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Emerald Bowl Preview

For the second consecutive season, Oregon State lost its first two conference games to fall under .500 through five contests.

And just like in 2006, the Beavers finished the regular season with just four losses and a bowl invitation.

Capping another strong turnaround with an Emerald Bowl win on Dec. 28 might not come easily, however, as the Beavers head to San Francisco's AT&T Park to meet Maryland, which has earned a reputation for stepping up in big games.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Oregon State -5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for the Emerald Bowl (Game Matchup).

Opening Pac-10 play with losses to then-unranked Arizona State and UCLA teams seemed to put Oregon State's hopes of a bowl bid in serious jeopardy, especially with road games against California, Southern California and archrival Oregon remaining.

The Beavers (8-4), however, won two of three games against those ranked foes, beating then-No. 2 California 31-28 on Oct. 13 before defeating then-No. 18 Oregon 38-31 in overtime on Dec. 1 to close the regular season with their sixth win in seven games.

Their lone loss in that stretch was a 24-3 defeat at then-No. 13 USC.

"I'm excited for our team and our fans," coach Mike Riley said after Oregon State accepted its Emerald Bowl bid. "I'm really proud how this team battled back from a slow start to have a strong finish."

Riley's team is in a familiar position after making a similar comeback last season en route to the Sun Bowl. The Beavers were 2-3 after losing their first two conference games, but won seven of their last eight.

Oregon State then beat Missouri 39-38 to improve to 3-0 in bowl games under Riley.

"I don't know what the secret is, but we want to go 4-0. That's our step. We want to get this win," Riley said. "Once you get to it now, it's fun to be selected, it's fun to be bowl eligible. But then, you really only feel good about it when you win it. That's the way it comes down.

"What a difference that one point made last year in how we felt about that game but also what it capped off for that season. And I think this game has a chance for us to do the same exact thing."

Like Oregon State, Maryland (6-6) has won its last three bowl games. The Terrapins' postseason success, however, has been more pronounced. They've outscored opponents by a 95-17 margin during the win streak, which includes a 24-7 victory over Purdue in the Champs Sports Bowl last Dec. 29.

Besides their success in postseason play, the Terps thrived against strong opponents this season. Despite its .500 record and 3-5 mark against ACC teams, Maryland was one of only four teams to defeat two top-10 opponents this season.

The Terps upset then-No. 10 Rutgers 34-24 on Sept. 29 and then-No. 8 Boston College 42-35 on Nov. 10 to join No. 2 LSU, No. 13 Illinois and Kentucky as the only teams to accomplish the feat.

Coach Ralph Friedgen hopes his team's success against tough competition continues against Oregon State.

"When you go to a bowl game, you're not going to play a bad team. They're there for a reason," said Friedgen, who's made five bowls in seven seasons with the Terps after they reached only one in the previous 15 years.

"Hopefully we'll come ready to play, and I think our kids will."

While Maryland's strong play against stiff competition gives Friedgen reason to be confident, his team started the season slowly and didn't become bowl eligible until its 37-0 win at North Carolina State in the regular-season finale Nov. 24. That was just the Terps' second win in their last six games.

"We always want to win every time we step on the field, but (this bowl game is) an opportunity for us to salvage a season that a lot of people thought was over," said Maryland linebacker Erin Henderson, an all-ACC first-team selection who may skip his senior season to enter the NFL draft.

"They were ready to write us off. If we could finish off the season at 7-6, I think that would be a very successful finish of the season for us."

To reach that mark, the Terps will likely rely heavily on their running game. Maryland is one of only four teams in the country with two running backs to each compile at least 750 rushing yards this season. Keon Lattimore totaled 789 with 13 touchdowns and Lance Ball had 763 with 12 TDs to help the Terps rank third in the ACC with 147.3 rushing yards per game.

Lattimore and Ball, however, will be facing one of the nation's toughest run defenses. The Beavers allow 74.9 rushing yards per game to rank second in the Football Bowl Subdivision. They give up only 313.0 total yards per game, 12th-fewest in the FBS.

The Terps say that won't change their plan of attack.

"They have a great run defense, but at the same time we are going to keep doing what has been working for us all year, which is run the ball," wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said. "It is going to be challenging, but we are going to get the job done."

The Beavers boast a solid ground attack of their own, and it could be back at full strength. Yvenson Bernard missed the game against Oregon after undergoing minor knee surgery, but expects to be ready to play.

"I think we'll get a chance to see Yvenson Bernard play for the Beavers again," Riley said of his senior running back, who ranks third in the Pac-10 with 103.7 rushing yards per game. "I think as it turned out it's looking like a wise decision not to play him (against Oregon)."

This will be the first meeting between these teams. Maryland's last game against a Pac-10 opponent was a 1982 Aloha Bowl loss to Washington, while the only time Oregon State has played a current ACC team came in a win over Duke in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1942.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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