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Terps set to start all over again in the ACC

September 24, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The University of Maryland football team has started the season as many times as it has won games.

The Terrapins started the season with high hopes, but they elected to call a do-over after starting 1-1 with an embarrassing loss to Middle Tennessee.

While that fresh-start strategy worked, as Maryland found a new focus and recorded two straight wins, new parameters now have been laid for the rest of the season. The Atlantic Coast Conference portion of the year begins Saturday, and the Terps are taking another 0-0 approach as they zero in to face one of the league favorites in Clemson.

"This is a pivotal game for us, definitely," said Maryland defensive lineman Jeremy Navarre. "In the conference, every game is more important. You lose a couple and you are out of it. Our mindset is that it was the preseason for the last four games. And we start it all out with the best team in Clemson."

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Maryland's multiple personalities have all been pointing to this week, the trip to Clemson's famed Death Valley and this meeting with the Tigers. The Terps have played Clemson tight in recent years, but this ACC opener could well help dictate whether Maryland is in it to win it.

It was on coach Ralph Friedgen's mind after last Saturday's 51-24 win over Eastern Michigan.

"I brought up Clemson, Virginia and Wake Forest. This is a very big stretch for us," Friedgen said then. "If we do well in those games, we'll be right in the mix, but it starts Saturday."

Friedgen revisited the importance of Clemson and what lies ahead for the Terps, whose season now consists of eight ACC games. At stake for the senior-laden team are its thoughts of winning the Atlantic Division title, qualifying for the ACC championship game, and ultimately, receiving a prime bowl invitation, which could be one from the Bowl Championship Series if the Terps can achieve the first two parts.

"I think it's pretty tough. Looking at the tape, this is a pretty talented team we are playing (in Clemson)," Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly media conference. "I watched Florida State and Wake Forest, and I thought those were two pretty good football teams. I see how well Boston College, North Carolina and Virginia Tech are doing and all of those happen to be future opponents of ours, which has not gone unnoticed by me. I think we have our work cut out for us, but right now I have to focus on Clemson and that's enough work."

Clemson enters the game ranked No. 20 and has run off three straight wins by an aggregate total of 126-26 after losing the season opener with Alabama. The Tigers have a speedy offense and can throw the ball to the edges, a part of the game which has given Maryland's defense trouble thus far.

"I would have loved to be 4-0, but maybe you have to learn some things along the way," Friedgen said on Saturday. "I see us getting better. The team that is going to win the whole thing is going to be the team that can't have a letdown the next 11 or 12 games. You have to win on the road and we haven't shown that we are capable of doing that."

But the subplot to it all might be how Maryland reacts to playing at Death Valley. The Terps' only road game to date was the 24-14 loss to Middle Tennessee. Maryland plays at Virginia -- a huge rivalry game -- after Clemson, with games at Virginia Tech and Boston College to follow.

"Now every game matters as far as our goals," Navarre said. "I think we're going to be a little bit more awake this week than we were down in Tennessee. We know how important this game is. If you want to win the conference, you have to be able to win on the road, so we definitely have to do that this Saturday."

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