Maryland (8-4) vs. East Carolina (6-6)Dec. 29, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch: There's some tension on the Maryland sidelines of late. You might have heard. After leading the Terps to the second-best turnaround in the FBS and earning ACC Coach of the Year honors, Ralph Friedgen was unceremoniously dismissed by his alma mater on Dec. 20. The move became official three days after offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting James Franklin accepted the head job at Vanderbilt, to which Franklin is expected to lure his share of Maryland assistants. The Fridge's swan song will take place just over 10 miles from campus at Washington's RFK Stadium, but that's actually one more reason the Terps should be concerned: The coaches are leaving, the team doesn't get to travel for its game and the Terps are stuck filling the ACC's eighth bowl spot despite finishing one win from playing for the conference title. Yikes.
Keep an eye on: Maryland receiver Torrey Smith. The speedster posted a career year as a junior with 65 receptions, 1,045 yards and 12 touchdowns and emerged as the go-to guy for freshman quarterback and ACC Rookie of the Year Danny O'Brien. The pair really hit their stride in the regular-season finale against NC State, connecting 14 times for 224 yards and four scores. The ECU defense is streaking in the opposite direction, having allowed a whopping 54.8 points per game over its final five contests. (Not surprisingly, the Pirates dropped four of those five.) ECU's season-long stats aren't much better: 43.4 points and 478.8 yards per game, figures that give the Pirates the dubious distinction of fielding the nation's worst defense. Maryland can also exploit ECU with the run, but Smith is the team's most dangerous weapon.
Did you know: East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis' first collegiate start came against Maryland on Nov. 29, 2008. Then a redshirt freshman at Boston College, Davis stepped in for the injured Chris Crane to complete 12 of 24 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. The 28-21 win secured Boston College a place in the ACC Championship Game.
Final analysis: Maryland is the more balanced team, but if the Terps allow disappointment and distractions to get in the way, ECU will pounce. Davis ranks fourth nationally with 3,699 passing yards and has a pair of near 1,000-yard receivers at his disposal in Dwayne Harris (1,055 yards, 10 TDs) and Lance Lewis (979 yards, 13 TDs). And while the Terps are bemoaning their bowl fate, the Pirates are pumped for their 280-mile journey up I-95 and expect a sizeable purple presence in the stands. Friedgen went 74-50 in 10 years at his alma mater. Ultimately, favorable matchups should allow Maryland to rally around its head man and deliver a victory in the Friedgen Farewell Bowl.
The pick: Maryland 38, East Carolina 31
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline shares his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:
East Carolina: WR Dwayne Harris -- Harris is a sufficiently sized wideout with reliable hands and a good head for the position. He finds a way to break free from defenders to make himself an available target for the quarterback and consistently comes away with the tough grab. He projects as a fourth receiver at the next level. Grade: Fourth-round prospect.
Maryland: WR Torrey Smith* -- Maryland's home run hitter on offense is a proven deep threat who strikes fear into opposing defenses. Constantly stretching the field vertically, Smith is an accomplished pass-catcher, not just a speed guy. Smith will declare for the NFL draft. Grade: First- to second-round prospect.
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