Reporting David Elfin
Even in these wacky times in college football when the Big Ten has 12 teams and the Big 12 has 10, San Diego State and Boise State are headed to the Big East, Texas A&M and Missouri compete in the SEC, and Syracuse and Pitt are ACC-bound, rivalries remain paramount.
Army vs. Navy. Ohio State vs. Michigan. Alabama vs. LSU. USC vs. Notre Dame. And even, the granddaddy of them all, Harvard vs. Yale.
Maryland fans get all worked up for basketball games against Duke and North Carolina, but the Terps don’t have that kind of passionate football rivalry with any opponents. It doesn’t help that the only other FBS school in the Free State is Navy which is an independent and doesn’t play Maryland very often.
USC and UCLA have cross-town animosity. Kentucky and Louisville have in-state antipathy. Even usually mellow Virginia fans can look down their noses at their country cousins from Virginia Tech while Hokies rooters like nothing better than to ruin a gorgeous autumn Saturday in Charlottesville as their heroes cruise past the Cavaliers.
So what to make of Maryland vs. Virginia, whose 77th meeting takes place Saturday in Charlottesville? The Terps lead the series 42-32-2 although the Cavs were 15-5 in the annual matchups the past two decades and have won four of the past five meetings.
Maryland-Virginia certainly isn’t as heated as such other next-door neighbor battles as Texas-Oklahoma, Florida-Georgia, Oregon-Washington, Kansas-Missouri or Wisconsin-Michigan State.
So approaching this game, home game against a rival, recruit against them. Everything about Maryland-Virginia football game, a lot of our players are from the state of Maryland. So, again, that’s another renewed sense of excitement and interest.
“It’s a built-in rivalry in the ACC because it’s the one game we are going to play every year with someone from the other division,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. “We are bordering states and we compete for the same kids in recruiting and a lot of the kids know each other. So, to me, it is a rivalry and it is one of those things where there is a bit more meaning to it. “
And it’s homecoming in Charlottesville where third-year coach Mike London said, “[It’s a] home game against a rival. [We] recruit against them. A lot of our players are from Maryland. So that’s another renewed sense of excitement and interest.”
However, dampening those feelings about this year’s edition of Terps vs. Cavs is that neither team is very good.
Maryland needed a late 63-yard catch-and-run from freshman sensation Stefon Diggs to beat visiting Wake Forest 19-14 last Saturday. At 3-2, the Terps have already won more games than they did during Edsall’s 2-10 debut in 2011. However, beating the Demon Deacons, William & Mary and Temple by a combined 15 points isn’t exactly the stuff of which bowl scouts dream. And after the game at UVa and matchups with rising N.C. State, lowly Boston College, and sinking Georgia Tech, Maryland finishes with the ACC’s version of Murderer’s Row: at 16th-ranked Clemson; 12th-ranked Florida State; and at North Carolina, which whipped usual powerhouse Virginia Tech last week.
As for London’s Cavs, they should be embarrassed after being crushed by usually downtrodden Duke 42-17 last Saturday to fall to 2-4. Since opening the season by routing FCS member Richmond and edging rebuilding Penn State, Virginia has lost to Georgia Tech, TCU, Louisiana Tech and Duke by a combined 87 points.
So the Cavaliers, 4-8 in London’s 2010 debut and 8-5 last year including a bowl game loss to Auburn, appear to be heading backwards, especially if they can’t beat the Terps at home. After Maryland, Virginia plays host to Wake, 4-2 Miami (whose losses were to No. 6 Kansas State and No. 7 Notre Dame), and North Carolina and visits N.C. State and Virginia Tech.
While Edsall really has no choice but to stick with freshman quarterback Perry Hills because expected starter C.J. Brown suffered a season-ending knee injury in August and 2010-11 regular Danny O’Brien transferred after a falling out with his headstrong coach, London benched junior quarterback Michael Rocco last week in favor of sophomore Phillip Sims, an Alabama transfer. The move paid few dividends as Sims went 21 of 42 for 268 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions in the shellacking by the Blue Devils.
As Edsall could tell London after briefly replacing O’Brien with Brown last season, tumult at quarterback is never a good sign for a program that has bowl hopes.
With Virginia Tech possibly not bowl-bound for the first time in 20 years, Navy 2-3 despite upsetting Air Force on the road in overtime last Saturday, Maryland trying to avoid a sixth losing season in nine years, and Virginia trying to do the same for the fifth time in seven years, it’s not exactly a banner fall for Washington area college football fans. It’s trouble when the only program that’s truly on the upswing is FCS member Howard.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin