COLLEGE PARK, Md. - For 13 of the last 14 years, including the last eight in a row, Clemson has had its way with Maryland.
Home or away, pass or run, it didn't really matter. When the teams met, it was naturally assumed that the Tigers would win. The only question was by how much.
My, how times have changed.
While Clemson bumps along through an up and down season, the Terrapins have vaulted into the elite of the Atlantic Coast Conference. At 8-1 (5-1 ACC), Maryland still harbors hopes of winning the conference title. To keep those hopes alive, beating Clemson (5-3, 3-3) is a must. The Terps appear ready, and so do their fans. Maryland has installed 3,000 extra seats for tonight's game, the first time that's happened since 1985.
Why the turnaround? Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden gives all the credit to new Maryland head man Ralph Friedgen.
"The biggest thing is they're playing with a lot of confidence right now," Bowden said. "Being in an environment where you've lost for several years in a row, and then all of a sudden the new guy comes in. Being in an environment like at Tulane and at Duke where I was in the 1980s, you get a mindset that's hard to break out of.
"They're playing with great emotion and great effort. There's a lot of confidence right now with their record, kind of like we were last year when we were 8-0 and ranked third in the nation."
Friedgen, acclaimed as a genius as offensive coordinator of Georgia Tech and with the NFL's San Diego Chargers, has added to his growing legacy by building his first Maryland team around defense.
The Terps have shut down opposing team's rushing attacks, giving up just 92 yards per game. Add to that 25 turnovers forced through the first nine games, and it's easy to see why Friedgen turned to that side of the ball to make a statement.
"They pressure. I think they're leading the conference in sacks," Bowden said. "(Linebacker E.J. Wheeler), who played last year, right now is just playing real good. A lot of people rank him as maybe one of the top seven defensive players in the country. They play some three-man front, some four-man front. They've got a comprehensive scheme like most people and they're playing with a lot of confidence.
"They are number two in the nation in turnovers and you have a pretty good chance to win if you get turnovers."
As for his own team, Bowden is looking for a strong finish under difficult circumstances.
Today it's the No. 13 team in the country. Next Saturday, it's on the road to play a ranked South Carolina team, only Clemson's most hated rival. Only on Dec. 1 do the Tigers get a break, hosting currently winless Duke in the season finale.
"You'd like for the guys who are playing to have a taste of success heading into the offseason," said Bowden. "I look at every game with equal importance. I thought every game my first year here was important it just so happened we played South Carolina at 5-5 with a bowl bid on the line.
"It's the same thing this year. I don't think the North Carolina or Florida State game is any more important than the Maryland or South Carolina or the Duke game."