So here’s a question for Big Ten football followers.
In the long term, which program stands a better chance of becoming a real force to be reckoned with in college football: Maryland, or Rutgers?
As we all know, these two long-suffering programs have been given a new lease on life thanks to their recent entry into the Big Ten. That affiliation has given both the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights access to a previously unthinkable revenue stream, placed them in the midst of one of the most lucrative and stable conferences in the nation, and generally saved them from their previous existence of general irrelevance in big-time college football.
There’s simply no getting past it: Maryland, and Rutgers, are far better off in the Big Ten than they were in their old leagues.
The big question, of course, is what happens now.
We’ve already answered this for Rutgers, and now we’ll attempt to answer it for Maryland, as we continue to look at the biggest questions facing every Big Ten team ahead of the 2015 football season.
Is Maryland better positioned to compete in the Big Ten than Rutgers?
No, I don’t think so. Because I think Maryland is going to have a much tougher and much longer transition into the Big Ten than Rutgers will.
A lot of that, of course, has to do with culture. Rutgers really never had much of an identity in the first place, nor did the old Big East/AAC; one never thought of Rutgers as a “vintage Big East football program” because I don’t think anyone really knew what the heck a “vintage Big East football program” was supposed to be. In that sense, Rutgers’ transition into the Big Ten was seamless; they were just happy to be moving on.
Beyond that, Rutgers just feels more like a Big Ten school than Maryland does—and it has the advantage of being in a state that turns out a surprising number of top-level recruits. Maryland, for its part, was a “vintage ACC program.” It had a history in that conference—a long, proud history. It had rivalries. It had an identity. It was part of something—and an important member of a very good conference.
But now the Terps have made the leap to a league with a long, proud history of its own. It doesn’t really fit in with the Big Ten schools, it has no true rivals (though they’re trying their best to make something out of the Penn State series), and it’s been placed in one of the most brutal divisions in college football.
Yes, I know the Terps held their own in their first year in the league, going 7-6 with a respectable 4-4 league mark, but I look at this program, and I look the league in which it now plays its football, and it just doesn’t seem to be a good long-term fit.
So what’s the ceiling, then?
I said it about Rutgers and I’ll say it about Maryland: the ceiling is basically what each team did last year. The Knights impressed basically everybody by going 8-5, including a huge win over Michigan. And the Terps impressed everybody, too, going 7-6 with wins over Michigan and Penn State. The latter was a massive boost for a program that had previously been 1-35-1 against it’s cross-border “rival,” and Edsall says he will use that win to help bolster his in-state recruiting efforts; Penn State, of course, has always done well in Maryland, and the Terps coach understands that if he’s ever going to get his program on even footing (or close to it) with the league’s big boys, he’s going to have to win more of those in-state recruiting battles.
I simply don’t see that happening. I also don’t see Penn State and Michigan—two of the teams the Terps will need to be playing on an annual basis—remaining mired in their current states of disrepair for very long. James Franklin and Jim Harbaugh will have those programs back on top in short order. Ohio State isn’t going anywhere. Nor is Michigan State. Where’s that leave the Terps? More than likely, it will leave them in the bottom half of their division, pretty much every year.
How is 2015 looking?
A bit scary if you’re a Terps fan. Edsall needs to replace 11 starters from last year’s squad, including star wideout and all-around playmaker Stefon Diggs. There are some talented players on the offensive side of the ball, yes, but none of them are as explosive as Diggs was.
Defensively, there are even bigger problems. The defensive line and linebacker units both need to be rebuilt, which won’t help Edsall’s efforts to bolster a defense that gave up more than 30 points per game last season. Maryland held its own at times, but against the league’s elite, it was simply outmuscled and overmatched; it gave up 52 to Ohio State, 52 to Wisconsin and 37 to Michigan State. Even Rutgers put up 41.
In short, the defense was nowhere near good enough to compete in the Big Ten, and it won’t be any better in 2015. If Edsall can get his team to a bowl game, it will have been a real achievement.