Maryland (7-5) vs. Stanford (7-5)
Dec. 30, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: One of the nation’s best defenses matches up with one of its most dangerous receivers when the Cardinal meet junior Stefon Diggs, who can take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Diggs has been sidelined with a lacerated kidney since Nov. 1, but is expected to return for the bowl. Stanford spent the last four postseasons making BCS appearances, and this is Maryland’s second consecutive bowl trip. A Terrapins’ win over one of the premier programs of the last five years would be a coup of sorts.
• Keep an eye on: Stanford’s offense. The Cardinal boast one of the top defenses in the nation, giving up just 16 points and 287.4 yards per game, second and fifth in the FBS, respectively. Their last two outings were consecutive 21-point blowout wins over Cal and UCLA. Perhaps more importantly, Stanford’s offense -- which has been pedestrian all season, and scores touchdowns in the red zone only 51 percent of the time -- found some life in those victories, led by quarterback Kevin Hogan. Hogan averages 217 passing yards and 20 rushing yards per game, but can hurt foes with his legs if given room. The Cardinal would get a boost with the return of receiver Ty Montgomery (604 yards, three touchdowns), who missed the regular-season finale with a shoulder injury, but might be healthy by Dec. 30.
• Did you know: Diggs hasn’t played in a game in almost two full months. He should easily be the most rested player on the field, and arguably the most talented. A scrum with a Big Ten official and a lacerated kidney kept him out of Maryland’s final three games, and his 73.7-yard receiving average seems, well, average. Yet he is being projected as a third- or fourth-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft, if he were to declare. After a host of injury problems -- he missed the final six games of the ’13 campaign with a broken leg -- Diggs is due for some good karma.
• Final analysis: It’s great that Maryland is excited to be on the West Coast, but give the edge to the closer-to-home team. Stanford will play in a familiar area and time zone. Maryland’s ground game is lacking, to put it nicely -- the Terps’ leading rusher, C.J. Brown, averages a paltry 47.4 yards per game -- and will find no space against this defense. Stanford has had its share of problems this fall, but don’t discount what coach David Shaw and company have built (and maintained, for the most part) in the Bay. The Cardinal have a roster full of guys who expect to win, and behind dominant defensive performances. Stanford should handle the Terrapins with relative ease.
• The pick: Stanford 17, Maryland 10