In Coach Randy Edsall's third season, the Maryland football team is worth watching again.
On Saturday, the Terrapins hope to have their best show yet.
Undefeated and newly ranked, Maryland travels to face undefeated and eighth-ranked Florida State at noon at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Terrapins will be aiming to win their final ACC opener and validate their encouraging start with a signature victory. For Maryland, winning in Tallahassee would qualify.
As recently as a year ago, Maryland was struggling to beat anyone, let alone a ranked Florida State team. Now, Edsall has convinced the improving Terrapins they're good enough to compete with opponents that previously steamrolled them, "but it doesn't matter where you're at after four games," Edsall said. "It's where you are after 12."
That's true, but Saturday's showing will have a profound effect on the Terrapins fans' outlook for the rest of the season. While a competitive loss wouldn't ruin the fun they're having in College Park, this definitely is a show-me week for Maryland and Edsall, who is a Susquehannock High School graduate.
Quarterback C.J. Brown likes what he sees. Brown's performance is among many reasons why No. 25 Maryland (4-0) this week climbed back into the Associated Press poll for the first time since the end of the 2010 season. Listening to Brown, you get the sense he isn't just giving lip service when he says the Terrapins "really aren't treating this game different than any other.
"Our coaches do a great job of keeping us focused on what we need to do to win each week, and blocking out all the distractions. Obviously, it feels good to be 4-0 right now, but we know that we have a lot of work to do."
That's the truth. The Terrapins haven't defeated a ranked opponent, let alone one in the top 10, since Edsall moved into the big office in the Gossett Team House. Maryland's last road victory over a ranked team occurred in 2008. Its last over a top-10 team was the year before that.
The Terrapins' history against the Seminoles also won't inspire confidence among their fans. Saturday's meeting will be the schools' 12th in Tallahassee; Maryland hasn't won any of the previous 11. Florida State leads the overall series, 21-2.
But after two seasons in College Park that includes a 6-18 record, several acrimonious departures from the program and a few foot-in-mouth moments, Edsall has the Terrapins looking toward the future. Besides, success has a way of healing many wounds.
Edsall's team took a big step toward reclaiming his vision for the program a couple weeks ago in Baltimore with an eye-opening 37-0 rout of West Virginia. Many of Edsall's recruits shined as the Terrapins built a 30-point halftime lead over the stunned Mountaineers.
In college football's hierarchy, beating West Virginia a half-hour from home is several notches below winning in Tallahassee. Still, the Mountaineers gave up just 16 points in a Week 2 loss at Oklahoma and last week scored an upset of No. 11 Oklahoma State. Against Maryland, however, they appeared completely overmatched.
The recruiting work Edsall and his staff have done is beginning to bear fruit. When your two-deep depth chart is filled with freshmen and sophomores but those same players are making plays all over the field, you're getting the kind of players who can change a program's direction.
No letter-of-intent meant more to Edsall than the one signed by wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who was pursued by virtually every major college program. Diggs, a big-play artist who is as good as any player in the country at his position, reversed Edsall's fortunes when he committed to Maryland after Edsall's tumultuous, four-victory first season.
With Maryland moving in the right direction, Diggs sees himself as a trailblazer. He believes more top recruits from Washington, Maryland and Virginia "will make the decision to stay home because you don't have to leave to accomplish all of your goals. Look at where we are now."
Maryland would be in an even better place if it finds a way to slow down sensational redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston and manages to upset Florida State (4-0, 2-0 in the ACC). That's something no one has done so far. Winston has passed for 1,048 yards with 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He has completed 73.6 percent of his passes, and the team has topped 40 points in every game.
But Maryland's defense has impressive credentials, too, ranking among the nation's top 10 in sacks (tied for first), points (third), turnovers (tied for fifth) and total defense (sixth). Seems like a good matchup.
It took Edsall a little while, but he has the Terrapins on the move. On Saturday, we'll see how far they've come.