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Maryland football fans packing “The Shell” would be step in the right direction for growing program

Maryland Stadium could use some juice in a crucial year for the program.

Photo Courtesy of Zach Bland/Maryland Athletics

Maryland football does not need a rocking crowd Saturday night against SMU. It would certainly be appreciated for a program looking to take the next step, though.

Of course, some things are out of the program’s control. The group of men in the Maryland locker room can only dictate one thing: the outcome on the field. But, meaningful fan support would not hurt.

The relationship between the team and the fans is a two-way street, and head coach Michael Locksley recognizes that. There’s an understanding that while the team hopes to have a raucous environment for every home game — especially a primetime game against a borderline top-25 opponent — consistent on-field performance coincides with that.

“It’s important for, not necessarily our team because we can’t be externally be motivated by who’s in the stands. I think it’s important because it shows the type of support,” Locksley said. “I get asked and told the thing that we need to do, or I need to do, is close the gap between the top teams and our program — the top teams in our league.”

The on-field gap between Maryland and the top Big Ten teams has been quite wide since it joined the league. Since 2014, Maryland is 4-25 against the top four programs in the Big Ten East — Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. That needs to change for the program to become a mainstay in the conference, let alone improve attendance.

Maryland has hosted two premier home primetime games throughout its association with the Big Ten — Sept. 27, 2019 vs. No. 12 Penn State and Oct. 1, 2021 vs. No. 5 Iowa. The former of the two games had the sixth-largest crowd in Maryland Stadium history, and the school even had to add more seats to the student section due to increased demand.

However, both games ended as duds. Penn State embarrassed the Terps three years ago to the tune of a 59-0 blowout. Last season, Maryland let its game against Iowa slip away in the second quarter, letting the Hawkeyes walk away with a 51-14 walloping. Iowa’s 51 points were by far its highest output all season, as it did not score more than 35 points in any other contest.

As a team that returns more starters than not from the year before, Maryland has not forgotten the feeling of lowliness following that defeat. Beating an unranked — though dangerous — SMU team under the lights certainly won’t revenge last year’s predicament, but it gives the program a true light to show the fans and the nation who it really is.

“It’s always great. I just hope that Maryland fans pack up the stadium at night,” redshirt senior defensive lineman Greg China-Rose said. “You know, our last night game wasn’t what we hoped for, so we wanna kind of redeem ourselves and show that it’s going to be a different Maryland this year.”

The non-student fanbase needs to continue to give the program under Locksley a fair chance, and there is no denying that they have not. Locksley has led the program for two years where fans have been allowed to attend games — the 2020 truncated season did not allow fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Maryland’s attendance numbers, in terms of average fans, ranked 13th in the Big Ten in 2021 and 11th in 2019.

There are no ways to sugarcoat the numbers, both of which ranked in the bottom four of the conference. More fans will flock to games if the program continues to build momentum, but the support needs to be more consistent. Winning fixes everything, but it can’t be done alone.

“Well, the challenge is will our fans close the gap and help me close the gap with creating an environment that makes it tough when people come in ‘The Shell?’” Locksley added. “It also gives us an opportunity to showcase that we have a community of people that really love what Maryland football is all about and coming to support it.”

Southern Methodist, or any future opponent, remains the task at hand for the Terps. Maryland can only beat the 11 men standing on the other side of the field, whether there are zero or 54,000 fans in attendance at home. It’s business as usual for Maryland’s players as they hope to produce a better product under the spotlight.

“I look forward to having the opportunity just to be back out there and have the opportunity to play in the night game in ‘The Shell.’” redshirt senior wide receiver Jeshaun Jones said. “We haven’t had one — I haven’t been able to play in one since Iowa was my last time. So I hope to have a better outcome this time around.”

The truth is that Saturday will not be a sold-out crowd. SMU is not Ohio State, and unranked is not No. 3. Maryland should and will ignore the outside noise, but this is a perfect time for fans to back the program. The program is coming off its first bowl victory in 11 years, and there is more palpable juice and concrete results than there ever has been under Locksley.

With a win over SMU — which is about as good of a team there is in the Group of Five — Maryland would be 3-0 entering the heart of a Big Ten schedule that is perennially one of the hardest in the entire nation. The Terps cannot beg fans to be there for them, but they should be as an opportunity for their best season in more than a decade awaits.

“To me, it’s committed and connected,” Locksley concluded. “For us to have the type of program that can go out and recruit the type of players [we want], we need to show that we have a community that really values what this program is all about. And we’ve got to continue to do our part, but it takes two of us.”