Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said “we’re very proud” to play in the Military Bowl but expressed disappointment in the bowl selection process that dropped the 8-4 Terps to the ACC’s No. 8 bowl.
“We’re disappointed in the process,” he said on a Sunday evening teleconference. “We’re disappointed in the way things were determined, and it has nothing to do with the bowl game and who we’re playing. If we have any concerns it would be with the process.”
Maryland will face East Carolina (6-6, 5-3 C-USA) at RFK Stadium on Dec. 29 at 2:30 p.m. in a game nationally televised by ESPN.
“We’re happy where we’re at,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “We’re going to make the best of it.”
The Terps hoped their six-win improvement and other appeals—the conference’s coach of the year, rookie of the year and four first team all-ACC selections—would help them land a bowl in a warm-weather destination. But despite their 5-3 conference record, tied for third-best, slumping home attendance and other factors likely led to their fall to the Military Bowl.
Anderson, though, said bowl representatives told him and Friedgen that they were impressed with Maryland’s fan representation at previous bowl games and “we take everybody at their word value.”
He also believed Maryland’s season-ending win over N.C. State would elevate the Terps over the Wolfpack in the bowl selection. But N.C. State, which finished with the same overall and conference record, got picked for the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, the ACC’s No. 3 tie in and Maryland’s preferred destination.
“Evidently that last win wasn’t good enough,” Anderson said. “We have to take that into account (in the future). The next time we’re going to have to win more and make the championship game. Then you know exactly where you’re going to go and exactly what you’re going to do.”
The Terps averaged 39,168 fans in their six home games this season, about 73 percent of the 54,000 capacity for Byrd Stadium. N.C. State, meanwhile, was at or near capacity attendance for each of its six home games and hasn’t been to a bowl game in Florida since 2003.
Maryland could have been picked anywhere from the Chick-fil-A Bowl to the conference’s No. 9 tie-in, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.
But the Chick-fil-A Bowl took the loser of the ACC championship game, Florida State. The Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, had the No. 4 selection and took Miami (7-5, 5-3) and Notre Dame, a match up with national appeal. The Music City Bowl in Nashville took North Carolina (7-5, 4-4) and the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte took Clemson (6-6, 4-4), a logical choice given the proximity and the Tigers’ well-regarded fan base. The Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., which took Georgia Tech (6-6, 4-4), was never a realistic option for Maryland because of expenses.
Anderson, who took over as Maryland’s athletic director on Oct. 1, said he hopes to learn exactly which factors contribute to the bowl selection process.
“I’m looking at this more from a political aspect than from where people finish,” he said. “We finished tied for third. Things didn’t end up that way. We’ve talked to some league representatives and I think at our next meeting I would like to talk and get a better understanding how things take place.”
Friedgen hopes Maryland players will embrace their destination and he thinks the Military Bowl will surprise them with exciting events.
As for the game, the Terps will have a good chance to improve to 9-4 against East Carolina, a team that has struggled down the stretch and has one of the nation’s worst defenses.
The Pirates, which finished second in Conference USA’s East Division, lost four of their last five games and gave up at least 42 points in each, including a 76-35 loss to Navy. The Pirates are giving up 43.4 points a game, third-most in the nation, and 478.8 yards a game, most in the nation.
Their offense, led by former Boston College quarterback Dominique Davis, averages 38.1 points a game, seventh in the nation. Davis has thrown for 3,699 yards—fourth-most nationally—and 36 touchdowns.
Friedgen said he watched game tape of East Carolina’s 33-27 overtime win against N.C. State in preparation for playing the Wolfpack.
“They have an offense that’s very similar to Texas Tech,” he said. “It’s wide-open, it’s very explosive.”