Military Bowl Primer: Maryland vs. Marshall
By Peter Burke
Maryland becomes the first team to return to the Military Bowl in its six-year history. There's sure to be a partisan fan base as the game shifts from Washington, D.C., to Annapolis, Md., about a 30-minute commute from the College Park campus.
The last time Maryland played into December was in 2010, when the Terrapins handily defeated East Carolina, 51-20, in the Military Bowl. That proved to be a turning point for the program as it was the final game of Maryland alumnus and former head coach Ralph Friedgen, who was fired and replaced by Randy Edsall.
Like Maryland, Marshall had a turnaround season after enduring a disappointing 2012 campaign. The Thundering Herd played for the Conference USA crown for the first time since joining the league in 2005.
Motivation: Maryland has plenty to prove after a 4-0 start to the season. The Terrapins only won three Atlantic Coast Conference games thereafter and were unimpressive against elite opponents (losing 37-0 to Florida State and 40-27 to Clemson). Maryland will be looking for some momentum heading into its inaugural season in the Big Ten Conference next year.
If You've Never Seen Them: Look out for freshman Will Likely, who has made his mark as a return specialist this season. The freshman from Belle Glade, Fla., averaged 27 yards on 24 kickoff returns, which was second best in the ACC and 13th nationally. He also averaged 12.8 yards on punt returns, fourth in the ACC and 17th nationally.
Weakness: Wide receiver Stefon Diggs, arguably Maryland's best player, broke his leg in October and was lost for the season, leaving the Terps without a dynamic playmaker on offense. Much like last season, the injury bug began to take its toll on the team — and it showed.
Motivation: Marshall would like nothing better than to erase a stinging 41-24 defeat to Rice in the C-USA Championship game earlier this month. A victory would give the Thundering Herd 10 wins for the first time since 2002.
If You've Never Seen Them: The Herd's undisputed leader is junior quarterback Rakeem Cato, who has passed for 3,579 yards and 36 touchdowns this season. Those numbers are actually worse than last season, when he was named C-USA's most valuable player. Instead, Cato had to settle for C-USA offensive player of the year in 2013. The quarterback has plenty of targets, including first-team C-USA wide receiver Tommy Shuler and tight end Gator Hoskins.
Weakness: Maryland's defense allows an average of 5.0 yards per play (24th in FBS), so if Marshall can't produce offensively, it will be tough to win. Only once this season has Marshall scored 40-plus points and lost (a 51-49 loss to Middle Tennessee in October). Marshall's defense is good but not great.
Las Vegas Hilton Line: Marshall -3
Related: Scouting The Military Bowl