MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

It’s easy to let the little picture gnaw at you when it comes to Maryland football, because in so many ways the little picture should never have been in the viewfinder to begin with. But the fact is, Maryland gave away winnable games to Illinois and Northwestern this season, both coming with the Terps being two-touchdown favorites.

Still, in light of Saturday’s 13-10 win at Nebraska — for which the great Mike Preston lede, “It’s a shame somebody had to win this game” would be apropos — let’s not lose sight of the big picture, which is Maryland is going to a bowl game for the third consecutive season.

That’s Maryland. Maryland football. Bowl game. Three years in a row for the first time in 15 years when Coach Ralph Friedgen took the Terps to the Champs Sports Bowl, the Emerald Bowl and the Humanitarian Bowl to conclude the 2006, 2007 and 2008 seasons.

Yes, at 6-4, this Maryland team should very well be 8-2, but as the Rolling Stones said, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need;” and the Terps, in light of having gone the entire month of October and the first week of November without a win, tried very hard on Saturday — mainly against themselves — and got what they needed.

Maryland escaped Nebraska with a rare Big Ten road win despite the usual long list of mistakes, including 10 penalties for 92 yards and three turnovers. But the defense forced five turnovers, including four interceptions by three Nebraska quarterbacks and the Terps turned the final of those interceptions into the game-winning drive in the final minutes, which ended triumphantly on a Jack Howes field goal on the game’s final play.

It wasn’t a Mona Lisa, but in the end it looked just fine, because it’s in the books as a Big Ten road win at Nebraska and another bowl-eligible season — a big deal for a program that was nearly in ashes when head coach Mike Locksley took over.

“I’m really proud of this team, proud of the way they continue to fight through adversity,” Locksley said. “Throughout the course of the last four to five weeks, we haven’t had a lot of things go our way and not one time have they not shown up to work. We just got to continue to teach and play smarter, but today they found a way to get it done and fought through adversity because it wasn’t pretty today.”

No, it was not pretty, it rarely is; but to the victor belong the spoils, and Maryland’s spoil arrives in College Park this Saturday in the form of the third-ranked and undefeated Michigan Wolverines, who have found themselves in the news quite a bit recently, and not just for being one of the top college football teams in the country.

Maryland has opened the week as a 20-point underdog against the third-ranked Wolverines, who won, 24-15, at Penn State on Saturday without their zany head coach Jim Harbaugh, who was suspended for the final three games of the regular season amid the controversy surrounding Michigan’s covert sign-stealing operation, which has drawn the expected amount of unwanted national attention for the Wolverines program.

Thus, Maryland football’s game against the Wolverines this weekend has been selected to be the Fox Sports Big Noon Kickoff game, marking the second time on this stage for the Terps this season, but for the first time at home.

The pregame show will take place on campus at LaPlata Beach (sight of my first mixer in a long and undistinguished career as a college student) and will start at 10 a.m. All of the usual suspects will be there — Fox Sports host Rob Stone and famous college football analysts Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn and Urban Meyer, no stranger himself to unwanted national media attention.

Maryland hasn’t had much luck against Michigan in recent years, even though they could have won last year’s game in Ann Arbor, before falling, 34-27, thanks to some questionable, but like clockwork, Big Ten officiating. So maybe with the weird win at Nebraska, the Terps’ luck is about ready to turn. Goodness knows they’ll need plenty of it.

Maybe Maryland is getting Michigan at a good time, being without its head coach and, possibly, looking ahead to its epic game with Ohio State, though that didn’t come into play against Penn State when the Lions had the Wolverines the following week.

Either way, the Terps will be facing huge odds and will have an uphill battle. Still, with their third straight bowl-eligible season in pocket, another national television appearance (the fifth this season) could present a good opportunity for the school and for the incrementally improving football program.

Opportunity has rarely been a friend to Maryland football, so maybe it’s finally an opportunity for the Terps to find this time, and get what they need.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT