Surprising Maryland closes in on becoming bowl eligible
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) After going 3-9 last season and winning only one Big Ten game, Maryland now needs one victory to become bowl eligible.
First-year coach DJ Durkin insists that's not a topic of discussion in the locker room. That doesn't mean the Terrapins (5-2, 2-2) are oblivious to the significance of Saturday's game at Indiana (3-4, 1-3).
''It honestly feels really good, getting an opportunity at Indiana to get that sixth win,'' senior quarterback Perry Hills said. ''Especially after what we went through last year.''
A year ago, Hills threw 13 interceptions and only eight touchdown passes. Coach Randy Edsall was fired in the middle of the season, and Maryland lost eight straight before beating Rutgers in the season finale.
This season, Hills leads the Big Ten in completion percentage (66.4) and passing efficiency (151.8). More importantly, he's got eight TD passes and two interceptions.
His value to the team can be measured by what Maryland does - or can't do - without him. Hills exited late in the second quarter at Penn State on Oct. 8, and the Terrapins went scoreless in the second half of a 38-14 defeat. He sat out the entire game the following week, a 31-10 loss against visiting Minnesota.
In his return last Saturday night, Hills went 21 for 27 for 200 yards and two scores in a 28-17 victory over Michigan State.
''Perry has always been a leader by example with his work ethic and his toughness,'' Durkin said. ''Now, he's playing successfully at the quarterback position. We have always believed that Perry can get the job done. He's had some ups and downs throughout his career, so it's great to see him playing with confidence.''
Hills has twice torn his ACL and been in and out of the starting lineup before getting to this point. Now, as the Terrapins stand on the cusp of bowl eligibility, he's poised to check that accomplishment off the list.
''Obviously, we have goals as a team. The first step would be to get those six wins,'' Hills said. ''Then, a Big Ten championship and a national championship.''
The latter two objectives might be out of reach this season, but Durkin hopes the team is headed in that direction. He's utilized more than dozen true freshmen with designs of building a squad capable of competing with Ohio State, Michigan and the other Big Ten powerhouses.
''These freshmen don't look out of place,'' Durkin said. ''We're building this thing for the long term. This playing time is valuable moving forward. We're rotating guys at every position. That's how you build a program the right way.''
That could be one reason why Durkin isn't focused on the ramifications of gaining bowl eligibility at Indiana.
''It's not something we've ever talked about,'' he said. ''We're just trying to be the best team we can be week-to-week. When you take care of things that way, you find yourself where you want to be at the end of the season.''
The point is, why stop now?
''We missed the mark last year, but I don't think our goal ends at six wins,'' guard Mike Minter said. ''We want to win every one of them.''
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