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November 6, 2013

Quest for six: Edsall aims for bowl game

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At the football program's weekly media luncheon on Tuesday, reporters harped on the significance of the 5-3 Terrapins reaching that six-win milestone that brings with it bowl eligibility. Player after player was asked about what it would mean to lock up that sixth win, and each Terp, head coach Randy Edsall included, answered just the way they were supposed to.

"The actual goal we set wasn't just for six wins. We want to get as many wins as possible," wide receiver Nigel King said.

Then, it was quarterback C.J. Brown's turn. "Six isn't the goal," Brown said, adding, "but it's another stepping-stone in the right direction."

Bowl games are nothing new for the Maryland football program. The Terrapins have made 24 bowl game appearances in the history of the program, racking up an all-time record of 11-11-2, including most recently a 5-2 stint under former head coach Ralph Friedgen.

Edsall is also no stranger to postseason play. In 2004, the current Terps head coach led Connecticut to the first bowl game in the school's history, the Motor City Bowl, in which Edsall's Huskies defeated Toledo, 39-10. Edsall would lead the Huskies to four more bowl games in his tenure at UConn, amassing a 3-2 record before taking over the Maryland program in early 2011.

But why, with four games left in the season, is there all of a sudden such a focus on attaining that elusive sixth victory? The easy answer is that Maryland hasn't reached a bowl game since the 2010 Military Bowl. Edsall arrived a few days later.

As it relates to this season, the shine of a 4-0 start for Maryland is all but gone after the Terps, injury-ravaged and overmatched, have dropped three of their last four. With more than a handful of the Maryland's injuries being season-ending, it's hard not to wonder if this team is headed for the same type of cliff they went over last year when they dropped their final six games.

For Edsall specifically, locking up that sixth win and the bowl eligibility that comes with it would seem to be the next logical step in his plan to build this Maryland football program into a large-scale version of the model he perfected at UConn. Plain and simple, Edsall was hired with lofty expectations and a bowl appearance in his third season, after six combined wins in his first two, would seemingly provide him with a modest level of legitimization in College Park.

While no conference game is ever easy, the Terps have Florida State and Clemson behind them, making their schedule awfully conducive for late-season run. As they start the four-game stretch that will serve as their ACC farewell tour, let's take a look at who they'll have to topple to get to the promised land:

SYRACUSE, November 9
Best win: Wake Forest, 13-0 on 11/2
Worst loss: at Georgia Tech, 56-0 on 10/19
Key stat: Syracuse ranks 35th in the nation in rushing.
Last meeting: The Terps nearly overcame a 21-point deficit, but inevitably fell short, losing to the Orange, 21-16, in the Carrier Dome on November 19, 1994.
Outlook: This is a very winnable game for Maryland, especially if they can slow down the two-headed monster of Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley. Which version of Cuse's defense decides to show up will also weigh in heavily.
Best win: at Georgia Tech, 17-10 on 9/26
Worst loss: Duke, 13-10 on 10/26
Key stat: The Hokies allow only 16.9 points per game, good for eighth in the nation.
Last meeting: The Terps were blown out of their own building by the Tyrod Taylor and the Hokies, 36-9, on November 14, 2009.
Outlook: Regardless of what happens in Miami on Saturday, Frank Beamer's bunch will return to Blacksburg eager to wash the taste of a 13-10 loss to Duke at home out of their mouth. Anything is possible, but this is undoubtedly the Terps toughest remaining test.
Best win: Virginia Tech, 34-27 on 11/2
Worst loss: at North Carolina, 34-10 on 10/26
Key stat: The Eagles allow 27.4 points per game on defense.
Last meeting: Maryland fell 20-17 to the Eagles on October 27th of last year on a heartbreaking 14-yard touchdown pass with 52 seconds left.
Outlook: Maryland's last game at Byrd Stadium as a member of the ACC is just as winnable as the Syracuse contest. Boston College's defense has plenty of holes. If the Terps continue to get healthier, the offense could be in for a big day.
Best win: Central Michigan, 48-14 on 9/28
Worst loss: Syracuse, 24-10 on 10/12
Key stat: The Wolfpack currently has an 0-5 record in ACC conference play.
Last meeting: The Terps lost to Mike Glennon and the Wolfpack on October 20th of last season, 20-18, on a last-minute field goal.
Outlook: No away game in-conference is a cakewalk, but NC State is staring at two straight road games after an 0-5 start to ACC play. It is looking like a lost season in Raleigh for the Wolfpack, which bodes well for a Terps team with only one win on the road.

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