12:30 p.m. today
Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.
Keys to today's game
1. Rasheed Marshall: West Virginia's quarterback had an awful game in College Park three months ago, completing just two of seven passes and rushing for negative yardage in Maryland's 34-7 win. If the Terps load up to stop the run, Marshall will have to make plays in the passing game for the Mountaineers to have success.
2. Emotion: West Virginia has revenge on its mind, and won't have trouble getting ready to play. Maryland, on the other hand, doesn't have a lot to prove against the Mountaineers, having easily beaten them twice in the last two years. The Terps need to focus to avoid coming out flat, something that happened against Wake Forest. Quarterback Scott McBrien will be playing his final game against Rich Rodriguez, a coach he clashed with during his stint in Morgantown. It's a good bet McBrien will be fired up from the opening kickoff.
3. In-game adjustments: Both coaches have had a month to come up with something good, but the true test might come at halftime, especially if one team is dominating the action. In the first meeting, the Mountaineers couldn't run the ball in the opening half, and didn't have any success throwing it once they got behind. Maryland's passing game has sputtered early in recent weeks, but come on strong in the fourth quarter. West Virginia needs to pound the ball and connect on a few big plays, whereas the Terps need to keep the Mountaineers guessing with a steady mixture of run and pass.
When Maryland has the ball
Whether it's Bruce Perry or Josh Allen carrying the football, Maryland's offense starts with its running backs. Allen, a sophomore, led the Terps with 894 yards this year and scored eight touchdowns, including two in a 257-yard performance against Virginia. Perry, a senior, has been just as good, rushing for 646 yards (including a 237-yard, three-touchdown game against Wake Forest) but has missed three games with injuries.
West Virginia can take solace in the fact that its defense has had much more success against the run (giving up just 130.7 yards a game, 34th in the country) than against the pass (249.8 yards a game, 93rd in the country). All-America linebacker Grant Wiley will do his best to shut down Perry and Allen. He leads the Mountaineers with 154 tackles.
The wild card is McBrien. He's thrown for 2,291 yards and 16 touchdowns this year, but the past two games against West Virginia, he's made a key play both times with his feet. In 2002, he scored on a 21-yard run, and this year he set up another touchdown with a 43-yard scamper.
When West Virginia has the ball
Running back Quincy Wilson didn't become a full-time starter until this season, but he's blossomed into a star and turned himself into a legitimate NFL prospect, rushing for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns. Wilson, a Doak Walker semifinalist, isn't particularly big (5 feet 9, 210 pounds) but he's quick and difficult to bring down.
Maryland managed to bottle up Wilson in the first meeting between the two schools -- his 71 rushing yards on 20 carries were a season low -- but the Mountaineers have since shuffled their offensive line, which has opened more running room for Wilson.
The Terps' run defense has been a strength for much of the season, but in Maryland's final regular-season game, Wake Forest running back Chris Barclay ran for 243 yards. Still, Maryland is 12th in the country in scoring defense (16.6 points a game). Linebackers Shawne Merriman and D'Qwell Jackson are emerging stars, but the key to Maryland's defense is 300-pound junior defensive tackle Randy Starks. Starks is super quick, and has the potential to be a good NFL player. Freshman center Jeremy Hines, who didn't start against Maryland three months ago, will likely have his hands full with Starks, who has said recently he'd consider leaving Maryland a year early if he's picked in the first round. A dominant performance in a New Year's Day bowl game might help raise his stock.
Maryland wide receiver Steve Suter tied an NCAA record in 2002 with four punt returns for touchdowns, but he hasn't been the same player this season, slowed by a knee injury that will require surgery after the season. West Virginia has two explosive returners in Adam Jones and Lance Frazier. Both have returned a kick for a touchdown this season.
The Terps appear to have an advantage in the kicking game. Nick Novak has hit 22 of 28 field-goal attempts (79 percent) with a long of 54, while Brad Cooper is 11-for-17 (65 percent) with a long of 43. Maryland punter Adam Podlesh has averaged 42.6 yards a kick while dropping 21 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen and West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez are similar in a lot of ways. Both are former offensive coordinators coaching at their alma mater, both took the job hoping to resurrect a struggling program, and both have had immediate success. Rodriguez went 3-8 his first year in Morgantown, but has gone 17-8 since. Friedgen is 30-8 in three years at Maryland, and has won more games in his first three seasons than any coach in Atlantic Coast Conference history. Friedgen, however, is 2-0 against Rodriguez and has averaged 42 points in those two victories. Friedgen also has a postseason victory to his credit, defeating Tennessee last season in the Peach Bowl to push his bowl game record to 1-1. Rodriguez is 0-1, having lost to Virginia, 48-22, last season in the Tire Bowl.
This season marks the 25th anniversary of the Gator Bowl where Ohio State coach Woody Hayes sucker-punched Clemson's Charlie Bauman after an interception. West Virginia might stun Maryland early, but like Bauman, the Terps will be the one standing tall in the end, getting just enough out of their passing game to win.
Maryland 31, West Virginia 21