upperclassmen who did not that night, a group that reportedly included wide receivers Derrick Fenner and Drew Weatherly.

The aftermath of the Cornerstone Grill and Loft brawl was not exactly Friedgen's finest moment, either. He was playing a tortoise-shell game for two weeks, refusing to reveal the names of the players who were to be suspended by the school, making everyone guess while unintentionally casting aspersions on his entire roster.

Fenner has not missed a game yet, so he should be out. But Weatherly's status is more complex. He missed last week because of a concussion, quite possibly suffered in the fight. Friedgen said, point-blank, Weatherly was not suspended for last week's North Carolina game, that the reason he did not play was because of injury.

So if Weatherly plays next week, in a game Friedgen and the school desperately need, that will mean one of two things: Weatherly will not serve a suspension after all. Or Friedgen flat-out fibbed.

In all fairness, hail to the Fridge for taking the kind of action that Bobby Bowden and others in his profession would not. But if you're going to teach your kids real accountability, you shouldn't dole out suspensions when they're most convenient for your bowl-hungry program.

Division I scholarship athletes were involved in a nasty rumble -- Fenner received multiple stitches in his head in the aftermath -- at a bar where they were not supposed to be hanging out. Suspend the kids involved for the following game and get it over with. This story could have been put to bed a week ago.

Instead, with one game left in a season that boils down to one game, fans and the media are going to be checking participation charts and playing concentration leading up to Saturday in Raleigh. The only reason Friedgen is still being asked about this is because he has not been entirely forthcoming.

"We're going to be missing players, but we're going to try and rally with some of our young guys," Milton Harris said.

Harris is an affable senior strong safety who embodies what people should be saying about Friedgen's club. A former walk-on, Harris has already completed a family studies degree, paying to finish his final class over the summer instead of waiting for his scholarship to kick in. He has seen the program blossom and come back to earth. Never mind Maryland earning its fourth bowl bid in five years. More important, Milton Harris deserves better than 5-6 again.