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The history of Maryland playing football against Penn State has been dominated by two recurring themes: relatively long periods of dormancy, including one 16-year break and another that lasted 21 years, and the total domination by the Nittany Lions.
Penn State is 39-2-1 all time against the Terps, at one point winning 24 straight in the series. Since Maryland won in the teams’ first meeting as fellow members of the Big Ten, Penn State has taken the past four games in the series and outscored Maryland 142-20 over the past three matchups.
“We’ve got some work to do for us to be able to call it a rivalry,” first-year Terps coach Mike Locksley said Tuesday as his team prepared to face the No. 12 Nittany Lions on Friday at Maryland Stadium. “You can’t wish and make a game a rivalry. The only way it gets to that point is by competing and having success.”
Maryland coach Mike Locksley talks about the recruiting rivalry with Penn State and how Friday’s Big Ten opener could affect it in the future.
Said Adam Friedman, Mid-Atlantic recruiting analyst for Rivals: “It’s more a recruiting rivalry than it is on the field at this point.”
Because of that, much more will be at stake than just the pecking order in this year’s Big Ten East standings or whether the Terps (2-1), coming off a loss at Temple, can get their second Top 25 win this season.
“For Penn State, this game means more about proving that they’re still the big stick in the Northeast when it comes to anything north of North Carolina and east of Ohio,” Friedman said. “For Maryland, this game’s about showing progress under Locksley, showing that this is a team that has a foundation that can compete in the years to come and hopefully for the Terps will turn into recruiting momentum, especially locally.”
It’s as much about who might be going to the respective schools in the future as it is about who will be on the field Friday.
The balance of power when it comes to college football’s lifeblood — recruiting — could be given a significant jolt if the Terps can knock off No. 12 Penn State (3-0).
“I do feel we both compete for the same kind of players,” Locksley said. “I do think there’s something to be said when the team that executes the best and plays the best and wins the game usually has the bragging rights.
“So for us, we’re fortunate that we’ve got them here at home, in ‘The Shell.’ We’re excited about the opportunity. They’re a ranked program. They’re the type of program that we’re working to develop. I do think the competition extends beyond the playing field, but also in recruiting."
In many ways, the recruiting rivalry is much more intense than it was when Ralph Friedgen played and later coached at Maryland. Friedgen, 72, was a Terps quarterback-turned-lineman from 1966 to 1968, an assistant from 1982 to 1986, and Maryland head coach from 2001 to 2010.
“It was a little different, because [former Penn State coach] Joe [Paterno] was like [longtime Florida State coach] Bobby Bowden. He hardly ever went out recruiting, and when he did, people bent over backwards for him,” said Friedgen, who will be honored during Friday’s game as the honorary team captain. “Since then, they’re more active with [James] Franklin and when [former Maryland assistant Bill O’Brien] was there.
“It’s hard not to win at Penn State. You’re going to get every kid in Pennsylvania you want. It’s like Ohio State. They grow up wanting to go to those schools. The fact is that they come into D.C. and the area — they’re not the only one. Everybody is in the DMV [to recruit]. And New Jersey, too. Rutgers has the same problem. Maryland has something that we didn’t have [at Rutgers], a nice facility. You’re not showing them pictures. It’s built. It’s going to help tremendously in recruiting.”
Franklin, Penn State’s current head coach, was the Terps offensive coordinator under Friedgen and was the program’s coach-in-waiting before leaving to become head coach at Vanderbilt after the 2010 season. He said before his team’s last game, a 17-10 win over Pittsburgh, that winning against rivals doesn’t necessarily win recruiting battles.
“Obviously winning helps,” Franklin told reporters in State College, Pennsylvania. ”The environment helps. But I don’t think one game swings you. I don’t think kids are choosing Penn State because of one game. I don’t think kids are choosing another school because of one game.
