NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Maryland coach Michael Locksley sees bowl games like a movie trailer for coming attractions, now even more true with the transfer portal, the early signing period and players opting out for the NFL draft.
Locksley gets his preview Saturday in the Music City Bowl against Auburn, eager most to see how Maryland might replace record-setting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa.
“We’re excited to see what these young players have to offer, as well as the quarterback situation we have,” Locksley said Friday. “But to me the biggest thing is to come out and build momentum into the ’24 season.”
Maryland (7-5) also has a chance at program history while checking out a new starter at quarterback. A victory Saturday would be the Terrapins’ third straight bowl win, something they’ve never done before.
The Auburn Tigers (6-6) can cap coach Hugh Freeze’s first season back in the Southeastern Conference with a winning record. The Tigers finished the regular season losing two straight, the last a stunner when Alabama scored the game-winning touchdown on fourth-and-31.
Freeze also sees this bowl as a big step toward 2024. That’s when Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC. Freeze continues heavily recruiting high school players as he gets used to using the portal to replace players who leave Auburn.
“I’m not doing real well in the speed-dating portal,” Freeze said.
Maryland’s record-setting quarterback announced his decision to opt out Dec. 19, leaving Locksley to focus on the “quarterback situation.”
Billy Edwards Jr. is expected to make his third career start after running for six TDs this season. Cam Edge is 2-for-3 for 18 yards this season. Both quarterbacks should get plenty of help from the wide receiving corps. Four Terrapins had at least 40 catches this season, tied for most in FBS.
It also won’t hurt that Auburn will be starting a secondary filled with freshmen.
Edge in experience
Auburn has that in Payton Thorne, who threw for 6,494 yards in three seasons at Michigan State. He threw for 1,671 yards and 15 touchdowns this season while running for 524 yards.
Freeze signed California quarterback Sam Jackson out of the portal. The Auburn coach plans to use Jackson at wide receiver, considering he played one high school season in Illinois with Thorne as his quarterback.
“There’s some chemistry there,” Freeze said.
Locksley quickly asked if Jackson would play Saturday. Freeze said: “No. I wish he was.”
Maryland is among seven FBS programs that had at least 30 sacks and picked off 15 interceptions coming into bowl season. The Terrapins ranked 11th nationally for interceptions and second in the Big Ten only to Michigan (16).
Auburn has had to deal with Tigers being sick over the past few days. Freeze said his doctor’s report was down to just one, with “the fever” having broken. The challenge is making sure everyone hydrates well to recover as quickly as possible.
“It’s kind of like everything else we’re dealing with, the opt-outs,” Freeze said. “You can’t control some things. But I do think I had a good report this morning that most everybody was feeling better. I’m sure, if at all possible, they’ll give it a go.”
Maryland will be wearing a sticker with the initials “FW” on its helmets in memory of Frank Wycheck, who played tight end for the Terrapins from 1990 to 1992. He set the school record for most catches by a tight end with 134 receptions.
Wycheck died Dec. 9 at his Chattanooga, Tennessee, home at age 52. He played 11 NFL seasons and threw the lateral that propelled the Tennessee Titans to the franchise’s lone Super Bowl in January 2000. A ceremony also will honor his part in that play at Nissan Stadium, home of the Titans.