Nov 17, 2012; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins mascot enters the field prior to the game against the Florida State Seminoles at Byrd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
This next Maryland what-if has both personal meaning and athletic meaning behind it. Luckily I had other people vote on it, so I couldn’t get too nostalgic on everyone. The personal side of it is quick and easy to look back on. As a freshman in 2006, I was excited for my first college football season. After an exciting run to through the ACC, Maryland faced a shot at the ACC Championship. Unfortunately the Terps lost back to back games against Boston College and Wake Forest and ended the season in third place in the Atlantic Division.
Maryland was picked to finish 4th in the preseason Atlantic Division standings. They had no votes to win the ACC Championship. Miami was picked to beat Florida State in the ACC Championship for the 2006 season. The hope around College Park was to make a bowl game, after missing out on a bowl game for two straight seasons.
The season started with a 27-14 win over Division 1-AA William & Mary. Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore carried the load for the Terps. Ball finished with two touchdowns and 86 yards, while Lattimore had 89 yards and one touchdown. Maryland followed it up with a 24-10 win over Middle Tennessee State. Ball continued this solid start with another two touchdown game.
After a 2-0 start, Maryland traveled to Morgantown for a Thursday night showdown with the Mountaineers. The buzz around the game quickly came to an end when Maryland got down 28-0 in the first quarter. Maryland finished with 5 turnovers and lost 45-24 in their first big test of the season.
The Terps returned to College Park for their last non-conference game of the season against Florida International. After scoring 14 points in the first half, Maryland failed to score in the second half, but hung on to win 14-10. Maryland started the season 3-1, and was half was to being bowl eligible. Despite the good start, there was some worry in College Park. Maryland’s second half offense struggled to put up points, and in their one big test of the game, the Terps were blown out.
Maryland’s first ACC game of the season came against Calvin Johnson and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. While the Jackets did have future NFL star Calvin Johnson, they were only picked to finish third in the ACC Costal Division. Regardless, they presented a tough test, but a good opportunity for Maryland to start the ACC season off with a road win. Josh Wilson returned a kick-off for a touchdown, Joey Haynos caught a first quarter touchdown, and Dan Ennis connected on two field goals to give Maryland a 20-14 halftime lead. Ennis hit another field goal in the third quarter to push the lead to 23-14. This was the only score Maryland would have in the second half. Georgia Tech went on to score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win 27-23.
The next five games marked a remarkable turn around in Maryland football. It all started when Maryland went into the Scott Stadium locker room down 20-0 at the half to border rival Virginia. All looked doomed for the 3-2 Terrapins, who had struggled all season in the second half of games, including just one week earlier in Atlanta. But then something no one saw coming happened in the second half. Ball, Hollenbach, and Lattimore all rushed for touchdowns as Maryland scored three in a row to take a 21-20 lead. It was capped off by an Erin Henderson interception returned for a touchdown to push the lead to 28-20. Virginia scored with under three minutes left, but failed on the two point conversion. Maryland completed a 20 point comeback in Charlottesville to beat Virginia.
Maryland returned to College Park after going 1-1 in back to back ACC road games. This time they were facing divisional rival North Carolina State. The Terps took a 6-0 halftime lead, Ball rushed for a touchdown and Hollenbach passed for one as Maryland extended the lead to 23-0 in the third quarter. State scored back to back touchdowns, but Maryland iced the victory with an 18 yard field goal to win 26-20.
On a two game winning streak, Maryland welcomed ACC Atlantic Division favorite, Florida State to College Park. ESPN picked up the game and flexed it to 7:00, leading to its selection as the annual “Blackout Game”. After a field goal with 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Maryland lead 27-24. With less than a minute left, Florida State kicker Gary Cismesia lined up for a 46 yard field goal to tie the game. A harsh wind was blowing through College Park, but the kick never got the chance as Maryland rushed up the middle and blocked the kick to ice the 27-24 victory and 2-0 Atlantic Division start.
With bowl eligibility secured, and a three game winning streak, Maryland traveled to Death Valley for another divisional game against Clemson. Down 12-10 to a preseason favorite for the ACC Crown, and on the road in one of the most hostile places in the ACC, Sam Hollenbach drove the Terps down the field. On fourth and inches, Hollenbach rolled out and dove past the marker for a critical first down. The first down set up Dan Ennis game winning 31 yard field goal to give Maryland its fourth straight win.
