By John D. Davis / @John_D_Davis
The Maryland Terrapins pulled off the upset victory over the Texas Longhorns last weekend, and now the question must be raised: Is this a legit team or nah? For the Terps, the victory might serve as a motivation to chase history. What history, you ask? A birth in the Big Ten Conference Championship. If they’re able to survive the Big Ten gauntlet—and overcome underdog status, according to our favorite sports betting site, in four conference games—this team would be the first Maryland outfit in 15 years to compete in a New Years Day Bowl.
Their last appearance in said bowl game came in 2002, when they were led by Ralph Friedgen. If it weren’t for a snow storm that kept me inside of my house, I’d never think that Maryland, of all teams, was a legit contender for a conference title. However, there I was with my family, on a cold January 2, watching the Terrapins compete in the Orange Bowl against a loaded Florida Gators team with Rex Grossman, Earnest Graham and Jabar Gaffney all ready to take their talents to the NFL. Maryland would boast a future NFL quarterback of their own in Shaun Hill, but his exploits would not be enough.
Florida would dismantle Maryland in a 56-23 blowout, and since that Orange Bowl appearance, Maryland’s transitioned through two coaching changes and now the Terps find themselves in a new athletic conference and searching for a new identity within it. A repeat of the ’01 season would go a long way.
The 2001 Maryland football team was a football purist’s indulgence. The team didn’t carry a ton of future NFL talent like ACC rival Florida State. But this Terps team proved to be resilient and gritty, as they continually found ways to win close games. Maryland won four games by seven points or less, on their way to their first conference championship since 1985. In Week 6, after edging out Wake Forest on the road in a 27-20 victory and settling a vendetta with a 34-20 win over West Virginia from the previous season, the Terps found themselves ranked in the AP poll for the first time in six seasons.
No other moment in this season proved to show how tough of a team they were than when they faced then No. 15 Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Earlier in the contest, true freshman Nick Novak missed a rare FG attempt that would’ve tied the game. Novak recomposed himself and would make his next two attempts, one sending the game into overtime and the other giving Maryland a 20-17 victory. Novak would go on to finish his career as the Terrapins’ and ACC’s all-time leading scorer. He also enjoyed a long career in the NFL.
Even though Maryland struggled against teams from the Sunshine State twice, one being a lopsided defeat to Florida State in Tally, 52-31, and the Orange Bowl loss to Floria, the defeats couldn’t sour this spectacular season for the Terp faithful. The season proved how good of a team they could be and awarded them big wins on the recruiting trail for the next few years.
Will this 2017 team follow in the footsteps of the squad from 15 years prior? Losing your starting quarterback for the season doesn’t help, but it’s a testament to what they’re building in College Park that they feel confident that their backup is just as good as the starter.
It will be that confidence that could make 2001 happen all over again.
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