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Fast start for Terps means waxing FIU

September 05, 2007|By BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Ralph Friedgen is part of the I Killa Hype coaching fraternity.

The University of Maryland head football coach pledges year after year, "It's not where you start, it's where you finish" whenever the preseason polls come out.

But suddenly, that is only hazing the truth. Now, it is: "It's not where you start, it's where you finish, but where you finish has everything to do with how you start."

Huh? That slogan is pretty tough to get on the frat T-shirt, but it is becoming words to live by. It is one of the things Friedgen worries about as the Terrapins move to the second game of the season Saturday against Florida International at the Orange Bowl in Miami.

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One of the key phrases as the season opens is "fast start." Friedgen doesn't want the 2007 team to be saddled with the same perceptions that its 2006 predecessor had to cope with.

"I talked to them (Monday) and told them that we have to continue to get better. Every one of these games counts," Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly media conference. "Last year, when we won and got off to a slow start, it hurt us in the eyes of the media and public opinion. I thought it hurt us at the end of last season because we didn't finish ranked as high as I thought we should have."

Maryland looked for a fast start against Villanova last Saturday, but the defense struggled early. The Terps managed only a 10-7 lead against the NCAA Division I FCS (formerly I-AA) opponent before pulling together in the second half to get a 31-14 victory. Villanova scored on an interception in the final five minutes to make the final margin closer than the game.

The Terps head into the Florida International game with many subplots simmering in the background. First, it's Maryland's last tuneup before Sept. 13's nationally televised showdown with No. 3 West Virginia.

But maybe more importantly, it is a rematch with FIU, the team that came into Byrd Stadium for the second game of last season and pushed Maryland to the limit. The Terps needed a late interception to barely hold on to a 14-10 win.

"Basically, last year's game is all we've been hearing about," said Maryland defensive lineman Carlos Feliciano. "We heard about how they almost scored late to beat us. That's all motivated us."

Florida International is going through a massive transition. The Golden Panthers dismissed 18 players and head coach Don Strock resigned last season after an ugly brawl with the University of Miami.

Now, under new coach Mario Cristobal, FIU is using a lot of youth instead of the holdovers from last year's team. The Golden Panthers are the lowest rated team in NCAA Division I and solidified the position last weekend in a 59-0 loss at Penn State.

But this game comes on the heels of Appalachian State's huge upset of No. 5 Michigan, which has major college teams trying to stomach the queasy "On any given day" feeling.

"I don't look any further ahead than the next game," Friedgen said. "I've told them we have to get better every game and every game is an important one."

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