Just prior to kickoff of Maryland’s first meeting with Penn State since the early 1990s, wide receiver Stefon Diggs, tight end P.J. Gallo, and safety Sean Davis walked to midfield for the traditional handshake and coin toss.
The three Terrapins had been selected as game captains, and were met at the center of Beaver Stadium by the three chosen captains for the Nittany Lions. Instead of engaging in the customary pregame handshake, the three Maryland players refused to extend their hands to their Penn State counterparts. The act subsequently compelled the Big Ten to suspend Diggs for one game (although he would miss the next game due to injury anyway) and fine the university $10,000.
Refusing to shake their opponents’ hands, immature as it may have been, unquestionably created the initial spark the Terps so desperately needed at the time. As newcomers to the Big Ten conference, the Terps were struggling to find a new identity (and quite frankly, still are).
The Terps were 5-3 at the time, having shown promise by defeating Indiana and Iowa, but also having been crushed by Ohio State and Wisconsin. Beyond their record and being one win away from bowl eligibility, the Maryland football program was looking for more than their identity as members of a new power five conference stacked with storied programs and an overall rich history of success. They lacked a true rival.
In 2014, Maryland found themselves facing many uncertainties as members of a new conference after spending over 60 years in the ACC. Unbeknownst to the casual college football fan, the University of Virginia was considered the Terps’ football rival in the ACC. While Maryland basketball previously enjoyed the hype surrounding Duke and North Carolina matchups, the football program always lacked that additional element; there was nothing supplementary about any given upcoming football matchup that got the fans and players hyped aside from the possibility of another win and a better record.
On November 1, 2014, that all changed. While the handshake snub instantly sparked controversy and served as extra motivation for both teams on the playing field, other factors also played large roles in birthing this young rivalry.
The game itself was sloppy to say the least. The two teams combined for 14 penalties totaling 151 penalty yards, and neither team could find any success moving the football either on the ground or through the air.
Penn State finished with 42 total rushing yards, and Maryland didn’t do much better with 33. Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg completed just 18-of-42 passes for 177 yards, while Maryland’s C.J. Brown completed 18-of-38 for 161 yards. Maryland’s leading receiver was Diggs, who accumulated just 53 yards on six receptions, while Geno Lewis led all Penn State receivers with only 54 yards on five catches. The game was painful to watch at times, as nearly every possession seemed to end in either a turnover (six total) or a punt (19 total).
The sloppy way the game played out, however, substantiated and validated the rivalry in my opinion. Had the Terps been crushed, à la the huge losses to Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State, any talk of a rivalry would have been laughed at and easily brushed off by the Penn State players, coaches, and fans.
Maryland outscored Penn State 13-3 in the fourth quarter, and capped it off with Brad Craddock’s 43-yard field goal with under a minute left in the game. It also served to solidify the matchup as a new, or at least renewed from decades ago, college football and Big Ten rivalry.
Another twist worth mentioning is the two teams current head coaching situations. Maryland fired Ralph Friedgen after the 2010 season, despite the team finishing with nine wins, a top-25 ranking, and a bowl victory. They allowed offensive coordinator James Franklin, the presumed head-coach-in-waiting, to leave.
After a three-year stint with Vanderbilt, Franklin was hired as head coach at Penn State in 2014. The Nittany Lions finished 7-6 (2-6 in Big Ten) last year, but are 5-2 (2-1 in Big Ten) so far this season. Instead of promoting Franklin, Athletic Director Kevin Anderson and the university decided to bring in the unproven Randy Edsall from the University of Connecticut. Edsall was fired last week after going 22-34 in four plus seasons, including a 2-4 record so far in 2015.
One game between two schools since 1993 would typically make tabbing those teams as rivals a stretch. However, the proximity of the two schools, the overlap in recruiting area, the handshake snub, and the Maryland victory, all played significant roles in establishing this matchup as the Big Ten’s newest rivalry.