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Friedgen will put a good spin on Terps

September 10, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

Today is Primary Election Day and it will go a long way to shaping the future.

On the political front, the field of county commission, delegate and governor hopefuls will be streamlined down to two candidates across Maryland heading into November's election.

Then the serious campaigning starts.

But the campaign trail starts early in College Park. Today, in an atmosphere that can parallel a ballroom stop along the way without the signs and "Happy Days Are Here Again" blaring in the background.

Again, Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen will step to the podium at his weekly press conference with numerous media outlets asking about the 1-1 Terrapins upcoming game against big, bad Florida State.

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Friedgen is a coach with the huge heart of a competitor hooked up with the minds of a politician, a salesman and a public relations whiz all wrapped into one package.

The Florida State game will be the main topic. Everyone will be asking in this year's Terps - the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champions - can knock off the Seminoles - the ACC's dominant team for the last decade - in a nationally televised game at Byrd Stadium.

And knowing Friedgen, he will give all the right answers to keep both players and fans to keep a stiff upper lip while trying to keep expectations at a manageable level.

But then, this is where the continuing campaign kicks in.

Friedgen will be trying to make sure that no matter what the outcome of this game is, it doesn't sour the momentum that Maryland's football has been building over the last 13 months.

Since his hiring, Friedgen has built a platform of trying to make Maryland a big-time program again. He knew it all started on the field but he needed to find away to whip fans and alumni into a frenzy to added fevered support while opening the faucet of financial contributions.

The Terps held up their end of the bargain - with a 10-2 record, an ACC title and a trip to the Orange Bowl. In return, the anticipation for the 2002 was on a high level, if preseason ticket sales and facility construction are any indication.

The Terrapin Express hit a speed bump in the season opener, dropping a 22-0 decision to Notre Dame. Maryland fell out of the Top 25 and some doubts surfaced.

"I told them a lot of people will jump off the bandwagon right now," he said last Tuesday during his weekly press conference. "That's human nature."

But Maryland bounced back some last Saturday with the rousing 44-14 win over Akron. It was time to shove all those worries into a closet again.

"Winning is everything," Friedgen said. "My psyche is better. The sun shines. Girls are better looking. I'm sure it will help us."

The bandwagon began filling up again. The challenge for Friedgen the coach is to find the right answers to beat Florida State in what is the biggest game to hit Byrd Stadium in some time, last year's home opener notwithstanding.

Friedgen the politician-salesman-P.R. guy will be battling to find the words to keep the bandwagon full, just in case the Terps lose to the Seminoles and fall to 1-2.

A loss to Florida State wouldn't be the end of the world nor would it take the Terps out of the running for another ACC title or even a bowl bid. It's just a loss - a loss in one of 13 games to be played this season - but it's against the marquee name in the conference.

(Remember, Maryland played Florida State much later in the season last season, lost late in the game but it wasn't enough to knock them off course).

Friedgen routinely takes time in his press conference to mention crowd support and the direction the program is taking, thanks in part to last year's success. He truly believes that in time, Maryland football will be on the same plane as Florida State when it comes to public perception.

But right now, the campaign to maintain the public's vote of confidence is almost as important as winning this very big regular-season game.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Morning Herald. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131 ext. 2310 or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com

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