MIAMI, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- Maryland was one of the best stories in college football in 2001. Now the Terrapins are out to prove they can remain among the sport's elite.
After capturing its first Atlantic Coast Conference title since 1985, No. 6 Maryland makes its first Bowl Championship Series appearance Wednesday night when it faces No. 5 Florida in the Orange Bowl.
The Gators are heavy favorites, but quarterback Rex Grossman, a Heisman Trophy finalist, will not start due to a curfew violation. Florida Coach Steve Spurrier will start fellow sophomore Brock Berlin, who is considering transferring to Florida's rival, Miami.
Ralph Friedgen, the offensive coordinator under George O'Leary at Georgia Tech, made a triumphant return to his alma mater. After waiting more than 30 years to get a head-coaching job, Friedgen led the Terrapins to a 10-1 record in his first year at the helm.
But while Maryland reached 10 wins for the first time since 1976, it faced only two ranked team during the regular season. It beat then-15th ranked Georgia Tech, 20-17, in overtime on Oct. 11 and lost to then-11th-ranked Florida State, 51-32, on Oct. 27.
Maryland became the first team other than Florida State to win the ACC since the Seminoles joined the league in 1993.
Maryland finished just 10th in the final BCS standings, but received the ACC's automatic bid. Florida (9-2), fifth in the BCS, was awarded an at-large berth.
The Terrapins could be facing a partisan Florida crowd as they battle one of the high-powered offenses in the country.
Led by Grossman, the Gators rank first nationally in passing, averaging 405.2 yards per game. Grossman passed for a school-record 3,896 yards and 34 touchdowns, which ranks third on Florida's all-time list.
Grossman completed nearly 66 percent of his passes and benefited from a deep and talented receiving corps. Seventeen receivers caught at least one pass for the Gators with Jabar Gaffney (1,191) and Reche Caldwell (1,059) surpassing 1,000 yards to form the most potent one-two tandem in the country. Gaffney (13) and Caldwell (10) combined for 23 receiving touchdowns.
Florida was in the national championship hunt heading into its last game, but the Gators suffered a 34-32 loss to Tennessee.
Florida expects to have leading rusher Earnest Graham back in the lineup. He did not play against Tennessee after suffering a sprained ankle against Florida State two weeks earlier. Without Graham, the Gators rushed for just 36 yards against the Volunteers.
Maryland also has to contend with the mystique of the Florida program and Spurrier, who joins Florida State's Bobby Bowden as the only coaches to lead their teams to 11 straight bowl appearances. Spurrier guided Florida to the 1996 national championship with a 52-20 victory over Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.
But Maryland is not without weapons and features a balanced attack. The Terrapins are one of only nine Division I-A teams to average more than 200 yards rushing and passing.
Sophomore Bruce Perry led the ACC in rushing, averaging 112.9 yards per game. While not as spectacular as Grossman, Shaun Hill enjoyed solid year for Maryland, completing 197 of 329 passes for 2,380 yards with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
The strength of the Maryland team is its opportunistic defense, which tied for seventh nationally in forced turnovers with 34. The Terrapins recorded 24 interceptions, their highest total since 1950, but Maryland's offense may be underrated as it scored a school-record 390 points.
The Terrapins are ending an 11-year bowl drought. In their last bowl appearance, they tied Louisiana Tech, 34-34, in the 1990 Indepedence Bowl.