The choice was made quickly and enthusiastically by a Maryland football team that hours earlier was facing the prospect of having no options at all.
After the Terrapins knocked off North Carolina State 37-0 two weeks ago in their regular-season finale to even their record at 6-6 and become bowl-eligible, coach Ralph Friedgen asked his team to prioritize a few potential postseason destinations. With little hesitation, the players urged their coach to push hard for a spot in San Francisco’s Emerald Bowl.
“That’s what they said right after the game and they seemed pretty happy about it,” Friedgen said. “We don’t get a chance to come out here too often and we’re playing a team we’ve never faced. There’s some mystique about it for all our guys, including me.”
The bowl berth represents a satisfying accomplishment for a talented Terps team that struggled with injuries throughout the year but still managed two wins against top-10 programs. Both victories were engineered by quarterback Chris Turner, a sophomore who began the season third on the depth chart but thrived after being pushed into action in the second half of a 34-24 upset win at then-No. 10 Rutgers on Sept. 29. The defense is led by linebacker Erin Henderson, while offensive guard Andrew Crummey is on the mend after breaking his leg earlier in the season and should be able toplay in the bowl game.
“I feel very fortunate to be with this group of kids,” Friedgen said. “There were a lot of injuries, but they never pointed the finger and kept working hard. From that viewpoint, it’s been a very rewarding year.”
Maryland won two of its last three games to become bowl-eligible, including a 42-35 victory over then-No. 8 Boston College on Nov. 10 that Friedgen called “miraculous.” Meanwhile, the Beavers have been one of the Pac-10’s hottest teams and have recorded victories in six of their last seven games. They clinched third place in the conference with a 38-31 win over Oregon in the Civil War rivalry game Dec. 1 and star running back Yvenson Bernard (1,037 rush yards, 12 touchdowns) is now healthy after missing that game due to injury. Sophomore Lyle Moevao will be the quarterback, while the defense has racked up 42 sacks in 12 games.
“I always tell the kids, ‘It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,’” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley, whose team began the year 2-3. “And I really like that we got better as the season went along, because it shows that the kids kept working at it and the coaches were still coaching hard.”
Oregon ST. (8-4) vs. Maryland (6-6)
WHAT: Emerald Bowl
WHEN: Dec. 28, 5:30 p.m.
WHERE: AT&T Park