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I'd like Penn State to be Maryland's rival, but the Terps have some catching up to do

I went to Maryland. We'd kind of like to have a serious football rival, and we don't. So come on down, Penn State.

USA Today

Maryland and Penn State have historically had a one-sided relationship. The Nittany Lions are a hilarious 36-2-1 against the Terps all time, with the vast majority of those wins coming when the teams played almost annually from the 1960s through 1993.

Then, much like Penn State did with Pitt, the teams just stopped playing. Penn State’s first year in the Big Ten was its last year playing Maryland, and the schools weren’t on each other’s schedules again until Maryland leapt from the ACC to the Big Ten and visited Beaver Stadium in 2014. Maryland will be there again on Saturday (noon ET, Big Ten Network).

When they met in 2014, the Terps greeted Penn State in a pretty weird way for a team that hadn’t seen its opponent since most of the players on the roster were born.

First, the teams scuffled in pregame warmups, with Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs face-washing an official in his way.

Maryland Penn State

Then, before kickoff, Maryland captains refused to shake Penn State hands.

"I guess we all have a choice and option to do whatever they want to do," Penn State coach James Franklin said afterward. "They decided to start the game that way. That's their prerogative. I've never been a part of that. In 20 years, I've never seen that before."

Then-Maryland coach Randy Edsall apologized, but it seemed more than a little half-hearted, because not shaking hands with Penn State was a genuinely thrilling thing for lots of Maryland fans.

Maryland does not have a serious football rival, and lots of us would really like Penn State to become that rival.

When Maryland played in the ACC, the Terps were sort of, kind of, rivals with Virginia, whom they’ve faced more times than any other school. But UVA is, and historically has been, even more mediocre in football than we’ve been. It wasn’t a great series, aside from elitist Hoos and obscenity-chanting Terps complaining about each other.

If Maryland’s going to ever have a cool rivalry series with anyone in the Big Ten, Penn State is probably it. From Maryland’s standpoint, the reasons for this are many:

  1. Location. The Big Ten has 11 Midwestern schools, plus Penn State, Maryland, and Rutgers. Not that Maryland and Rutgers aren’t trying to Make This a Thing, but a Terps-Penn State rivalry is more desirable, because Penn State’s better. (Maryland borders Pennsylvania and is close to New Jersey.)
  2. Recruiting. Maryland has traditionally faced a big problem when it’s tried to recruit the best players from its own local area. Penn State spends a lot of time there, and the Nittany Lions have really gotten in Maryland’s way. In recent classes, Penn State’s loaded up on nearly as many top-10 Maryland players as Maryland has. That doesn’t work. It also means that the notion of a good, better-recruiting Maryland team poses a real threat to Penn State.
  3. A deeply seeded need for a villain. Maryland fans like being the rambunctious little brother. We used to have Duke and North Carolina’s basketball teams to hate on in the ACC, but the Big Ten offers fewer obvious targets. Penn State’s a neighbor that recruits heavily against Maryland, has historically been more successful, and does things that college students can feel good about not liking. A trifecta.

For this to be real and not contrived, Maryland has to win a few games.

The Terps won the no-handshake game two years ago on a last-minute field goal, and Penn State answered with a one-point win in Baltimore last season. The 2014 win brought Maryland’s record in State College to a sterling 1-22.

The good news for Maryland? Penn State is currently 3-2, while Maryland’s come off last year’s 3-9 Hindenburg to start 4-0 under first-year boss D.J. Durkin. Penn State looks iffy, and Maryland’s still got that nice, new-coach smell and an unbeaten record. The Terps are even a narrow road favorite.

Both head coaches have declined to make a big deal of this, generally.

"Our mentality and our approach is the same every week," Durkin said at his press conference this week. "We play 12 one-game seasons. Any time you play a team that some of our guys may know or may have played against some of their guys, there’s a little something more to it. You know some of those faces a little better. But, for us, it’s just a Big Ten East matchup. They all count the same."

Maryland barely came up in Franklin’s presser this week, but Penn State tends not to lock in much on any particular opponent.

"A lot of schools have a rival, and that’s clearly the rival. When you’re at Penn State, you take a six-hour radius of this campus, we’re kind of unique," Franklin told SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey back in February. Penn State plays rivalry or rivalry-ish games with Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and now even Pitt.

Penn State has dominated Maryland, and maybe this series will never grow into more than a battle to be the third or fourth best team in the Big Ten East. But if Maryland can string together some wins, who knows? Maybe there’s some hatred to be unlocked. College Park sure hopes so.