COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Garnering the six wins necessary to become bowl eligible is a goal of every Big Ten coach.
Once a team gets there, the feat is celebrated. Until that happens, most coaches have no desire to discuss the possibility.
Maryland will bring a 4-3 record into Saturday’s game against Illinois, a team that’s lost four of five and yielded 46 points in each of its last two games. With a victory at home, the Terrapins would need just one win in their final four games to qualify for a bowl bid.
Playing in a bowl game would be a remarkable achievement for Maryland. The Terps have dedicated the season to offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who died of heatstroke two weeks after collapsing during a May 29 workout. In addition, offensive coordinator Matt Canada is serving as interim coach while DJ Durkin is on administrative leave, pending the result of an investigation of the football program.
Instead of publicly embracing the notion of becoming bowl eligible, Canada retreated into the classic one-game-at-a-time mantra.
“It goes against everything that we talk about,” he insisted. “We’ve got to be 1-0 this week. You start looking down the road and act like a fan, you’re going to end up losing games that you have a chance to win. So we’re going to focus on Illinois this week, then we’ll focus on the next one and the next one. When it’s over, then you sit back and see what happened.”
Iowa didn’t have to wait until November to reach the magic number of 6. By beating the Terrapins 23-0 on Saturday, the Hawkeyes (6-1) are virtually assured of playing in a bowl game for the sixth year in a row.
“That was the first thing I congratulated the team on Saturday after the game,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s something we want to make sure we never take for granted. It just serves as a good reminder of how hard it is to win one game in a season, and how competitive things are. I’m very appreciative that our team got itself in this position.”
Given the circumstances surrounding Maryland’s season, the Terrapins would be delighted to chalk up at least six wins. For Big Ten powerhouses Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, that’s only a stop-off point on the way to a potential berth in the College Football Playoff National Championship or the Rose Bowl.
Of the 14 Big Ten teams, only Rutgers (1-7) has been mathematically eliminated from earning six wins, and Nebraska (1-6) is on the cusp.
There are plenty of bowls affiliated with the Big Ten, and no shortage of teams with the potential to fill the slots.
“I think it’s representative of our conference,” Ferentz said. “Certainly, the more teams we have in playing beyond the end of the regular season, that’s a great thing for the conference and the players. Once they earn it, they deserve that opportunity.”
Northwestern (4-3, 4-1) stands atop the West Division and needs two wins to qualify for a bowl bid. Coach Pat Fitzgerald, not surprisingly, spoke only about “going 1-0 each week.”
That doesn’t mean his players aren’t doing the math.
“They’re 17 to 22 years old, man. I can’t control what they’re thinking,” he said with a laugh. “That’s why you’ve got to have blinders on, and keep pounding the same message. You’ve just got to keep focused.”
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