MARYLAND TERRAPINS (7-5) vs. STANFORD CARDINAL (7-5)
DEC. 30, 10 P.M. ET, LEVI'S STADIUM, SANTA CLARA, CALIF. (ESPN)
Season highlights: Maryland’s 20-19 win over Penn State -- on a last-minute field goal -- wasn’t just the highlight of the season. For coach Randy Edsall, it might have been the highlight of his Maryland career. “You all want the stock answer, of course,” he said, when asked if this was his biggest win. “But, yeah, it is. You don’t know what this means to our program.” The defense forced four turnovers, tallied nine tackles for loss and broke up seven passes. It was the first time Maryland had ever won in Beaver Stadium. No victory was bigger, but a 38-31 win over Iowa helped cement Maryland's status as a force in the Big Ten.
Season lowlights: The Terps were a heavy favorite over Rutgers in the regular-season finale, so when they took a commanding 35-10 lead in the second quarter, most assumed the rout was on. Well, most assumed wrong. Rutgers rallied to outscore Maryland 31-3 and ended up completing the unlikely comeback in a 41-38 victory. It was the biggest comeback in Rutgers history and one of the worst for Maryland. Said Edsall: “It’s disappointing to say the least.” Big losses to Ohio State (52-24) and Wisconsin (52-7) hurt from earlier in the season, but none carried a sting quite like Rutgers.
Player to watch: WR Stefon Diggs. He missed the last three games with a lacerated kidney (and an overlapping one-game suspension), but he is expected to be back in time for the bowl game. Still, nine games are all the Big Ten coaches needed to see to place him on the All-Big Ten second team. He is the playmaker of this offense, and when he’s at his best, few are better. He finished second in the conference in receptions per game (5.8) and was fourth with 72.7 receiving yards per game. Kicker Brad Craddock and defensive back Will Likely are also worth watching.
Motivation factor: Maryland was expected to be a middle-of-the-road team in the Big Ten. In a lot of ways, the conference newcomer is still fighting to prove it’s better than that. Unlike Rutgers, Maryland was expected to make a bowl game this year, so its work isn’t quite done.
-- Josh Moyer
Season highlights: There weren’t many until the very end. Stanford was unable to register a victory against a ranked team until the regular-season finale, when it finally put it all together to stun UCLA 31-10 in the Rose Bowl. Before that game and a 38-17 rout of archival Cal a week earlier, the Cardinal had enjoyed consistently spectacular defensive play but not enough matching production on offense. They also won Pac-12 games against Washington, Washington State and Oregon State.
Season lowlights: For a program that entered 2014 coming off four consecutive BCS bowl appearances, there were plenty of these. The first came in Week 2 against USC, when Stanford managed only 10 points on nine trips into scoring territory in a 13-10 loss. That marked the onset of severe offensive woes. A heartbreaking 17-14 loss at Notre Dame was the next gut punch. Arizona State beat a listless Cardinal squad 26-10 before Oregon pulverized them 45-16. A 20-17 double-overtime setback to Utah marked the first consecutive defeats of the David Shaw era.
Player to watch: Quarterback Kevin Hogan is the most intriguing variable for the Cardinal moving forward. The redshirt junior still has one more year of eligibility remaining, but his struggles for much of the season led a restless portion of the fan base to hope that touted freshman Keller Chryst would take over in 2015. Hogan, however, delivered a spectacular 16-for-19 performance in the season-ending rout of UCLA, which might give Shaw something to think about -- especially if he values experience at quarterback. Many eyes should be on Hogan as Stanford enters a possible transition period.
Motivation factor: The Cardinal’s 7-5 record was their worst since 2008, the year before Andrew Luck took over as starting quarterback on the Farm. Stanford’s bowl prospects were in doubt when they dropped to 5-5 after that ugly loss to Utah, but the Cardinal rebounded to finish with a pair of wins. That puts Shaw’s team in position to close the 2014 campaign at 8-5, which should be motivation enough for a squad hungry to show that one disappointing season doesn’t yank a program from the nation’s elite.
-- David Lombardi