What first jumps out to me about this regular season finale is how many key figures in Maryland’s ongoing football saga will be within two hours of one another on Saturday. In Raleigh, N.C., you’ll have Randy Edsall trying to avoid a 10-loss season. Also in the stadium will be Wolfpack AD Debbie Yow, watching N.C. State try to be the fourth team to become bowl-eligible against Maryland this season, and presumably Terrapins AD Kevin Anderson, the man who replaced Yow and hired Edsall. And less than two hours away will be a demonstrative young coach named James Franklin, who in his first season at Vanderbilt will try to become bowl-eligible against Wake Forest.
(After near misses against Florida, Arkansas and Tennessee, among others, I think Franklin will indeed lead Vanderbilt to a win over the Demon Deacons.)
As for the game in Raleigh, to me it boils down to a simple question: which team cares? N.C. State (6-5) still needs one win to become bowl-eligible because it played two FCS teams. How much does this erratic Wolfpack team want to play in a bowl game?
Tom O’Brien’s team can play like it did last week, when it blasted then-No. 7 Clemson, 37-13, or like it did the week before, when it slogged through a 14-10 loss at 3-8 Boston College. It could play like it did against North Carolina on Nov. 5, when it won 13-0, or like it did the week before, when it went belly-up in a 34-0 loss at Florida State.
During this disastrous Maryland season, one player who should be applauded for his season-long performance is Joe Vellano. He is always made available to reporters and is always a class act, answering every question at length as the losses mount. On the field, Vellano has been the one strong, steady constant. He leads the nation in tackles per game by a lineman. Another positive during this lost season has been in the penalties department. Maryland is tied for fourth nationally in fewest penalties per game.
As for N.C. State, it is one of the nation’s worst rushing teams, ranking 109th at 105.9 yards per game. But the defense has been particularly opportunistic. It is tied for eighth nationally in sacks per game and leads the ACC in turnovers gained (31). No team in the nation has more interceptions. Cornerback David Amerson leads the nation with 11 interceptions. N.C. State ranks fourth nationally in turnover margin.
Looking back at Maryland’s season, who could have foreseen all the injuries? Here we are on the eve of the final game of the season. You won’t see Kenny Tate or Danny O’Brien or Andrew Gonnella. You won’t see Bennett Fulper. You probably won’t see emerging linebacker Alex Twine. You may not see Kevin Dorsey, who is questionable with an undisclosed injury. And you won’t see Ronnie Tyler, who will miss his second consecutive season finale with an academic issue.
And, as an international reader pointed out to me recently, I read this team totally wrong in the summer. I predicted with confidence that Maryland would head to the Music City Bowl with an 8-4 record, good for second place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. But more than that, I repeatedly ripped Sports Illustrated for having the gall to pick a final record of 4-8 (2-6 in ACC play) for the Terrapins. As it turns out, SI overvalued the Terrapins.
Thanks for all the comments and e-mails during a trying season for the team. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll have updates, of course, in the coming weeks as develops warrant. Could be a busy hot-stove Maryland offseason around Gossett.
The biggest intrigue Saturday centers around the expected margin of victory by N.C. State. Will the Wolfpack win by double digits? If so, Maryland would become the first team in school history to lose seven straight games in a season by double digits (statistic comes courtesy of Patrick Stevens of the Washington Times). Stevens knows historical statistics better than almost anyone knows anything else. There has never been a college sports writer better in that department. And there is a reason why the New York Times has dubbed Stevens the NCAA tournament bracket “mad scientist.”
Here’s my final prediction, with a late N.C. State field goal tacked on because of what one impassioned reader comically described as the “Curse of the Yow.”
North Carolina State 38, Maryland 17