COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Maryland coach Michael Locksley can appreciate the accomplishment of reaching a bowl.
Just don't expect him to spend much time belaboring his team's record.
“I try not to even say 6-6. That's mediocrity,” Locksley said. “I'm not celebrating mediocrity. I am celebrating that we took the next step that we talked about taking as a program, and that's going to a bowl. That's the first step when you start building a program.”
The Terrapins took that step by notching exactly the six wins they needed to become bowl eligible. Now they prepare to face Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29. After winning its first four games of the season, Maryland took its lumps against the Big Ten's top teams, but a 40-16 win at Rutgers brought the Terps to 6-6.
So they head to a bowl in Locksley's third season as coach.
“My joy comes from seeing the smile on those 25 seniors' faces. We had some guys that have endured quite a bit during their time here — good and bad," Locksley said. "To be able to give these guys an opportunity to extend their season, to experience New York during the holidays, to playing in iconic Yankee Stadium. This is why they choose to come to Maryland, this is why they choose to play collegiate sports, is the postseason part of it.”
Locksley took over as Maryland's coach in December 2018, less than six months after the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who collapsed from heat stroke during an offseason workout. Coach D.J. Durkin spent more than two months on administrative leave while McNair’s death and the team's culture were investigated. Durkin was eventually fired.
Maryland went 3-9 in 2019. There were some positive signs during the shortened 2020 season, when quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa joined the Terps. Then this season, Tagovailoa set the school's single-season passing record.
“I think it's just a testament to our offense and the things that they do,” he said. “Of course, I'm going to get the credit for it, because I'm throwing the ball and stuff, but my o-line gives me the time for me to find my receivers, and they're always in the right places. They're the ones catching the ball.”
This is Maryland's first bowl since 2016, when the Terps lost to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. Now the Terrapins head to New York, another spot not known for its warm weather at this time of year.
“I’m from down south, so it’s going to be super cold," defensive back Jakorian Bennett said. "I haven’t been to New York, but I heard that it’s a fun place to be.”
The venue for the game is a famous one as well.
“I'm actually not a baseball fan, but I hear about the Yankees a lot," Tagovailoa said. "So I think that will be pretty cool to play in Yankee Stadium.”
A victory would give Maryland a winning record on the season and give the players more to feel good about heading into the offseason. Much of Locksley's attention lately has been on recruiting, since Wednesday was signing day.
Maryland's 2022 class is ranked No. 28 by 247 Sports. That's down a bit from No. 18 the previous season, but Locksley is reaching the point in his tenure where, if his recruiting has been good enough, it should start to pay dividends.
Even with one more game to play this year, his eyes are on the months to come.
“Our young players are excited about what our future looks like," Locksley said. "As I talked about the closeout of our season with our banquet on Sunday, this really is the start of our ‘22 season, and a chance to go 1-0 in our ’22 season.”
Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister
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