The Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md., will feature a team that travels well, and well, a team that doesn't have to travel far.
Military Bowl officials were delighted to see the Maryland Terrapins drop into their lap in the ACC selection process, in the game's first year in Annapolis after moving from downtown Washington, D.C.
They are hoping the proximity and Maryland's return to a bowl for the first time since 2010, is a drawing card.
Ditto Conference USA runner-up Marshall (9-3), which has a reputation of bringing fans to the party and is, as they like to say, a border rival from West Virginia for the Terrapins who have a history with fellow rival West Virginia in that regard.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall isn't so concerned about all that as he is with his Terrapins (7-5) showing marked improvement over his first two seasons in College Park, when the team won a total of six games.
"We're going to make sure our players have a good time," Edsall said. "This is a reward for them and the hard work they've put fourth last winter, this spring, summer and this season. All the things they had to overcome to get us to this point.
"I've had enough experience with bowls that we're going to work, but we're also going to take advantage of the sights that we have here in this area that some of our kids have never had the opportunity to visit or be a part of."
Marshall fell, 41-24, in the C-USA Championship Game, and was disappointed to not claim a conference crown and advance to the Liberty Bowl.
However, the Military Bowl could be a great consolation prize after the team's first C-USA East Division championship.
"We do have another game; that's a good point," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "You'd hate to finish a season (win a big loss in the championship game). Our kids deserve to go play in that bowl game."
The loss to Rice snapped the Thundering Herd's a five-game winning streak, while Maryland won two of its last three games to get bowl eligible after three straight losses.
The big win for Maryland was a 27-24 overtime victory at Virginia Tech, an opponent the two Military Bowl combatants share. Marshall lost, 29-21, in three overtimes in Blacksburg on Sept. 21.
"(Marshall) went triple overtime and we beat Virginia Tech in overtime," Edsall said. "It tells you that Marshall is a good football team and has a very good football program.
"We know tough Virginia Tech is and for Marshall to play them the way they did and then to see all the high scoring games Marshall had, it gives us an opportunity to understand that Marshall is a very good football team."
Maryland is giving up 24.8 points per game, while Marshall averages a C-USA best 43.0 points. The Terrapins might have to pick up the pace on offense in what could be a shootout. Marshall's 502.3 yards per game also is a C-USA high.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--QB C.J. Brown led Maryland to a 6-2 record in the games he started and finished of his own accord. He was fourth in the ACC in total offense (258.3 yards per game) and put some gusto in a running attack that averaged 2.6 yards per carry last year without him (and now averages 4.1). He has accounted for 23 touchdowns this year (11 passing and 12 running), and it's hard to conceive of Maryland winning a bowl game without him leading the way.
--QB Rakeem Cato, until the C-USA championship game, had been burying Marshall opponents during the five-game winning streak. He hit 28-of-53 passes for 556 yards and eight scores in the first quarter of the previous four games, in which the Thundering Herd rolled to a combined 87-10 scoring advantage in the first quarter of those games. Cato has passed for 8,839 yards in his career, and trails only Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich in school history. The junior has passed for 36 touchdowns this season.
--TE Gator Hoskins' leads the nation with 13 touchdown catches by a tight end after leading the country last year with 10. The 6-2, 244-pound senior has 44 receptions for a 16.3-yard average. His receptions are second only to WR Tommy Shuler, who has a 97 grabs and nine scores.
--DE Andre Monroe morphed into a monstrous defensive line presence the second half of the season for Maryland. He finished with a team-high 14 tackles for losses and was particularly dominant in the key victory at Virginia Tech, when he had three sacks. He's forcing opposing lines to double-team him and that's opening up opportunities for his teammates.
--DL James Rouse has been a force up front for a rejuvenated Marshall defense that before the Rice setback averaged 21.4 fewer points per game allowed than the previous season, one of the biggest improvements in the nation. Rouse is among nine newcomers in the Thundering Herd defense this year, and leads the team with 12 tackles for losses.
--ILB Cole Farrand played through an array of injuries (hand, shoulder, head) this season, but now has time to heal and bring the kind of effort that earned him national recognition earlier when he had 23 tackles on Oct. 26 against Clemson. It was the highest single game total in the ACC this year. Farrand is a vocal team leader, who through deed and word, goaded the Terrapins to their fast finish and bowl berth.
--CB Will Likely never played like a freshman this year. He stepped in as a starter early this season because of injuries and finished fifth on the team with 62 tackles. At 5-7, he was a target early on, but teams have learned to stay away from him in the passing game. He's also second in the ACC in kickoff returns at 27.0 yards per return and fourth in punt returns at 12.8.
