BOISE, Idaho - Dean Muhtadi was nothing if not candid.
Everyone knows the Humanitarian Bowl wasn't Maryland's first choice for a postseason game, the senior defensive tackle said. No, he said, there won't be a bevy of Terrapins fans in attendance at Boise State's 32,000-seat stadium with the famous blue turf.
But, Muhtadi said, it's still a bowl game and the final outing for Terps seniors such as defensive lineman Jeremy Navarre, wide receiver Danny Oquendo, center Edwin Williams and Muhtadi himself. It might also be the last Maryland game for junior wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who will announce in the next few weeks whether he'll forgo his senior season for a shot at the NFL.
The game also presents a chance for Da'Rel Scott to become Maryland's first 1,000-yard rusher since Chris Downs (1,154) in 2002. Scott needs 41 yards.
"It is what it is and we're excited to play, so we don't care how many people are in the stands," Muhtadi said. "If you're a die-hard Maryland fan - a true Maryland fan - you'll be watching the game. We're going to come out guns blazing. This is it for 30 seniors."
Maryland (7-5) and Nevada (7-5) went through their final walk-throughs yesterday on the field, which looks even brighter - an electric blue - in person than on television.
Bowl officials said yesterday that about 21,000 tickets had been sold. They have been hoping for about 26,000 and believe the relatively favorable weather - in the high 30s with no snowstorms in sight - could push the figure closer to their goal by kickoff. Maryland is expected to sell more than the 250 tickets that Georgia Tech fans purchased for the game last season - but fewer than 1,000.
Like Muhtadi, other Terps have found varying motivations for getting up for Nevada, which possesses a potent offense led by 6-foot-6 quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who rushed for 1,115 yards.
Many Terps say they want to send coach Ralph Friedgen's largest-ever senior class out with a victory. Others are eager for a win to avoid ending the season with a three-game losing streak - hardly the finish a team wants as it looks ahead to next year.
"It would just be nice to end on a high note," junior quarterback Chris Turner said.
A loss to Florida State in the second-to-last regular-season game ended Maryland's hopes of advancing to the Atlantic Coast Conference title game with a berth in the Orange Bowl at stake. That was the game the Terps had eyed all season. "We set our destiny on which bowl we wanted," safety Kenny Tate said.
After the Orange Bowl vanished from Maryland's horizon, the season became an exercise in adjusting the team's goals - in not allowing disappointment to wreck what remained of the season.
Friedgen said his players are resilient enough to bounce back. Practices leading up to the game have been as spirited as ever, he said.
"They're trash-talking to each other. Then they start getting on the coaches. We've had some hitting going on, too," Friedgen said. "Eight-and-five sounds a lot better than seven-and-six," he said.
Maryland will face Nevada's "pistol offense" that ranked second in the nation in rushing. In the pistol, the quarterback lines up in shotgun formation but closer to the line. A running back is set directly behind.
The formation is designed to give the quarterback the shotgun's advantage of standing back and reading the defense. But it puts added pressure on the defense because the quarterback can also hand off or run.
Running back Vai Taua, who also topped 1,000 yards, said he likes the system because he's farther from the line than in other offenses. "I get the ball deeper. There's a lot more I can do with it," he said.
Note: : When you go to the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., you swim. Maryland players often talk about how much they enjoyed the pool when they participated in that game in 2006. It only follows that when you go to a bowl game in Idaho, you participate in winter sports. That's just what Maryland and Nevada players did, heading to a ski resort Sunday for snow tubing. Players also went bowling and were scheduled to visit patients at hospitals during their trip.
MARYLAND (7-5) vs. NEVADA (7-5)
Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM
Matchup: Maryland (7-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) vs. Nevada (7-5, 5-3 Western Athletic Conference) in Humanitarian Bowl
Time: 4:30 p.m.
Site: Bronco Stadium, Boise, Idaho
Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM
Line: Nevada by 2
Series: This is the teams' first meeting.
Maryland offense vs. Nevada defense: It will be tempting for Maryland to throw all day. That's because Nevada is third in the nation in rushing defense but last in passing defense (321 yards a game). But Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen believes strongly in balance, so he'll try to get something going with Da'Rel Scott, who needs 41 yards to top 1,000 for the season. A question mark is whether deep-threat WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, who missed Maryland's regular-season finale against Boston College with a calf strain, can return and be effective.
Maryland defense vs. Nevada offense: With two 1,000-yard rushers (QB Colin Kaepernick and RB Vai Taua) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Marko Mitchell), Nevada's offense makes opponents nervous. The Wolf Pack ranks fifth in the nation in total offense and 13th in scoring offense. This will be a test for Maryland assistant coach Al Seamonson, who was named interim defensive coordinator after Chris Cosh left for Kansas State at the end of the regular season.
Prediction: Nevada 30, Maryland 24