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Finally, the game // No. 6 FSU 59, Maryland 17

Thoughts of the hated rival danced through everybody's mind, but there was business to be taken care of before any of it could have relevance.

Nobody cared.

Not the Florida State players, who slumbered to a 59-17 victory Saturday over Maryland. And certainly not the fans, only 68,400 of whom showed up at Doak Campbell Stadium, the worst crowd in more than two years.

Nope, about the only one who seemed to have much emotion about the whole thing was FSU coach Bobby Bowden. Maybe he thought he should try harder after signing a five-year contract this week. More likely it had something to do with what waits a few hours down the road in Gainesville.

"I had a heck of a time getting my kids up for this ballgame," Bowden said. "It was like pulling teeth. We were not an enthusiastic football team. If we're not enthusiastic, we'll get murdered next week."

Bowden, of course, was referring to the much-anticipated showdown with the Florida Gators (10-0), ranked No. 3 in the country.

The No. 6 Seminoles havenational-championship dreams and could earn a spot against No. 1 Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl with a victory over the Gators.

But such talk was moot without a victory over the Terrapins (6-5, 4-4 in ACC), who still are hoping for a bowl bid. FSU needed a win to earn a tie for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with Virginia..

With no tiebreaker in the league, the Seminoles (9-1, 7-1) share the title with the Cavaliers, who defeated FSU on Nov. 2. Because of a higher ranking, FSU will be the choice of the Bowl Alliance, which gives the Seminoles a spot in either the Fiesta, Sugar or Orange bowls.

But winning a fourth consecutive ACC title was not a topic of conversation.

"I thought the fans were overlooking Maryland, too," FSU linebacker Todd Rebol said. "They were kind of like, "Yeah, we're with you. But you better win next week.' It was a little disappointing. We've got good fans. They're loyal. But they're not very loud."

"People were asleep," linebacker Daryl Bush said. "You see this sort of thing down in Miami. I guess that's what happens when you have so much success."

Indeed, FSU home games were yawners this season. FSU won its four ACC home games by an average of 48.2 points. The Seminoles had their six home games won by halftime.

Saturday offered more of the same. Quarterback Danny Kanell completed 24 of 34 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns in his final home game. Warrick Dunn rushed for 63 yards and two touchdowns. Receivers Andre Cooper (12 catches, 182 yards, two touchdowns) and E.G. Green (six catches, 166 yards, one touchdown) each had 100-yard receiving days. In fact, Cooper set the school record for touchdowns in a season with 13.

It was another day of gaudy numbers for the FSU offense, which had 616 total yards, including 496 passing.

"We may go down as one of the greatest offensive teams, but if we don't win next week, what does it matter?" center Clay Shiver said. "That's the only important thing _ to win."

And the Seminoles showed several signs that might make the prospect difficult. They gave up 426 yards, including 380 passing.

Maryland quarterback Scott Milanovich set opponent records for completions (46) and attempts (62) in a game, although much of it came off short passes in the run-and-shoot offense. Geroy Simon, who caught 16 passes for 124 yards, broke the opponent record for receptions in a game.

Of course, not much of that mattered. The Seminoles took a 14-0 lead, were burned on a fake punt by Milanovich that went for a touchdown, and pulled away to a 31-10 halftime advantage. A 53-yard touchdown pass from Kanell to Cooper in the third quarter was the quarterback's last play of the game.

So the Terps were constantly trying to catch up. They had just 17 running plays.

"We went after them with all we had," said Maryland coach Mark Duffner, whose team concluded its regular season and now waits to see whether it gets a bowl bid. "We got behind and had to throw the ball to catch up. It just wasn't enough."

Whether the 'Noles are worthy of their next challenge will be debated in the coming days. Bowden said his team needs to run the ball better to be successful against the Gators.

The FSU defense likely showed Florida plenty of areas to exploit as well. The Seminoles have given up more than 400 yards in four games this season facing offenses far inferior to the Gators. In two of the past three games, FSU allowed more than 300 yards passing. Next week, it faces the second-best passing offense in the country and the third-ranked scoring offense.

"I don't really think (the defense) has put it together once this year," Bush said. "Next week would be the ideal time to do it, of course."

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