Military Bowl breakdown: Marshall vs. Maryland
Marshall (9-4) vs. Maryland (7-5)
Dec. 27, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: Maryland's last trip to the Military Bowl in 2010 capped a 9-4 campaign and preceded the firing of reigning ACC coach of the year Ralph Friedgen. Three seasons into the tenure of Friedgen's replacement, Randy Edsall, the Terrapins return to the same stage, but it's doubtful Edsall is in danger of losing his job even if Maryland falls. After starting 4-0 this fall and cracking the AP Poll for the first time since the end of the '10 season, the Terps dropped four of their next five, including a 63-0 drubbing at the hands of Florida State on Oct. 5. With hopes for the postseason fading, Maryland was able to regroup and win two of its last three.
On the other sideline, Marshall is led by quarterback Rakeem Cato (3,579 passing yards, 36 touchdowns, nine interceptions) and all-conference wide receiver Tommy Shuler (97 catches, 1,097 receiving yards, nine touchdowns). The Thundering Herd boast an explosive offense that ranks 22nd nationally in yards per play (6.44), seventh in points per game (43.0) and 24th in Football Outsiders' offensive S&P+ ratings, respectively. Cato and company will be challenged by a Terrapins defense that allows just 5.01 yards per play (24th in the country) and is anchored by All-ACC honorable mention linebacker Marcus Whitfield (9.0 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss) and defensive tackle Andre Monroe (8.5 sacks, 14.0 tackles for loss).
• Keep an eye on: Cato, who was named Conference USA's offensive player of the year despite seeing most of his numbers dip from last season. In 2012, Cato led the country in attempts (584), completions (406) and passing yards per game (350.1), but Marshall finished 5-7. If Cato can carry the Herd past the Terrapins, it would clinch their first 10-win campaign since '02.
• Did you know: Marshall's offense is not only balanced (291.2 passing yards per game, 211.2 rushing yards), but it's also fast-paced. The Herd average 80.2 plays per game, 20th in the country, according to teamrankings.com. Still, compared to the blistering pace the attack maintained last season (92.8 plays per game, most in the country), Marshall appears to be pumping the breaks in 2013. That doesn't mean it has been any less successful: The Thundering Herd have converted more third downs (102) than any team in the nation.
• Final analysis: Maryland showed late life by winning road games at Virginia Tech (27-24 in overtime on Nov. 16) and NC State (41-21 on Nov. 30) in the final month of the season. The Terrapins should carry some momentum into this one. However, the bigger question is whether Maryland will be able to slow Marshall's high-powered offense. While the Herd struggled against Rice in the C-USA title game, the Terps could have a tough time slowing Cato, Shuler and running back Essray Taliaferro (1,059 rushing yards, nine touchdowns).
• The pick: Marshall 30, Maryland 24