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Gator Bowl leaves bite marks on Terps

November 29, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - With one pull of a handle in Jacksonville, Fla., Maryland's bowl hopes started to spin like the dials of a slot machine.

Peach, Tangerine, sour grapes.

It was tough for the Terps to feel like winners after the Gator Bowl jumped the invitation gun, went against protocol and elected to take North Carolina State as the Atlantic Coast Conference's representative to the New Year's Day game.

Peach, Tangerine, sour grapes. The mix doesn't even resemble a good fruit salad. It represents a sliding scale of appetite for the postseason.

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Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow and coach Ralph Friedgen have campaigned openly for a invitation to the Peach Bowl, the New Year's Eve game in Atlanta. In a number of ways, the game is a perfect fit for the Terps when it came to location, date and prestige.

But, despite the happy faces, Maryland got a rude awakening from the philosophy of "win and the bowls will take care of themselves."

"(The players) didn't want us to commit to a bowl early," Friedgen said. "They wanted to go out and win this week and win the bowl bid on the field. It didn't work out that way."

Gator Bowl officials called from Jacksonville on Tuesday to inform Maryland it had selected the Wolfpack, a team the Terps defeated and have behind them in the ACC standings.

Allegedly, the Gator Bowl is earmarked for the team with the second best record in the ACC. The Peach is for third place and the Tangerine Bowl goes to the fourth place team.

But when the Gator Bowl jumped the gun and took N.C. State, the fourth-place team got the second-place bowl.

"To me, that's why you play the season," Friedgen said.

Now, if the Terps beat Wake Forest on Saturday, they will either go to the Peach or the Tangerine. And if there is a salt-in-the-wound additive to it all, the winner of Saturday's West Virginia-Pittsburgh game would be N.C. State's opponent for the Gator Bowl.

If the Mountaineers win the right, Maryland would have beat both teams which will be playing in the higher-rated bowl.

"We must be too good to play in that one," Friedgen said, tongue in cheek.

Despite all the posturing for the Peach Bowl, Maryland is at fault for ruining what could have been a second straight magical season in College Park. The Terps lost badly last week to Virginia. The loss knocked Maryland out of any chance of tying for the ACC title and a second straight BCS bowl.

"Obviously, we're disappointed," Friedgen said. "We had the opportunity to be co-conference champions, maybe the BCS representative in the Sugar Bowl. But there's not much we can do about it now. We had our opportunity and we couldn't get it done."

After playing in last year's Orange Bowl, most other experiences pale in comparison.

"The BCS is where it's at," Maryland linebacker E.J. Henderson said. "To be in the BCS means you are playing in the Elite Eight."

But now, the Terps can't even settle for the next best thing.

"I don't know how the bowls come out," receiver Steve Suter said. "There is a lot of politics involved. We have to make our way the best we can against Wake and hope for the best bowl."

The reality was laced with some of the taste of the sour grapes. But the bowl system was structured to reward the better teams in the higher quality bowls.

The Gator Bowl's decision ruined the plan. At least, that's the way Maryland feels.

"It doesn't come down to the better teams. It's all politics," Suter said. "The only way to take care of it yourself is to win every game. It comes down to money, like it usually does."

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