--WR/PR Devon Smith has six punt returns of 20 or more yards for Marshall, and ranks among the national leaders with a 15.5-yard average per return. He has one return for a score this year. Smith has four receiving touchdowns, too.
BOWL HISTORY: Maryland is 11-11-2 in bowl games and has won five of the last six, including the 2010 Military Bowl, its last bowl game. The Terrapins downed East Carolina from Conference-USA, 51-20, in that game in old RFK Stadium in downtown Washington, D.C.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "One of the things we've talked about is Maryland pride and we get a chance to play in our state capital. It continues along the lines with what we've tried to do since last spring, taking our team into the community and holding scrimmages in Baltimore and Frederick. Now what we hope is that we get all of our fans to come out and support. ... Being close to home, it allows us to play in front of our recruiting base. We'll be playing on national TV. It's great for our players' parents and families to be out in full force to watch us play." -- Maryland coach Randy Edsall, on the Military Bowl bid.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting the running game: After being held below 100 yards on the ground in four of five games (including four losses), the Terrapins have had 100 or more in the last three games. Maryland is 7-0 when rushing for more than 100 yards, although the Terps had exactly 100 against Boston College and lost, 29-26, late in the season. Time off to heal up the backs and linemen could help rejuvenate that part of the attack.
Scouting the passing game: Completely recovered from the head and trunk injuries that sidelined and limited him at midseason, QB C.J. Brown has bounced back to make a lot of big plays in the passing game, with two scoring passes in each of the last three games. Young WRs Levern Jacobs, Nigel King and Etta Amba Tawo have stepped up their games lately in place of injured stars Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. Marshall yields 208.9 yards per game through the air, but the Herd has produced 17 interceptions and allowed only 15 touchdown passes.
Scouting the run defense: Maryland had a season-high 13 tackles for losses in the regular season finale at North Carolina State. The Terrapins will need to be frequent visitors to the Marshall backfield to slow the high-powered Thundering Herd attack, averaging 211.2 yards rushing per game. TB Essray Taliaferro leads the way with 81.5 yards per game. Maryland's run defense allowed 150 or more rushing yards in six of the last eight games, and over 230 in four of those.
Scouting the pass defense: Bombs away. Marshall QB Rakeem Cato is among national leaders with 36 touchdown passes and he's got an array of big-play receivers. Maryland's defensive numbers against the pass improved the last four games but the Terrapins haven't seen an aerial onslaught like this since Clemson, which racked up 304 yards passing. The Terps must generate some pass rush. They had six sacks against North Carolina State game, and averaged more than three the last seven games.
Scouting the special teams: A big part of Maryland's success this season has been improved play in this area. Coverage units have been consistently solid and despite injuries, return units have made plays, particularly freshman Will Likely, who seems to have at least one big punt or kickoff runback each week. Sophomore K Brad Craddock has been spectacular, connecting on 19-of-23 field goal attempts. P Nathan Renfro has done his best work at key times, helping the field position battle.
Intangibles: The Terrapins showed some guts after all the injuries and back-to-back blowout losses to Clemson and Syracuse. The Terrapins won two of their last three after their "Leadership Council" of players called the rest of the team on the carpet, and they could have been 3-0 if not for the last-second, 29-26 loss to Boston College. Will they be satisfied with reaching a bowl after losing seasons the last two years or do they have another big game performance in them?
--CB Jeremiah Johnson of Maryland, a lockdown coverage specialist possibly worthy of all-conference consideration, has been out since the first week because of a toe injury. He has returned to practice and might be able to play in the bowl game.
--TE Dave Stinebaugh, who has been playing on gimpy knees for the Terrapins, also has some time to get healthy and finish strong. Forecast for a big senior season, Stinebaugh has caught more than one pass in just one of his last eight games.
--LB Matt Robinson had career highs of 17 tackles and 3.5 tackles for losses for Maryland at North Carolina State, and continues his surge since overcoming a shoulder injury.
--LS Greg Parcher of Maryland is out because of an abdomen injury. He has been replaced by redshirt freshman Christian Carpenter.
--RB Stew Roberts, the Thundering Herd's No. 2 threat, sprained an ankle against Rice and was not the same afterward. The time off should give him time to heal.
--K Justin Haig had six points in the title game, giving him 103 for the season, the first Marshall kicker with more than 100 since Marshall joined the FBS in 1997.
--CB Darryl Roberts of Marshall missed the title game because of an ankle injury but is expected back for the bowl game.
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