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Terps back in prime time

October 16, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - It's the same, but different.

It's different, but the same.

As usual, Maryland is facing Georgia Tech in what has become an annual Thursday night matchup for ESPN over the last few years. Last year, the game was filled with bittersweet sentiment and drama which started the Terrapins' charge to the national spotlight.

This year's nationally televised version has much of the same elements but for a whole new set of reasons. Last year, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen was facing Georgia Tech for the first time since taking the Maryland job. It's not a major story in this go-round.

"It's not like last year for me because I don't know as many of the players there now," Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly media conference. "As the years go by, it will just be another game. It's not that Georgia Tech won't be important to me. It is, but now it's business. They need to win this game and we need to win it, too."

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Last year, the 20-17 overtime win over the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta helped define Maryland's magical season, Friedgen's first at College Park. He knocked off his former boss and longtime friend, George O'Leary, and jetted the Terrapins into the limelight in the Atlantic Coast and the national polls.

On Thursday, the polls aren't in question - both teams are out of the Top 25. Instead, it's a critical stop on the ACC schedule which will have major bearings on the league title and bowl game considerations.

"I'm more worried about this game," Friedgen said. "Last year, I never felt like that before after a game. Usually, I'm more ruthless, but I was kind of split. I never felt like that before and I'll never feel like that again."

With O'Leary gone and Chan Gailey now in as Georgia Tech's coach, most emotional heartstrings have been severed. Now it's a matter of practical needs.

Maryland, coming off an off week after a stunning 48-17 win over West Virginia, is presently 4-2 overall and 0-1 in the ACC. The Terps need to win to sustain the momentum they earned from leveling the Mountaineers, but also to make a mark in the league standings and re-establish themselves as power to a national audience.

Meanwhile, Georgia Tech is looking for revenge from last year's loss while keeping alive any hopes to stay in the ACC race because of its 4-2, 1-2 record.

"We are looking at this game the same way we looked at the one last year at Georgia Tech," Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien said. "We feel like right now we are everyone's big game. (Friedgen) says that when you win all your games the year before, you're everybody's big game the next year.

"This game will let us know what we are all about. It will be a huge boost to our football program."

That is, providing Maryland wins.

The win over West Virginia was a huge step in Maryland's offensive development and could be the pivotal game of the season. The Terps continue to play without tailback Bruce Perry, last year's ACC Offensive Player of the Year, yet showed an explosive mix on offense 10 days ago.

Still, Maryland is 1-2 in national games this year and 0-2 against nationally ranked teams. The Terps lost the season opener to Notre Dame and the ACC opener to Florida State to fall out of sight in the polls. Only the WVU win on ESPN2 helped erase the stigma of being Not Ready For Prime Time Players.

"When you lose twice on national TV, people start to get a perception about you," Maryland receiver Jafar Williams said. "All you can do is continue to play (when you get in front of the national cameras) and win. That's when you get your respect."

All the storylines mean little to Maryland. It's not one of torn allegiances, revenge or national image.

It's down to basics for the Terps.

"I don't think this game will put us back in the national rankings," Maryland linebacker E.J. Henderson said. "Georgia Tech isn't ranked either. What it will do is put us at five wins. It will be two (actually four) wins in a row. And it will start our ACC schedule well, especially coming against Georgia Tech, which is one of the toughest teams in the conference."

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