COLLEGE PARK ——Football coaches and players are notorious for proclaiming they can't gaze ahead at their schedules because it could distract them from a single-minded focus on the next opponent.
But surely Maryland didn't overlook the significance of a stretch of three straight Atlantic Coast Conference games — including two on the road — against teams that have been ranked in the Top 25 this season.
It's a period that has threatened to expose Maryland's inexperience and injuries, and define its season.
On Saturday, Maryland gets its final chance to win one of those three games when it travels to Florida State to meet a team that hasn't played a home game in more than a month.
For Maryland (2-4, 1-2 ACC), this contest might be the biggest yet because the Terps lost the previous two. It represents another opportunity to post a statement win while avoiding a losing streak that would drop them to or near the bottom of the Atlantic Division.
"It's a pretty big game," said starting fullback Tyler Cierski, a true freshman. "Two-and-two in the ACC would be much better than one-and-three. If we get this game, I think we'll be in a pretty good situation."
There would be symbolic importance to a win as well. The Terps have come close against three ranked teams this season without breaking through.
"We're right there. We can feel it," sophomore offensive tackle Max Garcia said. "It's definitely just frustrating that we don't come out with a win."
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said Maryland "is improving every week." After three straight road games, the Seminoles (3-3, 1-2) return home for the first time since losing, 23-13, to Oklahoma on Sept. 17. Florida State played one of its best games in beating Duke, 41-16, last Saturday. The Seminoles had lost to Clemson and Wake Forest, dropping out of the national rankings.
Maryland held an 18-point lead against eighth-ranked Clemson in the third quarter last week before losing, 56-45. The previous week, the Terps had the ball at midfield, threatening to take the lead at Georgia Tech, then ranked No. 13, before falling, 21-16.
Against another ranked team — West Virginia — the Terps scored 21 unanswered points and pulled within 35 yards of a potential winning score but lost, 37-31, last month.
"We just haven't been able to finish," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said.
Edsall said he has found himself pushing players harder late in practices. He wants to make sure they aren't easing up at the end of the games when they must often fight through fatigue.
Maryland's practices have included a heavy dose of mock crowd noise coming from speakers. The noise can be heard from nearby buildings.
For Terps such as Cierski, the crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium (capacity 82,300) will be the largest he has played in front of.
"The biggest crowd I've seen is the one here — 54 [thousand]," Cierski said. "So just to see how much bigger it is … is going to be cool."
Maryland is a young team still forming its identity under Edsall. The Terps have 19 first-year players — including seven true freshmen — on the two-deep depth chart. Last week, Maryland started five freshmen — all on defense — the most since 1993.
Maryland coaches don't want their young players to succumb to the frustration that can come from a succession of close losses.
"These kids are very eager and excited, and they're playing with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement," Edsall said. "It's just that you have to be patient because they're young, they're inexperienced and they haven't seen everything that a junior or a senior who's played for two or three years [has] seen."