The story of Maryland's football season is so incredibly unimaginable, any attempt to chronicle the wacky up-and-down journey should begin with the words, "Once upon a time..."
It began with a narrow win over Delaware in which starting quarterback Jordan Steffy was lost with a fractured thumb. Then came a loss to Middle Tennessee State -- followed by a victory over then-unbeaten California.
Wins over two more ranked teams, Clemson and Wake Forest, were sandwiched around a 31-0 defeat at Virginia. The Terrapins own a best-in-the-nation four victories over Top 25 opponents, yet are 3-3 against unranked teams. They have won five games by eight points or fewer, the last two by a combined five points.
And now, after all that, No. 22 Maryland is in position to add a memorable final chapter to an improbable saga.
Wearing their beloved alternate black jerseys in a nationally televised game against hated Florida State, the Terrapins can complete an unbeaten season at home and conceivably earn a berth in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game with a victory at sold out Byrd Stadium on Saturday night.
"You ever read those fairy-tale stories with a perfect ending? That's what it would be. A perfect ending," linebacker Moise Fokou said. "Last game at Byrd as a senior, going out on top with a W."
Fokou and 29 other seniors will be honored before the game. Then they will attempt to defeat a Florida State team that will seek to write its own ending to Maryland's strange season.
"I think we are going to fare pretty good," Seminoles running back Antone Smith said. "The guys have really prepared."
The significance of the game will depend in part on the result of the Wake Forest-Boston College game earlier Saturday. If Wake Forest wins, Maryland (7-3, 4-2) can clinch the Atlantic Division title by defeating the Seminoles.
If Boston College wins, the Terrapins must beat Florida State and Boston College next week to advance to the title game. But if Boston College beats Wake Forest and Florida State tops Maryland, the Seminoles (7-3, 4-3) could win the division if Maryland beats BC next week.
The Seminoles need outside help to get to the title game, and that's OK with coach Bobby Bowden.
"I'm not harping on that," he said. "Every time we get into a situation where we control our own destiny, we have gotten beat every time. So we will tell them to play the best they can and have a lot of pride."
Florida State hasn't won at Byrd Stadium since 2002, but those losses in 2004 and 2006 are its lone defeats in a lopsided series that stands 16-2 in favor of the Seminoles. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen has enjoyed success against most of the ACC, but against Bowden he's 2-5.
"The margin of error is very slim when you play him. You have to play very aggressively," Friedgen said. "I know what a great coach he is and how hard he gets his kids to play. When you get to these games where you have to fight for every inch, you are battling for every inch you can as hard as you can for as long as you can. That's what it is like to play against Florida State."
It's nearly impossible to rely on past performances to determine how the Terrapins will fare, given that they're 6-0 at home but 0-3 in night games.
"It's a conflict of interest, because we haven't played well at night but we're playing at home," Fokou said. "One of those two has got to change. We'll find out."
If Maryland wins, then there just might be an epilogue to its fairy-tale season: A berth in the Orange Bowl.
"Where we want to go, we have to win three more games," Friedgen said. "But we can't win three without winning one."