Now before you all judge me, let me clarify. This has nothing to do with the physique of the former offensive lineman. As far as I am concerned, the man is an Adonis. What I want to know is how Ralph Friedgen is alive, after his team has given him a heart attack at least 11 times a week, for the last eight years.
Friedgen is now in his eighth year of coaching his Alma matter; the University of Maryland Fighting Terrapins. And somehow, even with the teams’ flashes of brilliance, the Terps are still the same team that they were when they hit the main stage eight years ago.
It had been decades since Maryland football was relevant. And in 2001, the Fridge gave them a jolt straight into the BCS. The team had one slight flaw; they were totally outclassed by the ranked opponents they faced. They were housed by Florida State in the regular season, and then absolutely embarrassed by Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators in the Orange Bowl.
If you think about it, the problem they had is pretty understandable. Maryland had not been successful, which is why they brought Fridge back home in the first place. He didn’t have his own recruits, and this team wasn’t used to success on this scale.
So Ralph Friedgen did what any coach would have done. He taught his team how to play up to great competition. And over the last eight years, his team started beating ranked opponents. In fact, as time went by, their wins against ranked opponents became more and more frequent. They were literally winning games that no one thought they could.
But along the way, something really bizarre started happening. For every illustrious win against a ranked opponent, there was at least one of the worst losses you will ever see. Maryland was losing to mid majors and beating ranked teams in the same season long before Michigan made it fashionable.
Here are some of the highlights:
In 2003, Maryland opened up their season by losing to Northern Illinois, but ended it by crushing the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Gator Bowl.
In 2004, the Terps lost to a bunch of unranked ACC opponents, and almost lost to Northern Illinois again. That didn’t stop them however from taking out #5 Florida State.
In 2007, Maryland defeated two teams ranked in the top 10, but lost three ACC games in which they were heavily favored. They then lost to Oregon State in a bowl sponsored by a nut company.
Maryland’s ability to play extremely up to competition, but extremely down to others is not even unique to one sport. In fact, Ralph Friedgen was not even the connoisseur of this at Maryland. Gary Williams is praised for his ability to get his team riled up to take out high ranked opponents, but Maryland loses to garbage basketball teams every year.
Maryland lacrosse has had even worse luck. Despite handfuls of No. 1 rankings over the last decade, their lacrosse squad still hasn’t won a title since the 1970’s, when my dad played for them (he could be heard at the time saying, “I’m never having kids, I’m just going to play lacrosse and get wasted every day”).
2008 started like a traditional Maryland year. Maryland lost to Middle Tennessee State, a mid major that isn’t even .500 on the year. Then something interesting happened: Maryland went on a tear.
Maryland’s 2008 season has already featured victories over four ranked opponents. That has them tied with Texas for most wins over ranked opponents this year. Because of these wins, even with two disappointing losses against two Virginia schools, Maryland controls their own destiny.
So it has been eight years, and it almost feels like opposite day, but the grand finale remains the same. In 2001, a team that couldn’t play up to their competition but handled everyone else somehow found themselves in the driver’s seat to the Orange Bowl. In 2008, a team that handled more ranked opponents than anyone else but couldn’t play down to their competition somehow found them in the driver’s seat to the Orange Bowl.
But after all of that, we haven’t even gotten to the kicker. If Maryland wins the ACC, they will be playing BCS football against their kryptonite: A mid major. Because of the incredible odds of the SEC champion going on to play for a National Championship and another one getting a Sugar Bowl bid, the Orange Bowl will most likely feature a mid major at-large bid, or the Big East Champion (less than or equal to a mid major at-large bid).
It has been eight years of the Fridge Administration. And if we judge just by how the rest of America works, eight years is when you know if something is working or not. The Fridge has somehow survived this long, but it will be the way that the 2008 campaign finishes, that determines his role in the future of the Fighting Terrapin.