Maryland Terrapins may land in a choice bowl game

Torrey Smith and the Maryland Terrapins are hoping to head south for their bowl game.
Torrey Smith and the Maryland Terrapins are hoping to head south for their bowl game. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2010; 1:04 AM

Three attention-grabbing developments Saturday night blurred the ACC bowl picture and enhanced Maryland's long-shot hopes of landing in a warm-weather locale, according to bowl executives and officials throughout the conference.

The combination of Maryland's unexpected victory over North Carolina State, Clemson's decisive loss to South Carolina and Miami's late-Saturday firing of Coach Randy Shannon has created uncertainty for several ACC schools leading up to Sunday's official bowl announcements.

When reached Sunday, Steve Beck, the executive director of the Dec. 29 Military Bowl at RFK Stadium, said Maryland's 38-31 victory over N.C. State was great for the Terrapins but not so much for his bowl game, which was hoping to maximize local appeal with Maryland as the ACC representative.

"I am still praying and hoping," Beck said, "but I am less optimistic, that's for sure," about landing Maryland.

The Military Bowl has the eighth selection among ACC-affiliated bowl games. After the Orange Bowl, which will feature the winner of the Virginia Tech-Florida State ACC title game, bowl games can take any of the bowl-eligible ACC teams as long as the selected team is no more than one game behind another in the league standings.

Seven ACC teams have four or five ACC wins. As a result, even though only two ACC teams - Virginia Tech (10-2) and Florida State (9-3) - have better overall records than the Terrapins, Maryland could fall in the selection process largely because of attendance concerns. If Maryland (8-4, 5-3 ACC) plays in the Military Bowl, the opponent could be East Carolina, a Conference USA team that has a 6-6 record.

Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said Sunday that he has not thought about playing close to home because of economic considerations and that his team is deserving of a top-tier ACC bowl.

"To me, tied for third [in the ACC]," Friedgen said, "we need to go to at least the third- or fourth-ranked bowl in the conference."

The Chick-fil-A Bowl, which has the second ACC selection, is expected to take the loser of the ACC championship game. After that, the picture has grown foggier and hinges largely on the bowl with the third selection, Orlando's Champs Sports Bowl.

The Champs Sports Bowl had appeared a likely destination for an N.C. State team whose fan base historically has traveled well. But there remains a possibility, however slim, that the Champs Sports Bowl could match Notre Dame, a team with a strong national brand, against Maryland.

The Sun Bowl in El Paso, Tex., has had its eyes on Miami, a team that typically attracts television viewers. But the Hurricanes have underachieved, limping to a 7-5 record and firing Shannon on Saturday after a 23-20 loss to South Florida. The Shannon firing added a new wrinkle, according to sources, making Miami a wild card in this process.

The Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte had been a favorite to land Clemson and its large fan base, but the Tigers (6-6) have lost two of three games, including a 29-7 defeat at home to South Carolina on Saturday. Will Webb, the executive director of the Car Care Bowl, made no secret about his interest in a West Virginia-Maryland matchup, even if it were a regular season rematch. Now Pittsburgh could be the Big East representative in the game instead of the Mountaineers.

The Music City Bowl in Nashville has been eying North Carolina-Tennessee matchup for some time, and sources said that remains the most likely scenario for the Dec. 30 bowl game.

The Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., which owns the seventh selection, appears the most likely destination for Georgia Tech.

That leads to the Military Bowl's selection. Beck did not rule out Miami, because of the uncertainty surrounding the coaching situation, or a host of other teams falling. Landing Maryland would be the ideal scenario for Beck, but that's more uncertain after Saturday. And he would not be surprised to see Maryland go as high as third to the Champs Sports Bowl.

Maryland players have made clear that they want to play in a warm-weather city.

"Not because it's a bad bowl game," defensive lineman Drew Gloster said of the Military Bowl. "We're five minutes from D.C.; it's not really a bowl experience, when we get to fly to Orlando for a week or Atlanta for a week. To get out of our state, it's like a vacation almost."

Linebacker Alex Wujciak said the team "as a whole wants to get away."

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