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Battle-Tested Terps Aim High, Say Goodbye in ACC Finale

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC) - Maryland’s wildly inconsistent football season comes to its regular season conclusion Saturday at N.C. State with the final game of the program’s 61 years in the ACC. At 6-5, the Terps are already bowl-eligible and a victory over the 3-8 Wolfpack would guarantee them just their second winning record during the last five seasons.

Coach Randy Edsall’s team got off to a 4-0 start that included a stunning 37-0 rout of West Virginia that landed Maryland in the top 25 since the end of the 2010 season, its final one under former coach Ralph Friedgen. However, the next week’s 63-0 pasting by Florida State was the worst ever endured by a ranked team as the Terps left the national stage almost as soon as they had reached it again.

Maryland has lost four of six since along with starting receivers Stefon Diggs (the 2012 ACC Rookie of the Year) and Deon Long, cornerbacks Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson, and linebackers Yannik Cufjoe-Virgil and Cole Farrand. Quarterback C.J. Brown, who missed all of last year with a torn ACL, sat out a game with a concussion, but he was the star as the Terps shocked perennially bowl-bound Virginia Tech on the road in overtime two weeks ago.

But then, Maryland being Maryland, it blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead to visiting Boston College and lost 27-24 on a last-second 52-yard field goal as Edsall’s attempt to freeze Eagles’ kicker Nate Freese backfired when the try as time was called missed but the following one went through the uprights. That was cosmic payback for the Terps edging Virginia 27-26 when Cavaliers kicker Alec Vozenilek missed a 42-yarder on the final play.

That near-upset was one of a bunch of Maryland’s recent poor performances that included a 34-10 loss at downtrodden Wake Forest and a punchless 20-3 home defeat at the hands of mediocre Syracuse.

“The thing that’s the most frustrating is you see us do a lot of great things throughout the game and then there’s this X number of plays where you kind of sit there and you scratch your head and say, ‘Where did that come from?” Edsall said. “And then the other thing that’s been frustrating is … the number of turnovers that we’ve had. We just got to get these guys to understand that they got to be more consistent. I’ve always been taught that repetition is the mother of learning. The more you do the things over and over and over again, but you do them correctly, the better opportunity you have to be successful. That’s kind of what we’ve been trying to do with our team. We’ve made a lot of progress, [but] it’s frustrating because we think we could make a lot more if there weren’t some situations.”

One situation over which Edsall had no control is Maryland’s move to the Big Ten next year. While Florida State is ranked second in the nation, three Big Ten teams (No. 3 Ohio State, No. 11 Michigan State and No. 15 Wisconsin) are also in the top 15. And other than Indiana, the Big Ten doesn’t have longtime doormats like the ACC does in Wake or, until very recently, Duke. The SEC is college football’s top conference, but the Big Ten isn’t that far behind.

Leaving the ACC also means the end of rivalries that stretch back to: 1909 (N.C. State); 1917 (Wake); 1919 (Virginia); 1920 (North Carolina); 1932 (Duke); and 1952 (Clemson). That’s a lot of shared memories and mayhem that will disappear after Saturday.

Maryland shared the initial ACC title in 1953 under coach Jim Tatum, who won it again two years later. Then came two fallow decades before fellow Hall of Fame coach Jerry Claiborne captured three straight ACC titles from 1974-76, a feat the Terps repeated under Bobby Ross from 1983-85. With powerhouses Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech having joined the conference since, Friedgen’s 2001 crown was Maryland’s only one during the past quarter century. And now it will never have a chance to win another.

The odds of bringing a Big Ten championship trophy to College Park are even bleaker given that Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin are the only schools to win the league over the last nine years and even formerly powerful Penn State hasn’t finished on top since 1994.

But for now, despite all the major injuries and turmoil, Maryland will get to enjoy a bowl trip somewhere next month. And given Edsall’s 6-18 record the previous two seasons, that’s progress, no matter how brief.

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin.

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