WASHINGTON — — Maryland learned Sunday that it will play in the Military Bowl at Washington's RFK Stadium — an outcome that seemed to puzzle and disappoint a school that believed it had earned the right to travel to a higher-level bowl game far from campus.
The Terps (8-4, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) will be matched on Dec. 29 at 2:30 p.m. against East Carolina (6-6), which finished in a tie for fourth place in Conference USA.
Maryland did not want to be disrespectful to the Military Bowl, which is in its third year — it was formerly called the EagleBank Bowl — and benefits the USO. But it was no secret that the Terrapins hoped and expected to be invited to an upper-echelon bowl game.
Among the games selecting ACC teams ahead of the Military Bowl was the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., which picked a North Carolina State team (8-4, 5-3) that Maryland defeated. There was also the Sun Bowl, which picked Miami (7-5, 5-3); the Meineke Car Care Bowl, which selected Clemson (6-6, 4-4); and the Music City Bowl, which chose North Carolina (7-5, 4-4). Those were among the games Maryland had eyed.
"It is what it is," a subdued Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said in a media conference call Sunday night. "We're going to play in a bowl game. We've got to make the best of it. The toughest thing for our guys is it's in our backyard. Hopefully we'll come on the field and play very well and our fans will support us."
After the Terps beat N.C. State in the regular-season finale, Friedgen said a fourth-place finish meant the Terps should be positioned for a bowl game that has the fourth pick — or close to it — of ACC schools.
The Military Bowl has the seventh pick. That does not include the selection of ACC champion Virginia Tech, which automatically earned a berth to the Orange Bowl.
Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson, the former Army athletic director, said he was pleased to be associated with the Military Bowl. "What the USO does for our troops is phenomenal," Anderson said.
Military Bowl president Steve Beck said the game was "thrilled" to have Maryland. The game had long expressed interest in the Terps but believed it could lose them to a higher-ranking game.
Anderson said candidly that he was not sure why Maryland slipped so far in the selection process.
"We're disappointed in the process. We're disappointed in the way things were determined," Anderson said. "We've talked to some league representatives and I think at our next meeting I would like to talk about [this] to get a better understanding of how everything takes place."
Maryland was probably hurt by questions about how many fans would travel to a distant bowl game. Season-ticket sales at Byrd Stadium slipped from 28,661 in 2005 to 22,804 last season, and were off substantially this season. Maryland has maintained that its fans have a reputation for traveling to postseason games.
With the economic downturn, bowl games have been more prone than before to select schools that are regional attractions.
A number of Maryland players had said after the regular season ended that they hoped to travel away from the area for a bowl.
"I just want to go somewhere warm. Really warm," linebacker Alex Wujciak had said.
Some fans said they felt the same way. Others may be pleased not to travel far.
"I know there are probably some who couldn't afford to travel and some who are probably upset," said Fabian Jiminez, a Maryland athletics backer from Potomac. "In the end I think it will be split between those who will support it and those who were wishing for something higher."
Baltimore Sun reporter Mike Miller contributed to this article.