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Terps get another chance at Champs

December 20, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Say one word and it has so many different meanings.

The word "Champs" is big in the University of Maryland football team's vocabulary, but not exactly the way the Terps had wanted to use it.

The Terps had two chances in November to become the champs of the Atlantic Coast Conference and failed. Now, Champs - as in Champs Sports Bowl - is Maryland's destination for its first bowl appearance in three years.

If the Terps had beaten Boston College and/or Wake Forest in their final two games, there was a chance they would have gone to the Orange Bowl. They lost both and will be playing in the Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 29 in Orlando, Fla.

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Still that's good, especially since the Terps haven't been to a bowl game since 2003. But it could have been a whole lot better.

"It feels like we haven't won a game in forever," linebacker Erin Henderson said. "We have a really bad taste in our mouth. The eight games that we won seem so long ago. The only thing we can really remember is the last two games we played. Like people say, you are only as good as your last game."

If anything, the Champs Bowl matchup with Purdue presents the last chance for Maryland to put a positive finish on a season that ran a full gamut between success and failure. The Terps are a surprising 8-4, even after losing their final two games.

"They want to atone for the last two games. I don't think they feel like that's who they are," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "We've worked pretty darn hard this whole season, had a lot of tough games and came through. Now they'd like to finish it on a positive note."

For Maryland to finish as champs of the Champs Bowl, it will take some quick and interesting work.

The Terps haven't played since the loss to Wake Forest on Nov. 25. They haven't won since beating Miami on Nov. 11. Since then, there has been a lot of off time, which culminated this week with fall-semester finals.

"I've been concerned about where they are mentally, but for the most part they have come out and practiced very well, very hard and very enthusiastically," Friedgen said. "It looks like they are enjoying themselves out there. Going to the game in the right frame of mind is very important."

"Our offense in the last practice was off," Friedgen said. "It wasn't that sharp. Our continuity is a concern."

Maryland had a few practices before finals, but was off through the testing. Now that school is on Christmas break, the Terps have just a little more business to take care of before they can focus totally on football. First, eight Maryland players will go through mid-year graduation ceremonies today before heading to the practice field.

"It's tough having days on and days off, and we're not as focused as we would be during regular-game situations, because of finals and graduation in some cases," said offensive lineman Stephon Heyer, who is one of the eight to graduate. "But we have a big game ahead of us, and we have to take advantage of this opportunity."

Friedgen has tried different methods for preparing the Terps in each of the four bowl games they have attended. Some have worked, others haven't.

"This is my fourth one here as coach and you learn something every time," Friedgen said. "I try to look at it as another spring practice. I tried two-a-days once during exams, and it was a mistake. We didn't play well and we weren't in the right frame of mind, and we didn't do well on our exams."

This time Friedgen put exams first and hopes the Terps are able to pick up where they left off on the field. Part of this year's routine is to leave Friday for Orlando for five days of practice before the game. This game adds the new dynamic of the players being away from home for Christmas, but there won't be any practice that day.

"I'm hoping that gives us the continuity we need because I thought our defense practiced very well on Sunday, but our offense was very ragged," Friedgen said. "The fact that we are leaving on the 22nd gets us as close to a regular schedule as we can. Our offense was sharp before exams. I'm hoping we can get it back when we go down there."

Friedgen, who is also the Terps' offensive coordinator, is worried about how the offense will react to the long layoff.

"I think it is a little tougher offensively to maintain the sharpness," he said. "On defense, you can play on emotions. It's kind of like spring practice. We came back on Sunday and the defense got all over the offense so we will have to see how we do (today)."

The goal is to earn the Champs title the right way.

"This is a very stressful time for all college students, especially people in our situation with practice and all the other things we need to take care of," Henderson said. "I finished my exams, though, and I'm finishing my final paper now, so I'm excited to focus on the bowl game and get down to Orlando. We're going to Orlando to represent the University of Maryland to the fullest of our potential. We don't want to let down the Champs Sports Bowl that invited us down there."

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