In the aftermath of Maryland’s impressive and improbable 63-20 victory over then-No. 21 Syracuse on Saturday, first-year coach Mike Locksley said that the process of rebuilding a culture of winning football — which seems like ancient history for the Terps — is in its infancy.
Still, the process certainly was sped up, not only by the one-sided result but also by the national ranking that followed. Maryland, which replaced the Orange at No. 21 in this week’s Associated Press To 25 poll, is ranked for the first time since 2013. It is also the highest the Terps have been ranked since 2006.
“We’re on a journey right now as a program,” Locksley told reporters in College Park at his weekly news conference Tuesday. “We’re at stop two of a 12-day journey. And so if you look at it as a journey, after two games, are we happy where we are? Well, of course we are. But I said this to the team: It’s like driving from California to D.C., and you hop in your car.
“And Day One and Day Two, you pull up, and are we happy we’re in Phoenix? Yeah, we didn’t get a flat tire, we didn’t have an accident. But it’s still only Day Two of a 12-day tour, which means we’ve got a lot of the trip left. And so we’re happy where we’re at, but we also understand that there’s so much more to the journey."
The next stop will be in Philadelphia on Saturday, when Maryland takes on Temple (1-0) at Lincoln Financial Field. The Terps (2-0) not only hope to avenge last year’s 35-14 loss to the then-winless Owls, who came in as two-touchdown underdogs, but with a bulls-eye squarely on their backs.
“We also know that as we continue to create this identity, and we continue on this journey, we’re going to get everybody’s best. We’re not going to sneak up on anybody," Locksley said. “I’m sure because of the way we’ve played the last two weeks, I’m sure we’ll get the best version of Temple.
“My job as the leader of the family is for them to get the best version of us, which we found the recipe for us to play the way we’ve played the last two weeks is the consistency of how we go about our work. The consistency precedes the intensity. Everybody can get up to play a ranked opponent.”
Since it has been six years since the Terps were ranked — in that case after a 4-0 start punctuated by a 37-0 win over West Virginia at M&T Bank Stadium — only a handful of current players who transferred into the program have experienced the feeling of being the hunted.
As a redshirt freshman in 2017, the Hokies were No. 21 in the preseason poll and jumped as high as No. 12 after a 4-0 start before finishing at No. 24 to cap a 9-4 season. Last season, Virginia Tech was No. 20 in the preseason, then quickly moved up to No. 12 after a 24-3 opening win at Florida State.
When the Hokies lost at home to Old Dominion in their third game, and Jackson was lost for the remainder of the season with a broken leg, Virginia Tech fell out of the Top 25 and was ranked only once more the rest of the season.
Jackson said playing a ranked team for the first time, and playing on the road for the first time this season doesn’t make a difference in terms of Maryland’s preparation against Temple. The Owls had a bye week last week after beating Football Championship Subdivision foe Bucknell, 56-12, in its season opener.
Senior cornerback Marcus Lewis, who spent his first two seasons at Florida State, understands both sides as well. As a sophomore, he played on a team ranked as high as No. 2 early in the season and wound up finishing ranked eighth at the end of a 10-3 season. After coming to Maryland last season, Lewis has played in the shadows.
Lewis, who put his name into the new NCAA transfer portal last season after briefly leaving the team, said the oft-repeated phrase from Locksley — “Just be where your feet are" — has come into play as the Terps have transitioned from Howard to Syracuse and now to Temple.
“Each day, take it one at a time, one practice at a time and just try to get better each day,” Lewis said. “Don’t worry about any outside noise, just focus on Temple this week at practice. That’s it.”
Jackson said Tuesday he wouldn’t speculate on how far the Terps can go.