The financial considerations that
drive the football bowl selection process gave Maryland a punt
in the pants as the Terps were relegated to the Military Bowl in
nearby Washington, DC.
Programs and their fan bases traditionally think in terms of
trips in the postseason, often to warmer tourist areas.
Maryland's relative lack of fan support has the Terps headed to
RFK Stadium, just 10 miles from campus in College Park, MD, to
meet East Carolina on Wednesday, Dec. 29, at 2:30 p.m.
Maryland averaged 39,165 in
home attendance in 2010. That figure was ninth in the ACC and
ranked 64th among the 120 teams in the football bowl
subdivision. ECU, incidentally, averaged 49,665 at its home
games, which was first in Conference USA and 44th nationally.
Fan support apparently is the factor that resulted in some teams
in the ACC with poorer records being chosen over the Terps for
more desirable postseason destinations.
N.C. State lost to Maryland
38-31 on Nov. 27. The Wolfpack and the Terps finished 8-4
overall and 5-3 in league play. The ACC allows its bowl
affiliates to pick a team that is one game below another team in
the conference standings in its bowl selection process. One by
one, the Terps were snubbed by the bowls with slots for ACC
teams. The Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando chose State to play
Miami (7-5, 5-3 ACC) is going
to the Sun Bowl in El Paso to face Notre Dame. North Carolina
(7-5, 4-4) leapfrogged the Terps for a berth in the Music City
Bowl in Nashville to take on Tennessee.
Clemson (6-6, 4-4) is going to
the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte to take on Skip Holtz's
South Florida team. Georgia Tech (6-6, 4-4) is matched up with
Air Force in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA.
After finishing in a three-way
tie for third in the overall ACC standings behind champion
Virginia Tech (Orange Bowl vs. Stanford) and Florida State
(Chick-fil-A Bowl vs. South Carolina), the Terps fell all the
way to eighth in the league's selection process and into the
waiting arms of the former Eagle Bank Bowl. The third-year D.C.
bowl was delighted to have a local team available.
A 30-16 loss to Florida State
on Nov. 20 wound up being doubly devastating to the Terps. Not
only did it deny Maryland a shot at the ACC championship as
Atlantic Division winner but it kept the Terps from having a
bowl trip in the traditional sense. The ACC division winners can
go no lower than fourth in the league's bowl selection process.
First-year Maryland athletic
director Kevin Anderson has found out a lot about the league's
bowl selection intricacies in the last week. The end result is
that the Terps will be home for the holidays. It's probably fair
to say that they were hoping for something that involved a plane
ride, considering the other possibilities that were out there
for a program that improved from 2-10 in 2009 to 8-4 in 2010 and
earned Ralph Friedgen recognition as ACC coach of the year.
"We're not disappointed with
the Military Bowl," Friedgen said Tuesday. "I mean they picked
us. A lot of people didn't pick us. That's the people we've got
issues with. We're very happy to be here."
Friedgen said Steve Beck,
executive director of the Military Bowl, met with Maryland
players on Monday.
"I feel better about our kids
right now," said the Terps coach. "I think there was an
immediate reaction. Steve came out yesterday and I think that
helped — just talking to them and letting them understand that
we can be a part of something special here, the first annual
Military Bowl. If the time they have here is an enjoyable one
and a productive one, I think it will really resonate throughout
the country what we can have here."
Friedgen said that Maryland has
traveled well to bowls in the past and the Military Bowl was an
opportunity to show the bowls that didn't pick the Terps that
Maryland fans do support the program in bowl games.
"If we really care about our
football program, our fans need to show up," Friedgen said.
ECU coach Ruffin McNeill was
positive about the convenience of the D.C. site for Pirate fans.
He would like to have been going to the Liberty Bowl as
Conference USA champion but sees the upside to the Military
"To have a bowl game within
driving distance of our fans and family is unique," he said. "My
dad was not only a coach but he was military. To be a part of
that is quite an honor."
C-USA has its potential
contradictions in its bowl selection process also. The league
champion traditionally goes to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis but
C-USA's most appealing bowl tie is undoubtedly the Hawaii Bowl.
