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December 11, 2013

Terps look to keep arrow pointed up

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Since they closed out their last regular season in the ACC, the Maryland football team has been on uncommon ground. They knew they were bowl bound, but they had no opponent.

That meant no game plan to tediously refine, resulting in an almost training camp-like atmosphere in practice. What made it extra bizarre was that for the past two years, December has been a month filled with studying and making holiday plans for the Terrapins.

Not this year.

"There aren't a lot of guys that have been to a bowl before," said junior linebacker Cole Farrand. "It's new to a lot of people. It's definitely an adjustment, because at this time I'm usually preparing for finals."

The Terps' players discovered their late-December destination - the 2013 Military Bowl in Annapolis on Dec. 27 - around the same time their fans did. They practiced on Sunday and were notified Sunday night.

Apparently, the text message exchanges and giddy phone calls that ensued were akin to the reaction a boy has when he gets exactly what he wants for Christmas - appropriate considering the Terrapins players will essentially have to forego the holiday season while they prepare to play Marshall.

"It honestly feels like all your hard work has paid off," gushed Farrand, who has fought his way through shoulder, head and hand injuries this year to get here. "We work yearlong for this opportunity, and we're finally going to a bowl game. It's my first bowl game. It's a lot of guys on the team's first bowl game."

Instead of fattening up at home with their families, the Terps will spend a sizeable chunk of the time leading up to the 27th in a Washington D.C. hotel. Quarterback C.J. Brown, one of the few Terps still around from the 2010 Military Bowl, remembers hitting both a Wizards and Capitals game as well as a trendy Brazilian steakhouse.

While it sure beats studying and going home, avoiding the pitfalls of big city freedom will be pivotal for Maryland's preparation. Making curfew, staying out of trouble and staying in shape are just some of the things that are all the harder to do without a bounty of veterans who have been there before.

"If you let your mind wander, if you don't know the day-to-day process of what you need to do and focus; making sure you're in on time and not getting wrapped up in the whole bowl week," Brown rambled. "There are so many things going on, so many opportunities to go explore the city being in D.C. Just the free time; you're not living in a dorm."

Of course, the Terps are typically on, or preparing to be on, the field on Saturdays in the fall, when the majority of their competition is doing the same. There isn't much time to be a fan of college football when you're playing college football. But that all changes in December, and it is one part of bowl week Brown endorses his teammates immersing themselves in. It is certainly easier when you're part of it.

"It's a lot better than sitting home and watching all the games," he said. "Understanding that you're in a bowl game just makes it that much better and you appreciate it that much more. The last few years have stunk."

Maryland's season has been a dramatic array of ups and downs. They overachieved, they got their butts kicked and then they salvaged things, all in the span of three months. But they're coming off a win, and they probably should be coming off three after dropping a heartbreaker to BC in late November.

"We finally started digging ourselves out of that hole when we got to Virginia Tech," Farrand said. "You're always going to have ups and downs in football. It's about how you bounce back. I would have liked to do that earlier in that season, but we got that seventh win and we're going to a bowl game."

While there is definitely unrest in Terrapin country after a rollercoaster regular season, perhaps more important is that the needle on Maryland football is, by definition, still pointed up under Randy Edsall. They've gone from two wins in his debut, to four wins last season, to seven and a bowl game this year.

Brown remembers the mood in the locker room in 2010. That eight-win team was disappointed that they only garnered an invite to the Military Bowl, which was then in its infancy. But he also remembers the uncertainty surrounding a program in turmoil. So is the program in better shape now?

"I think definitely," Brown said. "Because you know where the program is at. That season, you didn't really know what was going on. We know where we're at, whose coming back, who is here. We're just continuing to build."

Preparations for Marshall have just gotten underway for Edsall and the Terps. They've reached the promised land, now all they have to do is go out and perform. The final scoreboard at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Dec. 27 will go a long way to dictating the attitude of the offseason, and Maryland knows it.

"It will set the stage," Brown added. "It will set the tone for the winter workouts. Up until next year, ending on that high note and sending the seniors out the right way with a bowl win, ending our years in the ACC on a high note and entering the Big Ten on top, that is what we're trying to do."

And as they've learned in the last two years, it's a lot tougher to get that losing taste out of your mouth when the next game is eight months away. Right?

"Yup," said Farrand. "Exactly."


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