Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Maryland has been in this situation before. The first time was in 2001, before ACC expansion, when the Terps beat Clemson and won at NC State in the final seconds to win the program's first ACC title since 1985. It was coach Ralph Friedgen's first season and the first time since Florida State had joined the league that the Seminoles didn't claim the title.
The Terps were in a similar situation again in 2006, but as Friedgen said, they "didn't get it done." Maryland could have won the division with wins over Boston College and Wake Forest, but instead finished the season 0-for-2. That nine-win season was the best Maryland has had since 2003.
"I'm hoping we could put together two good games here at the end of the year to have a special season," Friedgen said.
Florida State, of course, is hoping to prevent that.
For the Seminoles, Saturday will be the last chance against a conference opponent to take an important step in their rebuilding process and stay in contention to win the division. In addition to a win over Maryland, FSU would also need Wake Forest to lose to BC this weekend, AND Maryland to beat BC on Nov. 29. Saturday is also another opportunity for FSU to surpass the seven-win mark the program has been stuck at for the past two seasons and make its case for a more lucrative bowl.
For Maryland, Saturday's game is a chance for Friedgen to get one step closer to resurrecting the program to the top of the division, something Terps fans haven't enjoyed since Friedgen won at least 10 games in each of his first three seasons. He has a 25-23 record over the past four. While Friedgen has been successful at Maryland, he hasn't won a title with a roster filled entirely with players he and his staff recruited. Back-to-back wins would assure him a chance to change that. A win Saturday coupled with a BC loss would also clinch the division for the Terps.
Regardless of what sideline you're watching, there will be something at stake.
"It's a very big game, a game that means a lot to our season," said Florida State safety Myron Rolle, who could be late-arriving because of his interview for a Rhodes Scholarship earlier that day in Alabama. "There's still an outside chance that we can play in the ACC Championship Game. Obviously we need more help, but we understand that this is a game that is important, that is very much like last week, where the team we will be facing is very physical, very big, and likes to control the game with their physical nature. We have to prepare for that and really execute and do the things that got us to the point where we were on top of the ACC's Atlantic Conference."
Florida State has rebounded from every loss this season, but Maryland is undefeated (6-0) in Byrd Stadium, and it will be the seniors' last home game. For senior offensive lineman Jaimie Thomas, no game in his career has been bigger.
Thomas said he hasn't forgotten the disappointing end to the 2006 season, but this year is different.
"I think it's different for one major reason," he said. "We're not looking as far down the line as we did a couple of years ago. That's the best approach we can take to it. It really doesn't matter who beats who, we control our own destiny. I think that's one of the major differences."
Maryland reconfigured its defensive line -- made it bigger and better -- and the offensive line had its best game of the season against North Carolina. Florida State's four-game winning streak was snapped last weekend in Tallahassee by Boston College. If the Seminoles want to avoid a similar outcome, the key will be cutting down on mistakes, penalties and turnovers.
Nothing, this season, is guaranteed in the ACC.
"The conference has gotten so much doggone tougher," said FSU coach Bobby Bowden. "I don't care who you play in the conference, if you don't play your best game, you can get beat. ... The fact that the conference is balanced, everybody is sitting out there with losses."
That's exactly why these two teams can't afford another one.