Hello, Testudo Times readers! I've gotten a chance to interact with some you before, but for those who don't know me, I'm an assistant editor over at SB Nation's Penn State site, Black Shoe Diaries. I come to you today with a message to share on behalf of Penn State fans everywhere, even if they don't want to admit it. (And check out Alex Kirshner's piece at BSD, too.)
Despite Maryland's victory over the Nittany Lions last season, there hasn't been much of any reason for Penn State fans to ever truly fear the Terps. That's not to say there haven't been close contests and exciting games between the two (I'm just going to go ahead and assume there have been at least a couple), but all in all, it's not one of the more storied head-to-heads in college football.
That being said, the relationship between the two schools is changing. Last year saw Maryland defeat Penn State for the first time since 1961. Penn State is in year two with a brand new coaching staff (led by a man with Maryland ties), and one that is revolutionizing the way the Nittany Lions recruit. Maryland finds itself in the midst of its own coaching change, albeit by different circumstances.
Despite the modest improvement Randy Edsall's teams displayed in his first few seasons in College Park, one could sense that 7-6 was probably his peak. Now, the Terrapins find themselves preparing for a coaching search this offseason, one that could very well yield them one of their most important hires ever.
I won't speculate on who the Terps will hire to fill their coaching position, but whether it be Brian Fuente, Matt Ruhle, Chip Kelly, Mike Locksley or any of the other names already on the coaching market, that coach will not only have the opportunity to change the way the country and the Big Ten views Maryland football, but also have the chance to make things extremely difficult for Penn State in the near future, thanks to two major factors.
The Fertile Recruiting Grounds
It's no secret that Penn State recruits the DMV area very well, and has for some time. In the recent past, a lot of that work was done by former defensive line coach, Larry Johnson, the former legendary coach of Maurice J. McDonough High School. With Johnson having moved on to Ohio State, Franklin and his staff haven't skipped a beat when it comes to recruiting the DMV area. In fact, four of the members of Penn State's 2016 recruiting class are DMV natives, and all are four-star players (Shane Simmons, Ellison Jordan, Cameron Brown, Zechariah McPhearson).
Needless to say, the DMV, and Maryland specifically, are very important for Penn State's recruiting strategy, especially with the way Michigan has revitalized its ability to recruit New Jersey, another Penn State-feeder state. So what happens if Maryland brings in a coach who is able to capitalize on the talent available within 100 miles of his campus, and keep a larger percentage of it home?
The Nittany Lion staff has been working to grow its presence on a national scale, but if the Lions start losing recruits within their designated areas to a fellow Big Ten school, things could start going south very quickly. In recruiting, the golden rule is that you lock down your home-area first. For years, part of Penn State's home-area has been Maryland. If a new head coach is able to step in and take that resource away, the talent pool from which the Nittany Lions are used to drawing from becomes a lot smaller, very quickly.
The Under Armour Factor
Everyone and their mother know that Under Armour has aspirations of turning Maryland into Oregon East. Saying it and doing it are two different things, but there's no doubting the effects that such an effort would have on the Maryland program.
New practice facilities, fancier football buildings, new uniforms and everything else that Under Armour wants to install don't mean much on the surface layer, but they do enhance the image of a program. The main draw of such an partnership between the school and the company would be on the recruiting side of things, but it would also help to change the image of the school in general. Instead of being another school in the Big Ten, they would truly have their own, national-brand aided identity. Under Armour would start to become synonymous with Maryland, just like Nike is with Oregon.
That sort of effect exudes confidence, and gives players a little something extra to play for. That sort of effect gives donors more reason to jump on board, and give even more money to continue to upgrade facilities and always ensure that the school has highly-paid and highly-sought-after coaches. It gives the school an aura around it that isn't currently there.
You don't get any wins in the record books for having the best sponsors, but it's the kind of thing that could indirectly lead to a more successful team on the field. When teams have confidence, a brand and an ideology that they are the newest and best thing in the sport behind them, it creates an entirely new atmosphere.
* * *
Maryland is not at this point yet. It will take time. It might not even be achieved with this first head coaching hire, post-Edsall. But no matter how long it takes Maryland to get to this point, Penn State fans should recognize that it's a summit the Terps could climb to sooner rather than later. And when that happens, there won't be time to consider whether or not they should fear Maryland, because the fear will have already arrived.