Against Stanford, Terps set to take 'another step' in successful season

Matt Zenitz
Contact ReporterBaltimore Sun Media Group
The Terps have held their own in the Big Ten. And they have a chance for another signature win.

The question was about recruiting, asked during a conference call in early December after Maryland secured oral commitments from two top local prospects.

Maryland coach Randy Edsall's answer, however, sounded true about more than just that one area: "The buzz around here locally is as high as it's ever been since I've been here."

Playing Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl on Dec. 30 is an opportunity for the Terps to add to that buzz, a chance for Maryland to build on the momentum it has generated through a competitive first season as a member of the Big Ten, its recent success in recruiting and the finalization of plans to construct a state-of-the-art indoor practice facility.

"I think all this stuff adds up," said Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, a former coach at Vanderbilt, Louisiana State and Indiana. "I think playing in the bowl game is another step in a really good season that they've had, where they can take another big step."

The caliber of opponent is what makes this such a great opportunity for Maryland, which finished the regular season with a 7-5 record, including 4-4 in Big Ten play. The Terps are 14-point underdogs, according to ESPN, against the Cardinal.

On a recent ESPN show, college football analyst Todd McShay was asked to guess the winner of each bowl game and to give his level of confidence in each prediction.

The team he said he is most confident will win? Stanford.

While the Cardinal have the same record as the Terps, all five of Stanford's losses came against ranked teams. The Cardinal lost three of those games by just three points and won, 31-10, at No. 8 UCLA in their final game of the regular season.

After a mostly lackluster previous 30 years, Stanford's football program was revived by current San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and has remained among the best teams in the Pac-12 since former Ravens assistant coach David Shaw took over in 2011.

The Cardinal played in four straight Bowl Championship Series games from 2010 through last season and finished ranked no worse than 11th nationally in any of those four seasons.

"They're excited," Edsall said of his players. "Any time you play, you want to play against the best. Stanford is a very good program. They've been to four BCS bowls before this year. They're talented.

"All you have to do is watch them on film and watch them play against the opponents that they've played against. We know that we're going to have to play very, very well. … Our kids are up to the challenge and looking forward to it."

Winning likely will depend on Maryland's ability to move the ball against one of the top-ranked defenses in the country.

Like the Terps, Stanford has been inconsistent on offense and is ranked just 87th nationally in scoring. However, the Cardinal are second in the country in scoring defense, sixth in sacks, seventh in pass defense and 11th in rushing defense.

Stanford has allowed an average of just 13.4 points per game to teams not named Oregon, and it held UCLA, which is 22nd nationally in total offense, to 262 yards of offense on Nov. 28.

"Defensively, they are a team that is very experienced, very senior-oriented," Edsall said. "It's a defense that is very well coordinated and runs to the ball well and plays very physical as well."

The location adds to the difficulty of the matchup for the Terps. The site of the game, Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., is about 35 minutes from Stanford's campus.

"It's no different than when we go on the road and play anybody else," said Edsall, whose team is 5-1 on the road this year. "I'm sure they are going to have a home-field advantage. … It's just like any other game.

"You just go and prepare and do the things you have to do to get yourself ready, and then you go play the game and hope that you do enough to end up with one more point than they have."

Working in the Terps' favor is that star wide receiver Stefon Diggs will play for the first time since suffering a lacerated kidney against Penn State on Nov. 1. The junior wide receiver's return could spark Maryland's offense and help the Terps end the season with one more signature win.

"Honestly, I think once Maryland became bowl-eligible this year, that was a bigger issue than whether they win the bowl or not," DiNardo said. "I think it's an extra boost if they win the thing.

"But to join the Big Ten, to beat Michigan at Michigan, to beat Penn State at Penn State, I think they've already made a statement. They can make another statement, but I think they've already made a statement."

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