Baltimore Sun Media Group sports reporter Matt Zenitz previews the Maryland vs. Michigan football matchup Saturday in Ann Arbor. (Kevin Richardson/BSMG)
COLLEGE PARK — As postseason play nears, the opportunity is there for the Maryland football team to maybe face the Southeastern Conference's defending champion.
The Terps enter Saturday's game at Michigan with a 6-4 overall record, including a 3-3 mark in the Big Ten Conference. Wins against the Wolverines (5-3, 3-3) and Scarlet Knights next Saturday in their final regular-season games could earn the Terps a chance to face a high-profile team, such as Auburn, in a respected bowl game.
"Obviously, our main goal was to win the Big Ten, and then, obviously, after that, to go a big-time bowl," Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown said. "We've got an opportunity to do that if we win the last two games, and there's not a lot of people that gave us a chance to do that, especially sitting where we're at right now and sitting in a position that we control our own destiny."
The projections vary. The most optimistic, from CBS Sports, has Maryland landing in the Orlando, Fla.-based Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 to face a Gus Malzahn-led Auburn team that was in the national championship game a season ago.
Other analysts have the Terps playing Southern California in the Foster Farms Bowl, previously the Fight Hunger Bowl, on Dec. 30 in San Francisco.
ESPN's Brett McMurphy most recently projected Maryland to play Georgia Tech in the Dec. 27 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium; ESPN's Adam Rittenberg, who covers the Big Ten, had the Terps going to the Dec. 26 Heart of Dallas Bowl, considered one of the lower-tier bowl games for a Big Ten team.
"I've noticed that a lot of people have been surprised when we've beaten good teams or if we're even hanging in there with good teams, and I think that's because they didn't expect us to be as good as we are," Maryland linebacker L.A. Goree said. "And that's at 6-4. But as far as bowl recognition, I think it's very important to go to a solid bowl. We all want to go somewhere hot, I guess, as hot as possible. And to be 8-4, that's a good record. We can take that, even though the losses we had were hard to swallow."
The quest for better bowl positioning will continue against Michigan, which, fueled by a defense ranked eighth nationally, has won two straight after a 3-5 start.
While the Wolverines are ranked last in the Big Ten in total offense and have been held to 11 points or fewer in two of their past three games, Michigan has limited three of its past four opponents to 13 points or fewer.
Led by former Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, Michigan is tied for second in the Big Ten with 20 sacks during conference play and has held opposing rushers to 2.8 yards per carry.
"They're aggressive on defense," Terps coach Randy Edsall said, "and they run to the ball very well."
One of the priorities for Maryland will be getting quarterback C.J. Brown more involved as a runner, offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. Since running for 99 yards in the Terps' win over Iowa on Oct. 18, Brown has carried the ball just 21 times total in the past three games, not including sacks.
The Terps also hope to be able to exploit a Michigan defense ranked 11th out of the 14 teams in the Big Ten in passing-defense efficiency.
"We'll worry about [bowls] once the season's over," Edsall said. "The only thing that's really important to us is Michigan and trying to prepare the best way we can to get that seventh win and our fourth win in the conference."