The tide had official turned when the AP rankings were released on Monday. Slotted at number 23 was the Maryland Terrapins, and coming to College Park that weekend was 5-5 unranked Miami. The once preseason ACC Championship favorites were now underdogs to the upstart Terps. Maryland took care of the Hurricanes in a close fought 14-13 win to maintain their winning streak.
Ranked 21st in the country and 8-2 (5-1), the Terps had a real chance at making the ACC Championship game. Coach Ralph Friedgen had won the ACC Championship in 2001, but now had the chance to make it back with his players. To do so, he would have to beat Boston College (on the road) and Wake Forest (at home) to do so. After three straight games of allowing under 20 points, Maryland’s defense allowed back to back 38 point games in loss at Boston College and to Wake Forest. Both games also saw the Terps give up 20+ points in the first half. Maryland lost 38-16 at Boston College and 38-24 in the season finale to Wake Forest. Maryland finished with an 8-4 (5-3) record and third place in the Atlantic Division, good enough to earn a trip to the Champs Sports Bowl against Purdue.
Former head coach Ralph Friedgen made three more bowl appearances following the 2006 season, but none of them were as strong of bowls as the Champs Sports Bowl.
Even though a season with low expectations featured a 5 game winning streak, and wins over some of the top teams in the conference, you can’t help but wonder what if the magic run kept going? What if Maryland had beat Boston College and Wake Forest?
Had Maryland won both of those games, they would have had a re-match of the week 5 game against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets, to much surprise, advanced out of the Costal Division to the ACC Championship. Maryland lost a close one to Georgia Tech in Atlanta, but this was earlier in the season. Maryland gave up 14 points in the second half, and only scored 3 themselves. But this was before the offense found itself, before the 28 straight points at Virginia or the last second field goal drive at Clemson. The end of the season Terps were much improved from the early season Terps.
Georgia Tech ended up losing to Wake Forest 9-6 in the ACC Championship. With the improvements made by the defense, they could have help Georgia Tech to a similar game. The Lance Ball and Darius Heyward-Bey, Maryland could have put up another 20+ point game on Georgia Tech to cruise to Ralph Friedgen’s second ACC Title, and an Orange Bowl clash against Louisville.
Maryland was already an uptick in recruiting, especially since James Franklin was soon hired as the offensive coordinator. But with new suites coming to Byrd Stadium, an ACC Title and buzz around campus could have helped move some of the suites. The team would have had to continue the success off of the season (which didn’t happen), but the buzz from the ACC Championship might have pushed the building of the suites to happen sooner. Maryland would have made more money by winning the ACC Championship and playing in the Orange Bowl then it did from watching the ACC Championship and playing in the Champs Sports Bowl. Friedgen, one of the highest paid coaches, would have justified the contract he had received from this early successes. Despite the back to back 5-7 seasons with no bowls, Friedgen would have been forgiven as excitement built around the future of the program. Next seasons 6-6 record would have been disappointing certainly, but turning it around with James Franklin the next year would have canceled it out. Also, the 7-5 Terps, just one year removed from the ACC Championship would have had better bowl luck then ending up in the Humanitarian Bowl in Idaho. Bowls such as the Music City Bowl and the Car Care Bowl would have seen Maryland as more attractive if they had won the ACC Championship in 2006.
Maryland was recruiting well, but with a recent ACC Championship, Fridgen and company might have had better success on the trail, which could lead to Friedgen still being in College Park today. Ralph wanted to continue coaching after the 2010 season he wanted to continue coaching, but the athletic department went a different direction. Had Ralph won the ACC Championship in 2010, and had a better bowl appearance in 2008, things might have worked out differently. Franklin would have still left for Vanderbilt, but with a slight uptick in recruiting from 2006 success, Friedgen would have earned himself a contract extension, by a new Athletic Department looking to maintain Alumni Support.
As it worked, Friedgen had a bad reputation for never winning the big game. As seen by not just the blowout to Boston College and the loss to Wake Forest, but a couple of times afterward as well. This was the most successful season Friedgen had following the back to back bowl-less years. Although he finished 8-4 again in 2010, the Terps poor fan support reputation lead them to drop to the Military Bowl. Friedgen had worn out many fans by 2010 for not having the team as competitive as they were when he took over, and thus lead to a poor reputation. Had he won the 2006 ACC Championship, there would have been more support for the 2010 ACC Coach of the Year.