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Big Ten Conference championship could affect Terps' bowl destination

Matt Zenitz
Contact ReporterBaltimore Sun Media Group
Wondering where Maryland's headed for its bowl game? You'll have to wait until Sunday.

Rick Catlett has been asked the same question this week: Which teams are going to play in your bowl game?

Catlett, president and CEO of the TaxSlayer Bowl, has responded the same way each time.

"I've told them I absolutely have no clue," said Catlett, whose game previously was known as the Gator Bowl.

Bowl organizers and teams such as Maryland are in similar positions, held up by a bowl landscape that will not become clear until after this weekend's conference championship games.

If Wisconsin beats Ohio State on Saturday in the Big Ten Conference championship, the Terps (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten) could land in a respected bowl game, such as the TaxSlayer Bowl, Music City Bowl or Foster Farms Bowl. If the Badgers lose, Maryland is more likely to wind up in a less prestigious game, such as the Quick Lane Bowl.

Bowl matchups will be announced Sunday.

"There are too many games still," Outback Bowl president and CEO president Jim McVay said. "There are so many moving parts. … It's all changing. The new format with six [College Football Playoff] bowls, the selection committee and championship games that all mean something this weekend really leaves everything wide open and up in the air."

The CFP committee's top four teams will compete in its two semifinal games, and this year's four top-tier CFP bowl games — the Fiesta, Cotton, Chik-fil-A Peach and Orange — will take an additional eight teams.

With Ohio State (No. 5), Michigan State (No. 8) and Wisconsin (No. 13) all highly ranked in the most recent CFP rankings, a Badgers title Saturday could lead to three Big Ten teams in CFP bowls.

Under that scenario, the Outback Bowl, which normally gets the third choice of bowl-eligible Big Ten teams, would have to choose from among teams a rung below, such as Minnesota and Nebraska. A trickle-down effect would impact lesser bowls with Big Ten tie-ins.

Further complicating the Terps' bowl picture is an agreement between the College Football Playoff and Big Ten that bars the league from having a team in both the Orange Bowl and Citrus Bowl.

With many analysts projecting Michigan State to land in the Orange Bowl, a bowl-eligible team such as Illinois (6-6, 3-5), Rutgers (7-5, 3-5) or Maryland could be left out of the postseason altogether.

"There are a lot of variables that are certainly out of our control," McVay said, later adding: "There's a lot going on out there. There's a lot of moving parts. We really can't predict anything. Even if we do sit down and try to logically forecast, it's going to change dramatically with one game. It tips everything over."

Helping Maryland is the fact that only five teams in the conference finished with a better record than the Terps: Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Minnesota. The Terps also finished with a better conference record than Rutgers, a win over Iowa (7-5, 4-4), and road victories over Big Ten powers Michigan and Penn State.

"We've watched them, and they've had a nice season," McVay said. "This was their first shot at the Big Ten. They're obviously well coached. They're obviously a tough, scrappy football team. They can compete now. They're pretty good."

Hurting Maryland is its 41-38 loss Saturday to Rutgers, average attendance figures and lack of a national following.

While bowl committees consider records, head-to-head results and circumstances such as injuries, they also weigh factors such as a fan base's willingness to attend bowl games. For that reason, Penn State (6-6, 2-6), whose average attendance this season was 101,623, is likely to appear in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Maryland had two sellouts this season but ranked fifth worst in the Big Ten in average home attendance (46,981), ahead of only Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern and Purdue.

"They're definitely a team on the rise," Catlett said. "It probably would have helped if they would have figured out how to beat Rutgers. Obviously, you want a team that's won a game at the end. But I think they're an excellent program. I think they have good passionate fans, and I think any bowl would be pleased to have them."

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