COLLEGE PARK -- During the week of football practice leading up to Maryland's game against West Virginia, it has become somewhat of a tradition for the Terps' warm-up music to be switched from hip-hop to John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads."
All signs, though, now point farther west.
Maryland's long-standing series with the Mountaineers will be put on hold in 2008 and 2009 in favor of a previously scheduled home-and-away series with California. Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said the decision was made with the intention of easing the nonconference load, as the Atlantic Coast Conference has become more competitive with the new divisions and additions of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College.
"Our goal is to have a competitive schedule that stretches our limits but allows us the opportunity to have a winning record," Yow said. "Playing West Virginia and Cal in the same year - in addition to the greatly improved ACC - overloaded our team, and Coach [Ralph] Friedgen and I agreed in 2008-09 to play Cal instead of West Virginia."
The Terps lost to West Virginia, 31-19, last fall en route to their second consecutive 5-6 season. It was the second straight season Maryland lost to West Virginia.
The series with Cal was added about two years ago, around the same time Virginia Tech and Miami were added to the ACC. The schedule had already included West Virginia, but the contract with the Mountaineers didn't include a buyout, so it didn't cost Maryland anything to withdraw.
Maryland's schedule will be released when the ACC announces the 2006 schedule, which is usually the third week in January.
Maryland hasn't exactly replaced the Mountaineers with a creampuff. The Golden Bears have gone from a 1-10 program in 2001 to 10-2 in 2004. This season they finished 8-4 after a 35-28 win over Brigham Young in the Las Vegas Bowl.
West Virginia, meanwhile, finished its 11-1 season with an upset of Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The Mountaineers have won the Big East title for three straight seasons and have won 25 of their past 29 regular-season games.
Maryland and West Virginia have met every season since 1980, and with about 200 miles separating College Park and Morgantown, it's a series regarded by many as the closest thing Maryland has to a local rivalry. The series is even at 21-21-2, and the Mountaineers have won nine of the past 17.
Mike Parsons, a deputy athletic director at West Virginia who is involved in scheduling, said officials from Maryland came to them with the request in the fall.
"We feel the series has been a good series," Parsons said. "There was a lot of history to it. It's not something we want to let go on a permanent basis."