As conference move inches closer, Terps football hardly looks Big Ten-ready

COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland football team played its final Atlantic Coast Conference home game on Saturday at Byrd Stadium, but there was no time for sentiment and, for that matter, not a lot of reason for it.

For all the angst about the decision to move to the Big Ten Conference, the Terps really aren't leaving all that much behind, unless you count the $52 million they could end up having to pay as an exit fee.

The evidence of that was very much on display as Randy Edsall and his team endured another disappointing home defeat, this time to Boston College on a last-second 52-yard field goal before a spotty crowd of 32,147.

The outcome was painful enough, but the lack of interest in an ACC matchup that could have guaranteed the Terps their first winning season in three years was just another indication that the looming change in conference affiliation is not without logic.

Of course, we're talking about football here, not basketball, for which there will be plenty to look at in the rearview mirror. But the Big Ten jump was always about football and the big crowds those big-time teams will start packing into Byrd starting next season.

The era of conference realignment has left the ACC with some very good teams down south and a big chunk of the old Big East populating its Atlantic Division, but not a lot of tradition for Maryland fans to hang onto.

Boston College was a founding member of the Big East and has been an ACC member for less than a decade. The Terps' previous two opponents — Syracuse and Virginia Tech — also are Big East transplants that don't exactly get anybody's blood boiling around here.

Obviously, there is no emotional or geographic connection to any of the Big Ten programs, either, but the economic benefits of joining one of the NCAA's most prominent conferences provided incentive enough for Maryland to risk that giant exit penalty as it tries to raise the national profile of its major sports programs.

The only question is how long it will take for the Terps to be competitive in the school's three most visible sports; football is the one that is most problematic. Mark Turgeon's men's basketball team and Brenda Frese's nationally ranked women's program appear well positioned to compete right away. The hope was that Edsall would be able to bring the football program up to speed in time to make a respectable entrance, but another injury-marred season has left room to wonder whether the Terps will be overmatched next year.

It certainly didn't help that the bottom fell out just when the Terps seemed poised Saturday to lock up an exciting victory — and a winning season — over the Eagles. Maryland was driving for a fourth-quarter touchdown that would have given them an 11-point lead when running back Jacquille Veii fumbled the ball away at Boston College's 7-yard line. The Eagles soon struck for a 74-yard touchdown, then won the game in a wild finish that left Edsall explaining why he had called a pair of timeouts that ended up putting Boston College in a position to win.

It was an intriguing game, with all sorts of exciting twists and turns — much like last week's big upset win at Virginia Tech that finally made Maryland bowl-eligible — but there can be no consolation in that at this point.

Instead of coming away with a 7-4 record and a chance to close out the regular season with an eighth win against a beatable North Carolina State team next week, the Terps now are in danger of backing into a bowl game with six wins. They still face the possibility of finishing with a losing record for the third straight year.

Both Edsall and the program badly need to avoid that if the Terps are to arrive in the Big Ten with any football credibility at all.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog, and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

 

PHOTO GALLERIES

TRACKING THE TERPS