Dec 27, 2013; Annapolis, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins defensive back Isaac Goins (17) and Terrapins tight end Dave Stinebaugh (86) lead the Terrapins onto the field prior to their game against the Marshall Thundering Herd in the 2013 Military Bowl at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Time For Maryland Football To Put Up Or Shut Up

 

For the past twenty-six years since Bobby Ross rolled out, the Maryland Terrapins and their college football program have been called a lot of things in their never-ending conquest to establish an identity. When they’ve fallen on hard times, they’ve been hypercritically called the laughingstock of college football (linebackers at QB, comes to mind). And yet, the times they’ve been up (briefly during the Fridgen era), some of the best minds have lumped them into consideration with other so-called sleeping giants (Arizona State, Michigan State, Ole Miss).

Take, for example, an excerpt from this amazingly reflective, nostalgic article from 2002 in the Florida Times-Union by Bob Thomas, speaking with then-Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden:

Ralph worked wonders with existing talent last season and has significantly improved the talent base with his first two signing classes. That comes as no surprise to FSU coach Bobby Bowden, who looks at Maryland as a potential sleeping giant.

“I’ve always felt that way about Maryland,” Bowden said. “When I first started coaching in the early ’50s, Maryland was No.1 in the nation. They were really a power. … To me, a lot of it goes back to, ‘Are you in an area where you can recruit?’ They’ve got Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, New York; they’ve got so many major metropolitan areas. I’ve always felt Maryland had that potential like we do, Florida does and Miami does.”

This, of course, took place after Maryland had made it to the Orange Bowl for the first time since Ross left, and were set to face Florida State the following season with high expectations. And this wasn’t just idle chatter from a pair of Dundalk fans fresh off a trip down the Magathy for some crabs; folks around the country actually entertained the idea that the Terrapins could ascend into a national power along the lines of Miami, Florida, and Florida State.

And it hasn’t just been during the high times, like when Ralphie boy convinced Ron Vanderlinden’s players to stay on board and compete for something special, but in low times too. Everyone always seems to see the potential in this program. Like the ever present Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun in this 2000 piece:

There is a lot to sell about the program. The university is in a great television market, has modernized facilities and plays in a conference that guarantees a shot at the potential national champion, Florida State, every year.

Critics will say the school needs a big-name coach to attract top-notch talent. That helps, but Frank Beamer wasn’t mentioned in the same breath with Joe Paterno when he took over at Virginia Tech. Bobby Wallace has Temple on the move, and Chuck Amato has N.C. State improving.

And even though he’s a relatively bad coach and bat crazy, even Mike Leach conceded, upon not getting the Maryland job, that the school could be a sleeping giant:

“They [Maryland] made the decision they made based on whatever it is they were looking for,” Leach said in an interview with SI‘s Stewart Mandel. “I certainly had a lot of support there, and I think it’s a sleeping giant and I think they’ll do well.

But being a sleeping giant doesn’t mean shit unless you back it up with some kind of production on the field, eventually. Krivak knew that, Duffner knew that, Vanderlinden knew that, Ralph knew that. For all the talk about Maryland being the biggest state school on the east coast between North Carolina and Rutgers and supposedly having tons of areas to recruit, they just haven’t.

And you can blame it on whatever you want, because by now Maryland fans have heard the reasons they aren’t a power yet recycled over and over again.

The stay home movement is going to be what eventually gets Maryland to the top!

We said the exact same thing when Ralph got hired and when Vanderlinden was axed.

The Terps can’t win every battle on the home turf, but they’ve got to win most of them. When the Terps were a power in the mid-1980s, Ross and assistant Jeff Mann combed the area and won a lot of players.

Look at the powers in college football. Of the 88 players on Florida State’ s roster, 50 are from Florida. Of the 90 players with Oklahoma, 65 are from the state.

Neither this state nor this area produces that quality or quantity of players, but Maryland offers a strong base for the Terps. This has to be their No. 1 recruiting ground, with a mix of players from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Jersey or Ohio who are not going to the major universities in their states.

The facilities just aren’t where they need to be to compete, but we’re building them!

Yeah, riiiight.

Like most college football coaches, Ross wasn’t in the university business, he was in the football business. He often said he would stay at Maryland if the school gave him the chance to compete for the national championship on an equal footing with schools such as Penn State and Michigan. Toward that end, Ross wanted improvements in Byrd Stadium–which, it might surprise you with all we’ve heard, is still standing–and recently he had mentioned the need for an indoor practice facility.

Injuries keep derailing otherwise promising seasons, like in the cases of Edsall being forced to play a linebacker at quarterback and using quarterbacks at wide receiver.

Didn’t Ron Vanderlinden play a safety at quarterback?

I was forced to play Randall Jones last fall who was recruited as a safety because of a lack of talent on the squad at quarterback. You will like the talent we’re currently developing at the quarterback position. They are young and need to mature and develop. Be a little patient, it takes time to turn a program around.- Vanderlinden, ’99

Gotta get off to a strong start before conference play and use that momentum to win big.

Heard it already.

They’ve got a fifth year starter this season and return so many guys on offense.

Yep, been there.

The point is, it’s so glaringly apparent that Maryland fans and their fan base have been fed so many excuses over the years that it’s difficult to remain optimistic. There’s no accountability, it’s just throwing the blame at someone or something every single time. If it isn’t the wrong coach, it’s injuries. If it isn’t budgetary woes, it’s a tough schedule. If the talent isn’t there, it’s somehow Penn State’s fault. Or the facilities. Or the perception. Or the alumni and fans not being enthralled.

Admittedly, this current administration of Edsall and Anderson are doing a lot of things correct regardless of the hand they’ve been dealt. Near-zero budget for recruiting? Maryland’s raking in their best classes yet and grabbing big names from home. Not a lot of results on the field? The Terps season ticket packages sold are at a five-year high. Even if it was through a very arduous and painful process, Anderson and Edsall are generating something in the program that Ralph couldn’t: buzz.

This stay home movement that Maryland is really pushing for is a major part of the equation. One of the sneakiest hires Edsall has ever made was getting Mike Locksley involved once again in the program. He’s got connections to Baltimore and understands the game, and as a result Maryland seems to be doing better in, well, Maryland. No state school wins without retaining the talents of most of their top-tier in-state talent, period. Florida State has guys who are mostly from Florida. Georgia, the same.  Michigan grabs all their hometown talent before they move out-of-state. It’s a fact of life, and Maryland is finally accepting that fact and doing it.

And the ability to leverage that Big Ten momentum into something special seems to be working. In the past, there’s a good chance the Terps athletic program would fail to capitalize on the attention that the national media is giving and wants to give to Maryland. They’re looking for a new storyline, and they always are. They’re looking for someone to upset the natural order of things, always. And while Maryland doesn’t have all the trappings of a sleeping giant (great facilities, tons of money), they do have some (a sugar daddy in Kevin Plank, solid coaching staff, great recruiting grounds).

But Maryland can want to be that next great Big Ten power all they want. In this upcoming season, in a lot of folks eyes, they’re going to be branded one thing or the other. They’ll either be a threat every year to upset someone and be consistent winners, or they’ll be Big Ten has-beens who will forever be drubbed by their older brothers. They’ll either compete with Penn State and establish a legacy that allows them to keep local recruits and rise from a 26 year funk, or they won’t.

No excuses, the fans have heard them all.

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