When it comes to end-of season rivalries, Terps lack a dance partner

No natural game at finish leaves void in UM tradition

September 02, 2005|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - For sheer hate, nothing approaches Alabama-Auburn. For tweedy tradition, there is Harvard-Yale, simply known as "The Game."

Importance at the polls has magnified Michigan-Ohio State.

Navy, of course, has Army.

Whether the stakes reverberate within a state or social class, nationally, or among the armed forces, college football's most enduring rivalries provide a climax to the regular season. Everything that comes before pales in comparison to beating your rival at the end.

Which leads to the upside-down world of Maryland, which had seven different season-ending foes in the 1990s alone, and this year will conclude with North Carolina State, its only link being membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Terps open tomorrow against the Mids, but do true rivals take a 40-year break and have no concrete plans to hook up again? The state's borders have produced lasting rivalries with Virginia and West Virginia, but they are secondary dates for the other side, creating a void in Maryland's tradition and confusion among its players who mention Florida State first, but clarity from the one who needs it the most.

"If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said Virginia, but with Virginia Tech coming here this year, we have to get on that," said Terps quarterback Sam Hollenbach, who added a caveat. "I don't know if [Virginia] would consider us their big rival. They like to play it down, that they're better than us, but we get really fired up for that one."

Mindful that the word comes from the Latin rivalis, "for one living near or using the same stream as another," here's a look, past and present, at some of Maryland's top rivals. ...

Virginia

Asked about the lack of a primary season-ending rival, Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said, "There doesn't appear to be a natural game for us, unless it were Virginia, and I don't believe that will happen again."

The Terps and Cavaliers are no longer separated just by the Potomac River and the bad blood that prompted Maryland assistant James Franklin and Virginia head coach Al Groh to exchange heated words and gestures before kickoff at Byrd Stadium in 2003. From 1960 to 1990, the Terps concluded 23 of 31 seasons against the Cavaliers, before the Virginia athletic director set aside that spot for in-state foe Virginia Tech.

"Dick Schultz set that in motion," said George Welsh, the Virginia coach at the time. "I didn't want to play Virginia Tech at the end, since they weren't in the conference."

Last year the Hokies joined the ACC, adding heat to their game with the Cavaliers. At best, Maryland would probably rank third on Virginia's list, behind North Carolina, but the ACC acknowledges the importance of the Terps-Cavaliers. In the conference's new look, Maryland is in the Atlantic Division and Virginia the Coastal, but will continue to play annually, as "crossover" partners.

Mike Finn, who coordinates the ACC schedule, must accommodate several of the non-conference, in-state rivalries that Welsh disdained. Clemson (South Carolina), Georgia Tech (Georgia) and Florida State (Florida) all want to play up rivalries that predate their conference membership. With Duke-North Carolina and Virginia-Virginia Tech also on that request list, Maryland floats in the same boat as Boston College, Miami, N.C. State and Wake Forest.

Boston College completes the ACC's expansion to 12 teams and replaces Maryland as the northernmost member. Don't think that a enormous state university south of the Mason-Dixon Line and a private Catholic institution in New England are going to become football rivals overnight.

Welsh, remember, coached Navy from 1973 to '81. He says he was willing to play Maryland once every two or three years, "but the administration refused to consider it."

West Virginia

The Mountaineers are the Terps' oldest continuous non-conference rival, as the two have met every year since 1980. The game is a September staple and often serves as a bowl-bound barometer, but it does not stack up to West Virginia's season-ending rivalry with fellow Big East foe Pittsburgh. Their campuses separated by 75 miles, the series has been the "Backyard Brawl" since the Depression.

Again, Maryland's relationship to West Virginia is analogous to its one against Virginia, and the Terps' basketball rivalry with Duke. As fascinating as that has become, North Carolina will always mean much more to the Blue Devils.

Penn State

One Webster definition of rival is "a person or thing that can surpass another," and by that measure, the Terps-Nittany Lions series was more like Navy-Notre Dame, in which the Fighting Irish have won 41 straight.

Between 1960 and '93, the Terps and Nittany Lions met all but two seasons. Penn State's move to the Big Ten gave both an out from a series that ended with the Terps on the wrong end of a 70-7 romp and a 35-1-1 record.

Discussions to bring the two together again have gotten nowhere. Maryland declined Penn State's offer to play two games at Beaver Stadium in exchange for one at Byrd, and the Nittany Lions would stand to lose money if they played at a neutral site, like M&T Bank Stadium.

"We'd love," Yow said, "to see them in a bowl game."

Maryland-Navy

Matchup: Maryland vs. Navy in season opener

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Tomorrow, 6 p.m.

TV/Radio: CN8/1090 AM (will break away for 7:05 p.m. Orioles-Red Sox game), 1300 AM, 97.9 FM, 105.7 FM

Line: Maryland by 11 1/2

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