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Looking Beyond Ralph - Can Maryland Ever Become an Elite Football Program?

A lot of debate has occurred here at Testudo Times over the last week about whether keeping head coach Ralph Friedgen was a good or bad decision. As many of you know, I think the decision was the right move and Ben B. feels it was not.

The official poll on the decision at Testudo Times showed no clear favorite, with 27% saying it was the wrong move, 28% saying it was the right move, and the rest feeling if we were in a better economy, he probably should have been let go.

In my plan, I would put the Maryland Football Program in a lock box. Ok, in all seriousness, I'd like to see the Terps "promote" James Franklin to be the only assistant head coach, take away his play calling duties, and give them to a really good offensive coordinator, which I kind of suggested a few days ago (although my plan involved buying out Franklin, but that doesn't look like it's going to happen and as some people have suggested, might not have been a good move in terms of some of the local ties to area schools). I also say that Ralph Friedgen is the reason that people even care about Maryland football. He energized this fan base to care. If there was no Fridge, we might still be constantly having 4-8, 2-10, 5-6 seasons. Instead, we've gone to 6 bowl games since the 2001-2002 season. 6 out of 9 years, for a program that previously hadn't been to a bowl game since the early 90's isn't bad. And because of that, I think Ralph deserves a chance to finish what he started. And I legitimatelly believe this could be a good team next year. You'll have a lot of options for offensive line (remember, past experience on the o-line is the greatest indicator of the success of your team), we the weapons in place to run an offense similar to that of the 2001-2004 era (option oriented) and I think that was Friedgen's most successful offense and it showed in the wins and losses columns. And remember, a lot of our losses this year were because of a fumbling disease that our players seemed to have. When we don't randomly turn the ball over, we would have had decent chances in alot of our games.

But as I've been reading through everyone's comments on whether Friedgen should stay or go I came to a shocking realization that I think other Terps fans are going to have to accept if they ever want to be happy fans - The Maryland Football Program may never be an elite program. The reason why? Their location.

Yes Terps fans, we all want it so bad. We want to be the #1 team. We want to bring a national football title back to College Park. But do we realistically have a shot? Something dawned on me recently about Maryland Football - we have a severe disadvantage because of our location. College Park is right between D.C. and Baltimore and what do both of those citys have? NFL franchises (and many other sports franchises as well). So what you ask? Well, unless you're team in constantly winning 10 games a season, the maximum number of tickets you're going to be able to sell isn't going to be as high as some of the more elite schools in the country and that means you can't advertise a 100,000 seat stadium to a recruit and use that as a big tool to get them to make the decision to choose your school over another. Look at some of the better teams in the nation recently - USC, Florida, Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State. What do those team have in common? They are the only game in town in their city and they all have pretty big stadiums. LA, Happy Valley, Ann Arbor, Columbus, Gainsville - people don't really have an option as to what teams they can spend their money on. If you want to see sports, those teams are your option. And that also builds a sense of pride for those people and the towns they live in. When Penn State wins, Happy Valley wins. So if you're in Happy Valley, you want the team representing your city to do well, so you'll support them. That's not really the case in College Park. A lot of people living in College Park don't like the fact that they live in a college town and get angry when the see students running around (OH MY GOSH! I MOVED TO A CITY CALLED COLLEGE PARK AND THERE IS A COLLEGE HERE! THE HUMANITY! Guess what folks, the College is what makes your town. Deal with it or move on. But I digress). I feel that most people living in CP probably think of themselves as more of living in a suburb of D.C. rather than there own city. And I guarantee you most of them aren't going to Terps football games on Saturdays in the fall. People here can shell out money to go see the Skins or the Ravens. Or even the Caps, Wizards, Orioles and Nationals. Those are a lot of options on how to spend your sports dollars. So if you were a local recruit, would you want to go to Maryland and be one duck in a pond of many, playing in front of, at most, 55,000 people? Or would you want to go somewhere where you were the only game in town and you're playing in front of 100,000 fans every week? Unless you're a crazy Terps man like some of us, the answer is probably the latter, unfortunately. And unless Maryland can some how produce about 5-10 years of 8+win seasons, they're not going to be able to continue to expand Byrd and make it a larger stadium because they just won't have the fan base to support it.

Does that mean Maryland can't compete and can't be a player on the national scale? Absolutely not. They've shown that when they win and do well, they can compete with the other local area teams and pack Byrd Stadium. The problem is getting to that level and maintaining it. And to do that you need to constantly recruit or develop good talent on a yearly basis. But getting that talent to constantly come here is a problem, as mentioned above. And then we're back to square one. Clearly we need to move the College Park campus to the middle of nowhere, like Fredrick. I think Friedgen and Franklin need to focus some of their recruiting on players who are not near a big city like D.C. or Baltimore and use that to their advantage. Tell them they will get the media attention from those two markets. Tell them how that will help their NFL stock. If you can a big local kid or two, great. If not, go grab someone eles's local stud and convince them they belong in College Park.