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Maryland – WVU: Renewing a Rivalry?

Posted By Scott Lowe On Sep 16 2010 @ 11:18 am In Maryland | 1 Comment

Everyone knows about the Maryland-Duke rivalry in basketball. Throw the records and rankings out the window when those two schools square off.

The student bodies despise each other, the players don’t care for each other, the fans and alumni can’t stand each other and the coaches – although they seem to get along well off the court these days – compete against one another as fiercely as ever. That’s what rivalries are all about.

In football, however, at least to outsiders, it’s not clear whether or Maryland has a consistent rival. In the 1980s during the Bobby Ross and Danny Ford eras, Maryland and Clemson were heated rivals, but with the ebb and flow of those two programs over the past two decades, that’s just not the case anymore.

In the ACC, the Maryland-Virginia game probably is the biggest contest on those two teams’ schedules because of their closeness in proximity and the fact that most of the players on both rosters probably were recruited by the other school at some point. While Maryland-Virginia has produced its share of fireworks and the type of unpredictability that rivalries often generate over the years, it just doesn’t create the kind of fanfare that most big-time college football rivalries will.

That leaves this week’s opponent, nationally ranked West Virginia, as the Terps’ biggest football rivalry game. “It’s a great border war rivalry,” said Mountaineer head coach Bill Stewart. “I’m excited for the game and the renewal of the series.”

Added Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen: “They have a very good football team, and to play them on the road up in Morgantown is always a challenge. It will be a real good test for our guys.”

Unfortunately, however, because of those who know better (i.e. coaches and administrators who make scheduling decisions based on factors other than pleasing their fanbases), these two next-door neighbors haven’t met since 2007. It was in that much-publicized contest that current NFL running back Steve Slaton, a native of Maryland who felt slighted by the supposed lack of interest Friedgen’s staff showed in him, took the field determined to make the Terps pay. And he did just that, amassing 136 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries in a 31-14 WVU Thursday night ESPN victory.

The West Virginia-Maryland matchup is a natural and should take place every year. Every Maryland student went to high school or is friends with five kids at WVU – and vice versa. Nine players on the Mountaineer roster hail from Maryland. The schools recruit heavily from the same pool of Mid-Atlantic high school athletes.

Whenever the teams play in College Park, alumni from both schools come out in droves to tailgate and trash talk. Students and alums of each institution are happy to make the 3-1/2-hour drive to their opponents’ stadium in hopes of seeing their school send the opposing supporters home disappointed. And this year, brothers Drew (Maryland) and Troy (WVU) Gloster will be facing off against one another.

If that isn’t the formula for a great annual event, what is?

Saturday it will be West Virginia sophomore wide receiver Tavon Austin, a converted running back and 2009 Big East All-Freshman selection from Baltimore, who hopes to stick it to his home state’s university.

“Their quarterback {Geno Smith} has played very well … and they have three very talented skill players, Tavon Austin, Noel Devine and John Sanders,” Friedgen said. “I remember going to one of {Austin’s} games in high school, and I was very impressed then – as I am now – with how physical a player he is for his size. He has tremendous quickness and change of direction and is very physical. He’s an excellent football player.”

Throw into that mix how Devine added to the Slaton fireworks in 2007 as a freshman, exploding for 136 yards on seven carries (27.2 ypc) in his best game that year. “I remember how fast he ran past me,” Friedgen deadpanned.

After a great start to the decade for the Terps under Friedgen – an ACC title and trip to the Orange Bowl, multiple double-digit win seasons, victories in the Peach, Champs and Gator bowls (41-7 over, ahem, West Virginia) and four straight wins against the Mountaineers – the WVU program, currently ranked 21st in both polls, has become a bigger factor than Maryland on the national scene and has defeated the Terps in their last four meetings.

Still, after all the ups and downs, the all-time series stands at 23-21-2 in favor of the Mountaineers. It doesn’t get any closer or heated, and this Maryland team at 2-0 clearly is different than last year’s 2-10 squad.

The Terps have running and passing threats at the quarterback position in Jamarr Robinson and redhirt freshman Danny O’Brien, a solid running game with Da’Rel Scott and Davin Meggett and an All-America candidate in wideout Torrey Smith. Their special teams play is improved with Travis Baltz handling both punting (46.3 avg.) and place-kicking (3-for 3 fg, including two 47-yarders) and the nation’s leading punt-returner in Tony Logan (37.0 ypr).

But the biggest surprise for Maryland has been a hard-hitting, faster defense that turned in big play after big play in the victory against Navy and features three of the ACC’s top 11 tacklers in all-conference linebacker Alex Wujciak (11.5 tpg), defensive lineman  Joe Vellano (7.0 tpg, 2.5 sacks) and linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield (7.0 tpg, 1 int., 1 TD). Linebacker Adrian Moten made an Arrington-esque play against Navy, hurdling the line of scrimmage to force a goal-line fumble, and safety Kenny Tate (2 forced fumbles) was named the Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week Sept. 6 after his spine-tingling goal-line stop on Navy’s final play of the game.

West Virginia, on the other hand, looked like a vastly overrated team in the for three quarters of last week’s game against Marshall before quarterback Smith rallied the troops for two length-of-the-field backbreaking drives and a miracle win. Devine earned BIG EAST Player of the Week honors for his efforts in that victory, but the question remains which WVU offensive team will show up. In addition, starting all-coference conerback Brandon Hogan has been suspended indefinitely.

“I think we’ll get everything West Virginia has to offer,” Friedgen said. “It’s always been that way with them in this rivalry. I know that they’ll be ready go play.”

So, the coaches say this is a rivalry game. The fans and students feel it. The players know it. The teams are set to face each other deep into this decade. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck …

In that case, throw out all the players of the week, the stats, the records, the history and the rankings and get ready for some hard-hitting, all-out football Saturday at noon on ESPNU.

Don’t worry that this could be a letdown week for West Virginia after facing an in-state rival last week and priot to heading to LSU next week. Forget that Maryland had only four days to prepare for its last contest and that this was really its first week of regular practice. Forget Vegas, which lists the Mountaineers as a 10-point favorite.

None of that matters. It’s a rivalry game featuring a pair of unbeatens. West Virginia is ranked and doesn’t want to fall out of the top 25. The Terps received votes in one of the latest polls and feel a victory this weekend will put them back on the map nationally, prove last year was a fluke and provide some job security for their coach.

Sounds like the perfect recipe for renewing a rivalry that hopefully will continue for years to come.

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