This was the matchup Military Bowl executives had pegged for six months and the destination Maryland football fans had expected for weeks. As the postseason dominos fell on Sunday, anticipation quickly became aligned with reality: The Terrapins were headed to Annapolis to face Marshall in their first bowl game since 2010.
“As I told the players, they’ll be plenty of time for them to enjoy themselves,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “But when we practice, we practice hard and we practice with a purpose and we’re working to try to get win number eight. We’ll balance practice with them also being able to enjoy the festivities that surround the Military Bowl.”
Edsall deflected a question on his teleconference about bowl expectations, answering instead about “continuing Maryland pride” and how on Dec. 27 at 2:30 p.m. the Terps would play at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for the first time since 1965. Military Bowl executive director Steve Beck was more blunt. He and the game’s bowl members wanted Maryland (7-5) one last time before it leaps to the Big Ten, and it wanted Marshall’s high-powered offense, ranked seventh nationally in scoring, to oppose the hometown team.
“To see it come together to fruition,” Beck said, “is great.”
For many Terps, this marks their first bowl trip in college. Only linebacker Matt Robinson, offensive lineman Nick Klemm and linebacker Bradley Johnson played when they crushed East Carolina during the 2010 Military Bowl. Defensive lineman Zeke Riser will make his third postseason appearance after transferring from Houston for his graduate year but, as he noted on Twitter, will have remained in-state for all three games.
Maryland will continue to practice on campus before traveling to the team hotel in the District on Dec. 23, two days after students finish final exams. All bowl week festivities will be held downtown before everything migrates up to Annapolis on game day.
“We’re going to make sure our players have a good time,” Edsall said. “This is a reward for them and for the hard work and effort they’ve put forth. I have enough experience with bowls that we’re going to work but we’re going to take advantage of the sites that we have here in this area, that some of our kids have never had an opportunity to visit or be a part of. As I told the players, they’ll be plenty of time for them to enjoy themselves.”
The matchup offers an intriguing subplot among the coaches. Edsall and Marshall’s Doc Holliday rose through the ranks side by side, both recruiting the Florida region while they were assistants at Syracuse and West Virginia, respectively.
“He’s been very successful wherever he’s been, his football teams are always physical, well coached and tough,” Holliday said of Edsall.
“You can see that he’s got his team playing very well,” Edsall said, returning the compliment. “He’s got his program going where he wants it to go.”
The Thundering Herd (9-4), who share both Virginia Tech and Florida International as common opponents, lost the Conference USA title game to Rice by 17 points, but had reeled off a five-game winning streak before that. They are led by quarterback Rakeem Cato, who has thrown for 3,579 passing yards, 36 touchdowns and just nine interceptions this season.
“He’s the guy that stirs the drink for them,” Edsall said.
Given the Military Bowl’s six-year contract signed with the ACC, which also moved the game from RFK Stadium to the Naval Academy’s home field, inking Maryland represented a big win before its Big Ten move. For the Maryland athletics department, remaining in-state avoids having to keep personnel like band members behind to save money. After all, Annapolis is roughly a half-hour away from campus.
“We’ve had scrimmages and Baltimore and Frederick, and now what we hope is that we get all of our fans and even people from this area to support us and be part of a great game day atmosphere that’s going to be taken place in Annapolis,” Edsall said. “Being close to home, it allows us to play in front of our recruiting base that will be playing on national TV for us, it’s great. Our players, parents and families will be able to come in full force to watch us play. We just want everybody to come out and support the bowl and support our kids, continue to the Maryland pride and make it a really big home field advantage for us.
“Again, our guys are healthy, it’s an opportunity for our fans to come out and see us play, again get people understanding as we leave the last ACC appearance for us, as we’re representing the ACC in this bowl game. When this game’s over, then we move forward to the Big Ten.”