Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Is Maryland the Big Ten’s Version of Texas A&M?

Texas A&M football meant nothing.

That was the program’s status before joining the SEC. In 2009, Texas played for a BCS title. In 2010, TCU won a Rose Bowl. In 2011, Baylor produced a Heisman Trophy winner. Texas A&M was not merely an afterthought nationally – they did not exist.

randy edsall 2014
For years, the Aggies languished in the shadows. They were considered to be the little brother of Texas. They were not on the same level as Oklahoma, or even Oklahoma State. When rumblings about Texas A&M joining the SEC started bubbling during the realignment craze, people were incredulous. Hell, I argued Boise State would mean more for the Big 12.

There was a common belief that being the outlier in the SEC would be problematic for Texas A&M. The reasons for their acceptance centered on television money and recruiting, also known as two things that figured to help future opponents more than Texas A&M.

Instead, being the outlier changed the program. While I believe they are headed for a decline post-Johnny Football, there’s no arguing that the move invigorated the program and the fanbase. They recently added more seats to Kyle Field. Donations are way up. Recruiting hit new highs, even before Manziel took over.
Texas A&M escaped from the shadows of former rivals to stand on its own.

In looking at the Big Ten’s new arrivals for 2014, they come from wildly differing histories over the past decade. Rutgers, since their magical 2006 season, has been promoted endlessly by the then-Big East as what college football could be in New York City. They lit up the Empire State Building once and the Big East couldn’t stop talking about it.

Think about all the promotion that has been put forth for Rutgers and you wonder if they are going to see any bump from the Big Ten, other than the gigantic lump introduced to their wallets.

Contrast that with Maryland, who suffered for years like Texas A&M in the shadows of more established programs. In basketball, Maryland could never gain the national respect Duke and North Carolina did despite a National Title. In football, Maryland’s success always came with an asterisk – yeah, they won the ACC, but Florida State was down.

Unlike Rutgers, Maryland never received the full promotional push from its conference. The ACC led zero commercials with Maryland. While a contingent of Maryland fans will miss the rivalries with Duke and Virginia, they are about to understand how sweet the air is when no one else is breathing it.

When it comes to football, Maryland will see an immediate bump in scheduling a la Texas A&M. You think Aggie fans were happy when Iowa State and Kansas were replaced by Alabama and LSU? Maryland has traded a slew of average teams – think Pitt, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest – for regular visits from three of college football’s biggest brands in Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. Sure, the schedule got a lot harder but it also got a lot more exciting.

The money will come pouring in and it will change things. For starters, it should allow Maryland to renovate and/or expand its subpar football stadium. I went for UConn/Maryland in 2012 and I won’t go back unless it gets a lot better.

The recruiting will change too. For better or worse, the Big Ten is considered a better football conference than the ACC, which is essentially viewed as Florida State, Clemson and a bunch of interchangeable basketball schools.

Here’s the most important part – Maryland has a chance to be really, really good this year. Injuries have decimated the Terps during Randy Edsall’s tenure so far but the talent is there. In Stefon Diggs, Edsall has an exciting, highlight-reel-ready superstar that could garner headlines.

And look at the schedule – it is no stretch to believe Maryland could be 5-0 through September when Ohio State comes to town for the first Big Ten home game.

The title of this post was formed as a question because Texas A&M didn’t take off into the stratosphere until they beat Alabama in 2012. For Maryland to truly take advantage of their new-found wealth and exposure, they need a program-defining win.

Maryland has Ohio State and Michigan State coming to town – two teams that, like Alabama in 2012, should be national title contenders. Win one and the Maryland football program may finally reach its unlimited potential. 

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