Maryland's game against Old Dominion on Saturday marks the beginning of the end of an era. The Terps plan to phase out games against Football Championship Subdivision opponents in the coming years.
But Maryland (1-0, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) knows better than to relax against the Monarchs. The Terps' own history — and recent upsets of other major-conference teams by FCS schools — show them why it's not a good idea to overlook Old Dominion.
Last week, eight FCS schools upset Football Bowl Subdivision squads, including Towson over Connecticut, 33-18; Eastern Washington over Oregon State, 49-46; and North Dakota State over Kansas State, 24-21.
In the past six seasons, the Terps have had three close calls against FCS opponents in College Park. In last season's opener, Maryland edged William and Mary, 7-6. In 2009, the Terps escaped with a 38-35 win in overtime over James Madison. And they beat Delaware, 14-7, in 2008.
Maryland and other FBS schools can award 85 football scholarships, while FCS schools are allotted 63. But the competitive gap between the subdivisions has seemed to narrow in recent years. Mid-sized schools often seem intent on proving they can compete with programs from Bowl Championship Series conferences.
"I know our players. They've watched scores, and they've seen the things that have happened," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "You know, we tell them all the time that it's all up to us. I mean we're good enough to beat anybody on our schedule, but if we're not doing the things we're supposed to — and preparing properly — then anybody on our schedule can beat us. Old Dominion is a team that's transitioning to FBS and Conference USA."
Junior quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who completed 38 of 51 passes for 338 yards and four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) in a 52-38 loss to East Carolina last week, leads the Monarchs offense. He passed for an FCS single-season record 5,076 yards and 44 touchdowns last year and rushed for 11 more scores.
The Big Ten Conference wants Maryland, which joins the conference in 2014, and its other members to stop scheduling FCS opponents.
Four FCS teams still appear on the Terps' schedule in the next few years, and Maryland says it is not looking to drop those opponents. The Terps open the 2014 season against James Madison, the 2015 season against Richmond and the 2016 season against Howard. The Terps will face Towson in the second game in 2017.
Edsall said he likes the regional nature of the games with FCS teams.
"Most of the schools we have are kind of local," he said.
But Maryland won't be signing any new contracts with FCS schools. The Big Ten wants its schools to be well-positioned for the college football playoff system, which begins after the 2014 season. Maryland will play nine Big Ten games in 2016, leaving fewer games for opponents outside of the conference.
Maryland's nonconference schedule has already started to toughen.
The Terps renewed their series with West Virginia in 2010, and the two teams have played the past three seasons. The Terps and Mountaineers meet again Sept. 21 at M&T Bank Stadium and will play each year through 2017. Maryland and Texas are scheduled to play in 2017 and 2018 — both season openers.
Maryland's Big Ten schedule will also present an upgrade over the ACC. Each year, the Terps will play East division opponents Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Rutgers and Indiana. In 2015, Penn State will make its first visit to the state since 1993 for a game against the Terps. The game will be at M&T Bank Stadium.
Terps players said they are looking forward to the schedule upgrades.
"When you're growing up, you always want to play different schools and go to different places," said Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown, who is from western Pennsylvania. "That's the 'Wow' factor."
Like fans of many college teams, Maryland supporters have long wanted higher-profile schools on the home schedule.
twitter.com/sunjeffbarkerCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun