With the Orioles heading into hot stove season, let’s now direct our attention to where most of America has been directing theirs since September: football.
Ignore for a moment the shellackings delivered by Ohio State and Wisconsin and the controversy over Maryland’s team captains refusing to shake hands with Penn State’s captains at the start of their game on Nov. 1.
In their first year in the Big Ten, the Terrapins have already locked up a place in college football’s bowl season, with a 6-3 record. At press time, they sit third, behind Michigan State and the Buckeyes, in the Eastern Division, with a conference record of 3-2.
That’s pretty damn remarkable.
Lest we forget, many saw Maryland’s departure from the ACC as a decent chance for the football team to build its stature—years down the road. The theory goes that moving up to a more elite conference would make it possible for the Terps to recruit better talent to College Park. But those first couple of years? Good fucking luck.
Well, we’re into November and coach Randy Edsall and his squad have proven they can do more than hold their heads above water. That’s pretty big for Edsall, who’s never really found his footing with Maryland fans after debuting with an abysmal 2-10 season in 2011, resulting in an offseason exodus of 16 scholarship players, and following it up with a 4-8 season.
His best season at the helm, last year, saw the Terps sneak into the top-25 rankings after a 4-0 start, only to get walloped by eventual-national champion Florida State 63-0 and limp on to a 7-6 record that ended with a loss to Marshall in the Military Bowl. Losing to the Seminoles wasn’t exactly a shocker, but Maryland also threw in losses to middling opponents Syracuse and Boston and a truly dreadful Wake Forest team.
In 2014, Maryland has secured wins against two formidable teams, Iowa and Penn State, and come out on the wrong side of a shootout with a West Virginia team that now finds itself ranked. Just as impressive, they’ve handled the teams they’re supposed to beat, like South Florida, Syracuse, and Indiana. (We could include James Madison here, but the only reason that game was on the schedule is that a win was all but assured.)
On Nov. 15, the Terps welcome Michigan State to Byrd Stadium, and chances are it will not go well. But after that they have two very winnable games against a pretty weak Michigan at the Big House—yes, the Wolverines are that vulnerable—and fellow Big Ten newcomers Rutgers at home.*
If the season plays out to form, we’re looking at an 8-4 record and 5-3 conference record. Any Maryland fan who wouldn’t have signed up for that at the start of the year is delusional.
OK, we can’t ignore those humiliating losses altogether. They show, among other things, that Maryland still has a steep uphill climb to join the upper echelon of the Big Ten.
But the Happy Valley handshake refusal (clever name pending)? That was incredible. Maryland’s rebuff of the phony display of sportsmanship is the kind of thing old, wrinkly sports columnists like to crow about as some sign of the great moral decline of society, but fuck that noise and fuck Penn State.
For years, Penn State has lured away the best talent from the Terps’ backyard in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. areas. Some of you may recall Antonio Logan-El, the highly touted offensive lineman who committed to Maryland early in his high school career then, as a senior, went through a gimmicky announcement cycling through different teams’ hats and declaring his intentions to play for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State coach James Franklin— once the heir apparent for the Maryland job—showed in the most smug, dickheaded way possible that the Nittany Lions still think of themselves as the only contender in the region.
“I consider [Maryland] in-state. I consider New Jersey in-state,” he said in May while talking to fans and alumni in Baltimore. “[T]hey might as well shut them down because they don’t have a chance.”
So the non-handshake was a giant “Fuck you,” a sign the Terps aren’t going to roll over simply because James Franklin opens his mouth and says they should. The coup de grâce was scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter for a one-point win in a hard-fought game.
Sure, the Big Ten reprimanded Maryland for the lack of sportsmanship, suspending star wide receiver Stefon Diggs for the Michigan State game, fining the school $10,000, and issuing a strongly worded statement. And yeah, Edsall had to say, at least publicly, he didn’t condone the stunt.
None of that matters. It was a moment that endeared the players and the embattled Edsall to fans the most, and the play on the field showed they are a team to be taken seriously, even in the Big Ten.
*Oh fuck, we were out drinking with co-workers after this column had been fact-checked, copyedited, and Proofed when we learned start wideout Stefon Diggs would be out for the Remainder of the season. Winning two out of three is gonna be a lot harder now, but we’re still on board with the Terps.