Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
Maryland is curently trying to encourage football fans with a couple of early season packages, one of which includes an $80 deal combining the West Virginia game on Sept. 21 at M&T Bank Stadium with either the Aug. 30 opener against Florida International or the Sept. 7 game against Old Dominion. Do the Terps risk sellout of their game in Baltimore with a majority of Mountaineer fans in attendance?
Don Markus: Knowing how well West Virginia “travels” for football, and given the proximity of Morgantown to Baltimore, you have to figure there’s going to be a pretty significant contingent of fans rooting for the visitors. When the Mountaineers played in College Park two years ago – in Randy Edsall’s first season at Maryland – there was quite a bit of gold and blue in the stands at Byrd Stadium.
Maryland games in Baltimore or at FedEx Field are traditionally not part of the season ticket package, but the Terps included this year’s game to try to help keep pushing the numbers forward. But the fact that the ticket office needs to package the West Virginia game with two non-conference games that will have trouble attracting fans – or vica versa – speaks of the lack of buzz surrounding the football team.
According to the Maryland athletic department, Maryland has sold 22,000 and West Virginia has sold 3,000 as of Friday. “We anticipate a very pro Maryland crowd at our game in M&T Bank Stadium,” an athletic department spokesman wrote in a text message. This figure doesn’t include students who might attend the game, the spokesman said later.
The last time Maryland played in Baltimore, against Navy to open the 2010 season, the Terps were coming off a 2-10 record the year before. The pressure on Ralph Friedgen had subsided a bit after Debbie Yow had left earlier that summer for North Carolina State, but the interest had definitely waned.
Even the subsquent development of redshirt freshman quarterback Danny O’Brien and the sensational play of wide receiver Torrey Smith for the Terps during what turned out to be a 9-4 season didn’t fire up the fan base enough to save Friedgen’s job.
Now, with the Terps coming off 2-10 and 4-8 records in Edsall’s first two years, the fan base is possibly more disgruntled than it has been since the days of Ron Vanderlinden. While a 3-0 start against FIU and Old Dominion at home and Connecticut on the road won’t hurt, I know a lot of Maryland fans are taking a wait-and-see approach before they jump back on the bandwagon.
I can see some going to the West Virginia game, but with Ed Reed possibly returning the next day with the Houston Texans, I can also see more buying up what tickets are available for the Ravens game the following day. I am not sure how many tickets were allotted the Terps and how many went up to Morgantown, but there should be plenty of seats available for West Virginia fans.
For those who have trouble getting tickets at Mountaineer Field, paying a few extra bucks to see their favorite team three hours or so down the road in Baltimore is a small sacrifice to pay. Not that it’s unusual for teams with rabid fan bases to scoop up tickets for road games. Just ask Ohio State fans how many games they’ve gone to at Indiana or Northwestern. Just ask Buckeye fans if they have circled the 2014 Big Ten road opener in College Park.
A friend of mine who has been a longtime Maryland season-ticket holder in football and basketball reminded me of when Georgetown played the Terps at the USAir Arena to start the 1993-94 season. The Hoyas were nationally ranked and didn’t make that game part of their season-ticket package. In fact, as my friend recalled, they charged double the price of the Syracuse game. Though it was considered a Georgetown home game, Terps fans bought up most of the seats. Maryland won.
I just covered the U.S. national soccer team’s win in the Gold Cup last Sunday over El Salvador, and M&T Bank Stadium seemed more like San Salvador than Baltimore until the Americans scored a bunch of goals in the second half in a 5-1 rout. Winning on the road is going to be tough for the Terps this season, whether the game is in Blacksburg or Tallahassee, or if their fans don’t show up on Sept. 21 in Baltimore.
What is up with Mark Turgeon offering a scholarship to an eighth-grader?
Don Markus: You often hear a high school senior say after he signs with a college program that it was because of the long-standing relationship he developed with a head coach. If Tomas Murphy eventually signs with Maryland, he is bound to say that it all began in middle school.
Murphy, who is entering the ninth grade at a prep school in Rhode Island, was reportedly offered a scholarship by Turgeon during a tournament this week in Las Vegas, where the 6-foot-7 (yes, you read that correctly) forward is playing for the Mass Rivals 15 AAU team.
Murphy is the younger brother of former Florida star Erik Murphy and current Duke player Alex Murphy, Their father, Jay, played for Boston College for former Maryland coach Gary Williams, before playing in the NBA. The youngest Murphy’s other high-major offer to date is reportedly from BC.
Turgeon and assistant coach Scott Spinelli have done a great job recruiting New England. Evan Smotrycz, who transferred from Michigan and is eligible to play this season, came through the same AAU program as Murphy. Sophomore forward Jake Layman is from the suburbs of Boston.
Considering how long before Murphy has to sign his letter of intent, a lot can happen. Turgeon is banking on the Terps becoming a top 25 program nationally by the time Murphy is a junior. According to ESPN, Maryland has the No. 4 recruiting class in the country for 2014.
Whatever happens, the aggressive recruiting Turgeon and his staff are doing shows how things have changed in College Park the past two years. Even having a shot at the Harrison twins last fall was viewed as a victory by many, though not by the ultra-competitive Turgeon.
As for the final piece of the 2014 class, don’t be surprised to see one of the three big men the Terps are pursuing – Chinanu Onuaku, Trayvon Reed or Goodluck Okonoboh – commit to Turgeon sometime this fall.
Stefon Diggs was named a first-team All-ACC preseason selection as a specialist, but not at wide receiver. Why?
Matt Bracken: Tremendous question. Clemson's Sammy Watkins was a no-brainer at wide receiver with 57 votes from media members in attendance at this week's ACC Media Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C. Though he missed three games in 2012 and had more modest stats than others in contention, nobody can forget a freshman season in which he caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns.
So leaving Watkins out of the discussion, let's take a look at a head-to-head comparison between Diggs and Wake Forest's Michael Campanaro, the former River Hill star who edged out Diggs by one media vote (20 to 19).
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Campanaro missed two games with a hand injury during his junior season -- Wake's 19-14 loss to Maryland and its 16-10 win over Virginia. Diggs was inactive for Maryland's 45-10 loss to Clemson with an ankle injury.
Statistically, both players have merit to their respective cases. Campanaro caught 25 more passes in one less game, while Diggs had a significant edge in total yards and, perhaps more importantly, yards per catch. There's no denying that both guys are excellent college players. It's not at all absurd to think Campanaro is worthy of the spot.
But Diggs, of course, spent last year catching passes from a revolving door of quarterbacks -- none of whom was C.J. Brown, out for the entire 2012 season with an ACL tear. It can't have been easy to get on the same page with two true freshmen (Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe), a quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-quarterback (Devin Burns) and a freshman linebacker (Shawn Petty). But Diggs still managed to put up big numbers and emerge as one of the ACC's most dangerous players.
This fall, QB 1 will be back under center for the Terps, and everyone associated with the program is -- with good reason -- excited to see how the chemistry between Brown and Diggs develops. Campanaro will surely have an excellent senior season, but Diggs seems primed for a major jump in production. My guess is that we see the Terps sophomore join Watkins on the postseason All-ACC first team at wide-out.