Two teams sit at the roulette wheel of big plays
Either Nebraska or Maryland is leaving Saturday bowl eligible. Which team it is might come down to one of football's more volatile traits.
Last week, Nebraska faced an East Division team fighting to end a long losing streak. Michigan State got the job done thanks to a well-executed defensive plan, three Husker turnovers and none of their own.
So, Nebraska (5-4, 3-3) will try it again this week. Maryland (5-4, 2-4) was one win away from bowl eligibility after beating Indiana Sept. 30. The Terrapins still are, having lost to Ohio State, Illinois and Northwestern in October then opening November with a 51-15 loss at home to Penn State. Coach Mike Locksley didn’t even have his team watch tape of the loss as he looks for a hard reboot of a once-promising season.
One of these teams is leaving Saturday with a ticket to the postseason, and there should be plenty of urgency on each sideline. Maryland faces Michigan next week and closes the season against suddenly good Rutgers. Nebraska probably won’t be favored in any of its remaining three games—the Terps were -2.5 on Wednesday—and faces a unique sort of pressure as it tries to make a bowl for the fist time in six seasons.
It’s about as nervy and complicated as an 11 a.m. game between two .500-ish teams will get, but here’s an uncomplicated way to understand just how close things could be in Saturday’s Bowl Eligibility Bowl. In Big Ten play, Nebraska’s offense averages 4.8 yards per play (5th) and Maryland’s defense allows 5.2 (12th). If those two units simply met in the middle, the Huskers average 5.0 yards per play.
The strength-on-strength battle will be when Maryland has the ball. The Terps average 5.3 yards per play (3rd) in conference games and Nebraska has allowed 4.5 (4th). Split the difference again and Maryland averages 4.9 yards per play. If both teams played exactly to form, the Huskers would give a little on defense, get a little on offense and, if the more random stuff (turnovers, special teams play, penalties) was relatively equal, we’d find out how much one-tenth of a yard per play was worth.
Of course, games almost never play out that way, so let’s dig deeper into Nebraska-Maryland.
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