POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 29, 2010
WASHINGTON » It's been a slow, sad march toward Ralph Friedgen's final game as coach at Maryland.
"Being with the players one last time is pretty special," Friedgen said. "You know, it's kind of like you died. It's a slow death. Everything you experience is for the last time. It's been a very stressful week for me."
Friedgen was on the verge of tears at nearly every question at this week's official news conference for the Military Bowl, which matches the Terrapins (8-4) against East Carolina (6-6) today at RFK Stadium. This was a game Maryland didn't want to play—the school felt it deserved a better bowl fate after tying for third in the Atlantic Coast Conference—and now it's taken on a feel that's more funeral than festival since the announcement last week that the ACC's coach of the year was being fired, effective after the game.
"I think I have enjoyed practice more than they have," Friedgen said, "because I just don't know if I will be doing it again. I have been savoring the moment."
The Military Bowl, trying to establish footing in just its third year of existence, was tabbed to get the No. 8 selection from the ACC, but more enticing bowls kept picking other conference schools ahead of Maryland, landing the school in a game played only a few miles from campus.
East Carolina should be happy to be playing in any bowl, given that the school has the worst defense in the country—ranking 120th out of 120 FBS teams. The Pirates give up 478.8 yards per game and have allowed at least 45 points in five straight games.
"You couldn't ask for a better Christmas present," first-year coach Ruffin McNeill said.
The Pirates are a bowl favorite because their fan base travels well—it wouldn't be surprising if Maryland fans are a minority in their own back yard at RFK—and the purple-and-gold always relish any chance to knock off a team from the ACC.
For years, some ACC teams wouldn't schedule East Carolina—this is the first meeting with Maryland—but this season the Pirates are 1-2 against the conference that dominates their region.
McNeill has an understanding of Friedgen's situation. He was Texas Tech's defensive coordinator a year ago and coached the Red Raiders to a win in the Alamo Bowl after Mike Leach was fired.
There's perhaps no sense in pretending No. 16 Oklahoma State (10-2) doesn't have other issues besides today's Alamo Bowl against Arizona (7-5).
Offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen will leave next month for West Virgina, where he was hired this month as the coach-in-waiting. Quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon may be playing their final game at Oklahoma State if they leave for the NFL Draft.
Robert Griffin had plenty of time to set goals for this year while sitting out most of last season recovering from ACL surgery.
Today, Baylor's star quarterback hopes to mark another goal off that list when the Bears look for their first bowl win since 1992 when they face Illinois in the Texas Bowl.
Illinois coach Ron Zook knows his team has a challenge in dealing with Baylor's high-powered offense. He says they don't expect to stop the Bears, but he hopes to at least slow them down.