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December 29, 2008

Maryland not happy to be in Humanitarian Bowl

MORE: Bowl schedule and coverage

When it comes to ticket sales for Tuesday's Humanitarian Bowl, Maryland fans evidently are taking their cue from Maryland players.

Maryland sold less than 1,000 tickets for the game against Nevada in Boise, Idaho, so it's evident Terps fans don't want to be there. Terps players don't, either.


Maryland (7-5)
vs. Nevada (7-5)

WHEN: 4:30 p.m. Dec. 30
WHERE: Bronco Stadium, Boise, Idaho.
TV: ESPN (Bob Wischusen will do play-by-play, with Brock Huard as the analyst).
THE LINE: Nevada by 1.5.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Maryland 5-3, Nevada 2-4.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Maryland 40th, Nevada T-55th.
BCS RANKINGS: N/A for either team.
COACHES: Maryland − Ralph Friedgen (3-2 in bowls); Nevada − Chris Ault (1-4 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: There's the so-called "Smurf Turf" at Bronco Stadium, but watching just to see the blue field is passé now. Truthfully, there is no reason unless you're a Maryland or Nevada fan.
KEY STATS: Nevada is second nationally in rushing offense, at 291.4 yards per game. The Wolf Pack have scored 37 rushing TDs. Maryland is 72nd in rushing defense, allowing 149.4 yards per game. But the Terps have allowed just 11 rushing touchdowns.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick is 6 feet 6 and seemingly gains at least 3 yards every time he takes a step. Despite his size, Kaepernick is a deceptively smooth runner (1,115 yards, 16 TDs), but he needs to improve his passing accuracy (54.8 percent).
"The bowl shuffle, it wasn't fair," Terps quarterback Chris Turner told reporters earlier this month. "We don't look at ourselves as the eighth-best team. We deserved better than this, and obviously we hurt ourselves."

The "eighth-best team" remark was in reference to the Humanitarian Bowl having the eighth pick from among ACC teams. While Maryland beat four ranked teams this season, the Terps finished 7-5 and head into the bowl having lost three of their past four games, including two in a row to end the regular season.

The Terps will be the last ACC team to be upset about a Humanitarian bid, as the bowl's deal with the league ends with this game. Next season, it's expected that the bowl will match a WAC team against a Mountain West team.

Nevada is the WAC team this season. The Wolf Pack come in having won three of their past four to finish 7-5. They played two "Big Six" conference schools this season, losing to Missouri and Texas Tech by a combined 104-36.

Who has the edge?

Maryland run offense vs. Nevada run defense
Maryland has been inconsistent running the ball, and the Terps need speedy TB Da'Rel Scott to produce in this one. Nevada has been excellent against the run, allowing just 74.5 rushing yards per game, which is third-best nationally. One reason why is that Nevada is horrendous against the pass, so why run? And worth noting is that in two games against "Big Six" conference opponents, Nevada allowed 256 rushing yards and six TDs.
Edge: Even.

Maryland pass offense vs. Nevada pass defense
The Terps' passing attack isn't much – 207.4 yards per game, with 13 TDs – but Nevada's pass defense is the worst in the nation. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey has been criminally underutilized this season – just 38 catches – but he could have a huge day if the Terps go to him. Watch Nevada's pass rush. Maryland has had trouble protecting QB Chris Turner, and Nevada averages 2.9 sacks per game, which is eighth-best nationally. Kevin Basped and Dontay Moch have combined for 19.5 sacks.
Edge: Maryland.

Nevada run offense vs. Maryland run defense
The Wolf Pack literally have run over people all season, averaging almost 300 yards per game on the ground behind QB Colin Kaepernick and TB Vai Taua (1,420 yards, 14 TDs, seven 100-yard games). But Nevada had trouble running the ball in its final two regular-season games, combining for 247 yards against bowl teams Boise State and Louisiana Tech. Maryland has had trouble stopping the run. The Terps allowed at least 170 rushing yards in six games and more than 200 three times. The Terps have an active linebacker corps, and LBs Dave Philistin and Alex Wujciak have to play well. If the Terps struggle in this area again, they will not win.
Edge: Nevada.

Nevada pass offense vs. Maryland pass defense
The Wolf Pack have a solid receiving corps, headed by deep threat Marko Mitchell (56 catches, 1,011 yards, nine TDs). Kaepernick has thrown 19 TD passes and just five picks, but he still remains a work in progress as a passer. The Terps' pass defense has been adequate, but they haven't exactly faced a "Who's Who" of great college quarterbacks, either. Maryland has allowed 17 TD passes and has just eight picks. The pass rush is nothing special, and Kaepernick's mobility makes him hard to sack.
Edge: Even.

Maryland special teams vs. Nevada special teams
Maryland K Obi Egekeze is just 15-of-24 on field-goal attempts. He started the season 0-of-5, but he did hit 10 in a row in midseason. P Travis Baltz averages 41.4 per kick and has dropped 19 inside the opponents' 20. Kickoff returner Torrey Smith is a good one, though punt returner Danny Oquendo is nothing special. Maryland's punt-coverage team is excellent, its kick-coverage unit adequate. Nevada K Brett Jaekle is 14-of-17 on field-goal attempts – including 10 of his past 11 – but his long is 43 yards and he's just 2-of-4 from beyond 40. Nevada's return units are bad; its punt-coverage team is average, but its kick-coverage unit is weak. P Brad Langley is injured, so Jaekle also will handle those duties.
Edge: Even.

Maryland coaches vs. Nevada coaches
This is the sixth bowl in eight seasons for Maryland, which had been to just one bowl in the preceding 16 seasons. Ralph Friedgen is known as an offensive innovator, but his offenses have struggled somewhat the past few seasons. This is the fourth bowl in a row for Nevada. Chris Ault is the inventor of the "Pistol" offense, which has the tailback lined up behind the quarterback in the shotgun.
Edge: Even.

X-factor: Maryland's mind-set is important. A trip to Boise is not a favored destination for an ACC team. And Friedgen admitted to the media in the past week that he's not sure how motivated his team will be.

Maryland will win if: The Terps must hold Nevada to less than 200 rushing yards. If that happens, Maryland can win. Even though the Maryland passing attack is not that good, Turner will have some success because Nevada is so bad against the pass. Heyward-Bey could have a monster outing. It would help his cause is Scott can run effectively as well.

Nevada will win if: The Wolf Pack need to do what they do best – run the ball with Kaepernick and Taua. Maryland certainly isn't a top 25 team, but the Terps have better athletes than Nevada and are going to have offensive success. And Maryland did beat four ranked teams this season. If Nevada can control the ball on the ground – the Wolf Pack, on average, have the ball for almost six minutes more per game than their opponents – it will be in good shape.

The picks
Mike Huguenin: Maryland 30, Nevada 28

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Monday at 8:15 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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