COLLEGE PARK—When Maryland visited Cameron Indoor Stadium last month, Duke fans smugly expressed indifference at the impending end of a Terrapins-Blue Devils series that was once among the hottest in the country.
"Don't come back," they chanted at the Terps.
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Maryland (17-7, 5-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) may be leaving the ACC to join the Big Ten in 2014, but players and fans still define the team's season partly by how they stack up against Duke (22-2, 9-2 ACC), which enters Saturday's matchup ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press poll.
The anticipation on campus this week was palpable. No other game creates this sort of buzz.
As part of the special preparation for the game against Duke, students
were told they could begin lining up to enter Comcast Center at 6 a.m., 12 hours before the game begins. The first 4,000 will receive free Maryland T-shirts.
Once in the arena, students will be taught a new dance that "is sort of a flash mob kind of thing," university spokeswoman Crystal Brown said. "This is an activity to give students a new tradition — to be the center of attention in a very positive way," she said.
Also, in emails, flyers and sportsmanship videos, administrators encouraged fans to be on their best behavior.
Maryland has tried for years to clean up the environment at the Duke game. The push gained new emphasis when the school got a new president, Wallace D. Loh, and a new athletic director, Kevin Anderson, in 2010. In one of Anderson's first actions as athletic director, he wrote a guest column for The Diamondback, the independent student newspaper, challenging students to be respectful to opposing teams and avoid profanity.
An email from the university this week urged students "to be respectful of the fans around you."
An advertisement in The Diamondback went further.
"Past celebrations have brought concern to our community and even some ridicule to our campus," said the ad from the Maryland Office of Student Conduct, apparently referencing postgame scuffles with police along U.S. 1 in past years. "In times of celebration, we must remember that while we want all Terps to 'Cheer the Turtle,' we must do so responsibly."
While North Carolina is Duke's primary rival, the Terps-Blue Devils rivalry thrived for years because of the familiarity the schools had for one another. Until Maryland's Gary Williams retired in 2011, each team had the same coach for 22 seasons.
During that period, Duke fans often dismissed Maryland as pedestrian. Maryland fans accused Duke supporters and players of being aloof and entitled.
Charles T. Clotfelter, a public policy professor, has taught at both Duke and Maryland and has developed theories about the rivalry.
"Why should Maryland fans have it in particularly for Duke? One factor is that Maryland has never had a natural rival," said Clotfelter, now at Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy. "The closest thing in the ACC was Virginia, but that was never much. For a while, it was Penn State in football, and maybe that will come back."
Clotfelter, author of the 2011 book "Big-Time Sports in American Universities," said Terps fans "are not alone in their uncharitable feelings toward Duke. I have seen somewhere a poll showing that Duke is the most hated team in basketball, as Notre Dame is in football."
Maryland will play Duke at least one more time next season, but it's not known whether the game will be here or in Durham, N.C.
Saturday's game is the biggest so far this season for Maryland — and not just because Duke is the opponent.
The Terps desperately need a quality win to remain in the conversation for an NCAA tournament berth.
Duke has won six straight games against the Terps and 12 of the last 13 meetings. Blue Devils senior Mason Plumlee had 15 of his 19 points in the second half as Duke defeated the Terps, 84-64, on Jan. 26.
Through all the losses, Maryland fans have retained their enthusiasm over Duke — or rather for cheering against the Blue Devils.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said last season's Duke home game produced "one of the best crowds I ever coached in front of."
Some of the fans at Comcast Center last season waved signs.
"Breathe if you hate Duke," one said.