Everybody should know by now that Tuesday will be a watershed moment in the history of University of Maryland athletics. The long-anticipated move from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten will become official and the Terps will take up residence in a brave new world of intercollegiate competition.
Maryland fans have had plenty of time to adjust to the concept. Now, it's time to face the reality, and nowhere is it going to get more real than on the football field.
The Big Ten is a conference full of big, hairy teams that routinely take up an inordinate amount of space in the national rankings. The core members are a who's who of college football history, and the overall level of competition — top to bottom, year in and year out — is something the Atlantic Coast Conference has long strived for and never achieved.
So, what are we supposed to expect as the Terps come off their first bowl-eligible season of the Randy Edsall era and debut with a Big Ten schedule that features Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State?
Is this a time for excitement or apprehension?
The talk shows and message boards are awash with both as fans mourn the end of popular ACC basketball rivalries, look forward to a higher-quality football schedule and wonder how long it will take Edsall's program to become a legitimate threat to the status quo in the newly expanded 14-team superconference.
My take: The transition is going to be painful in the short term, but the upside for both the athletic department and the university as a whole eventually will make it well worth the financial impact of the ACC exit strategy and whatever growing pains the major sports have to go through to establish themselves in their new surroundings.
Edsall knows what he's up against, and he realizes that his team is saddled with the outsized responsibility of making Maryland's first impression as a Big Ten member, but he said last week that he can't wait to put this year's team on the field.
"I'm not in the least bit apprehensive about it at all," he said. "I'm just looking forward to it vigorously and ready to go and attack this thing the best way we can and do the things we can do to prepare ourselves to the best of our abilities. We'll see what happens after that."
The conference shift already has had an effect on recruiting, and there's little question that Maryland will get far more national television exposure than it did in the ACC. Tuesday is just the first official day of full membership, but the benefits of the Big Ten affiliation began accruing as soon as the Board of Regents voted to accept the invitation in 2012.
"I think it has enhanced us tremendously," Edsall said. "It also has allowed us to open up some doors geographically that I don't think were there before. The exposure with the Big Ten Network is creating more visibility for us. We've had more coverage by the Big Ten this past spring about what we're doing in the spring than we got the last three years in the ACC."
Of course, it's going to be difficult for some Maryland fans and former athletes to leave the ACC behind. There will always be some nostalgia for the great basketball rivalries and the long history as a charter ACC member, but it's fair to ask whether the romance of the old ACC was already lost in the realignment frenzy of the past half-decade.
In the newly expanded ACC last year, the Maryland men's basketball team did not have a home game against either Duke or North Carolina.
The slogan that tops the main page of Maryland's athletics website is "Think Big." And that is definitely what the administration was doing when it decided to risk tens of millions of dollars in exit fees to bolt to the Big Ten — fees it's still fighting in court. The move also is not without risk for Edsall, men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon and athletic director Kevin Anderson, who will be under a microscope throughout what could be a rocky transition period.
Edsall knows there is a fine line to walk when it comes to outlining realistic expectations for his team's first year at a new and daunting level of competition.
"There's no doubt," he said. "What we're going to do is prepare as hard as we can. We're doing game plans now and getting to know all the new teams we're going to be playing. Then we're going to prepare in August and then go play the schedule and see how we match up and where we are. It's going to be new. It's going to be different. They've got to get to know us. We've got to get to know them. We'll just see where it all takes us."
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.