The bottom line in the current
structure of the bowl subdivision is that a program's fans can
influence their team's postseason destination though their
support in terms of attendance. Maryland apparently didn't have
the perceived impact at the gate to get a better bowl trip than
the bus ride to RFK.
ECU fans, in contrast, have
gone above and beyond in their support. The enclosure of the
East end of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium resulted in new home
attendance records for the Pirates this season and makes the ECU
program one of the most desirable for postseason travel in
Bowl officials noted Wednesday
that the Pirates' team hotel in D.C. has already sold out. They
also stated that each team has an allotment of 10,000 tickets
for the Military Bowl. An additional 5,000 tickets have been
designated for military personnel and 2,500 have been set aside
for area youth. RFK's capacity is about 47,000.
Memories of RFK
Friedgen and McNeill, who have
the distinction of coaching at their alma maters, said they have
not played or coached in RFK Stadium, former home to the
Washington Redskins, but each have memories of the historic
venue, which is approaching its 50th anniversary. The stadium
opened as District of Columbia Stadium in October of 1961 and
was renamed for U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert
F. Kennedy in January of 1969 after his assassination.
The stadium also has been home
to major league baseball. The Washington Senators played there
from 1961 to 1972 and the Washington Nationals from 2005 to
2007. RFK has been a venue for World Cup soccer, Olympic events
and pro soccer. Entertainers such as the Rolling Stones, the
Eagles and Bruce Springsteen have performed there.
"When I was a student (at
Maryland) before (coach) Vince Lombardi came to the Redskins, we
could wear our letter jackets and go to the Redskin games on
Sunday," Friedgen recalled. "Vince came in and stopped that. I
love Vince Lombardi, don't get me wrong, but I also liked going
to the Redskins' games. ... I know how the stands used to
Friedgen said his dad also was
a coach and that he used to go to New York Giants games when he
was growing up.
"Or the New York Titans," said
the Terps coach. "I don't want to date myself but that was
before they became the Jets. When I went to college and we had
that opportunity (to see the Redskins), I took advantage of it
as well as a lot of our other players. That's the memories I
have of RFK."
McNeill grew up in a television
market that showed a lot of Redskins games.
"I've just watched from afar,"
said the Lumberton native. "Sonny Jurgensen, Joe Theismann, John
Riggins and those guys. Charley Taylor and those guys catching
Less hectic bowl experience
As controversy swirled last
season around Texas Tech coach Mike Leach and his alleged
mistreatment of receiver Adam James, McNeill was thrust into the
responsibility of interim head coach of the Red Raiders in the
Alamo Bowl against Michigan State.
McNeill will have more time to
organize and prepare his team for this year's bowl game.
"It was a situation where 30
minutes before our first team meeting at the bowl site, I was
told I would be the interim coach," McNeill said. "I was told
Jan. 21, I would be able to lead this team so that part is a
little bit different. It's been great to lead East Carolina."
McNeill made the transition to
interim head coach successfully with a 41-31 win over the
McNeill commented on the
biggest difference between being a coordinator and a head coach.
"As a coordinator, you could go
in a room and close the door and study film of an opponent all
day," he said. "As a head coach, you have to be more accessible
but I enjoy it."
McNeill said he didn't expect
to get injured defensive personnel Michael Brooks, Justin Dixon
or Marke Powell back for the bowl game.
He was happy though that the
Pirates got a post-Christmas bowl date that will allow
quarterback Dominique Davis more recovery time for a bruised
left shoulder sustained Nov. 11 at UAB.
Maryland defensive back Dexter
McDougle will miss the Military Bowl after breaking a clavicle
while on a scooter ride with a teammate on campus. McDougle had
22 tackles in 11 games. The Terps had already lost offensive
lineman Pete DeSouza, who broke both his legs in a scooter
"I don't think I have the
authority to tell the kids they can't ride scooters," Friedgen
said. "But I've written a letter to parents asking for their
support. Some of them have already said they are going to take
the scooters away."