"Do guys want to be a part of winning programs? Yes. Do guys want to play in front of 107,000 [the capacity at Beaver Stadium]? Yes. Do guys want to go to a school where they can get a great education — that’s important to their parents, yes. All those things factor in. But I don’t think one game really trumps that. Do we think it helps? Yeah. But I don’t think it’s the end all, be all.”
Friedman agrees, to a point.
“I would think players use it as a barometer, a measuring stick for where each program is at,” he said. “Then at the end of the season, they kind of go back and look at how the season played out, the ups and downs, how coaching staffs and players dealt with that adversity. I think that has a lot to do with players who are really taking a strong look at it.”
The proximity of Maryland to such high school powerhouses as DeMatha, St. John’s College, Gonzaga, Good Counsel, St. Frances and McDonogh makes it imperative for the Terps to prove they are as worthy as the Nittany Lions.
Maryland coach Mike Locksley talks about his team’s aggressive defense going into Friday’s Big Ten opener against Penn State.
Perhaps to Maryland’s disadvantage, particularly if the Terps can pull off an upset, is this might’ve been a game Locksley and his staff would’ve invited many of their top recruiting targets to watch in person. Because it’s being played on a Friday night, most of the prospects Maryland covets will be involved in their own high school games.
“Maryland having so many big-time schools nearby, they would have loved for the game to be on Saturday,” Friedman said. “Caleb Williams, the big-time quarterback from Gonzaga, probably would have been there on Saturday. He’s got a big game Friday night.”
More than half of Maryland’s roster — 68 players — are from Delaware, Maryland or Washington, including 12 players from DeMatha.
This was after years under former coach Randy Edsall when the Terps struggled to get DeMatha players to visit. Also, one of Locksley’s first hires was DeMatha coach Elijah Brooks, who now coaches the Terps’ running backs.
Penn State has 19 players from the DMV.
Locksley was, and now is again, a major factor in this recruiting dynamic. There was some momentum shortly before Edsall was fired, when future Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., then playing at Bullis, committed to the Terps because of his relationship with Locksley. So did current Maryland linebacker Keandre Jones, largely for the same reason.
Led by Haskins and former Terp Adam McLean, it was dubbed “The Movement.” But after Edsall was let go in the middle of the 2015 season and Locksley, the team’s interim coach, was not retained, Haskins and Jones flipped to Ohio State.
“ ‘The Movement’ was a real thing, and then it was knocked off the rails by a bunch of different things,” Friedman said. “Maryland would not have lost Dwayne Haskins and Keandre Jones to Ohio State [if Locksley had been promoted]. And the years after that, many, many highly rated prospects came out of the DMV and I think Locksley would have had the Terps in really good position to land some of those guys.”
“I think it has a chance to sustain itself because of his relationships and how deep they are locally, and because of the changes he’s implemented himself from an administrative standpoint,” Friedman said. “Confidence in him on both fronts is what’s driving this 'new movement,’ we’ll call it. But winning and showing progress on the field are obviously huge parts of what he wants to do.”
Said Friedgen: “I think having Mike there is going to help tremendously. Not only did he grow up there; he’s familiar with everybody. He’s got tremendous contacts, not only in the school systems but in the neighborhoods. I think he’s very well-respected.”
Locksley did a good job salvaging something out of the 2019 recruiting class, which was ranked as low as 87th and behind Harvard, by getting the Terps up to 47th. He got there by signing four-star safety Nick Cross (DeMatha), who was also considering Penn State after decommitting from Florida State, and four-star quarterback Lance LeGendre on the second national signing day.
But the 2020 class is still a work in progress. The Terps’ class is currently ranked 39th nationally, according to 247Sports, but they only have one four-star prospect among 16 commits. Penn State is 14th, with seven of their 25 commits being four-star prospects.
“There’s a lot of highly rated players in Maryland that are already committed [to other programs, including Penn State],” Friedman said. "That’s how the recruiting process is going now. It’s very fast, players are committing earlier and earlier. But that means players that are committed are looking around toward the ends of their recruiting process. A win for Maryland [over Penn State] could put some players back on the table that may have been off the table.”