College football homecoming opponents tend to fall into two categories: big-name teams that will help draw fans to otherwise empty stadiums or teams you think will be fodder for an easy win.
No. 15 Michigan doesn’t need any help attracting crowds to “The Big House,” which has been a fan magnet for more than 100,000 for virtually every game over the past 40-plus seasons.
So Maryland, which visits Ann Arbor, Mich., on Saturday, must be considered a source for celebration among the Wolverines faithful. Their last trip there in 2016, the Terps precipitated a lot of celebrations after a lopsided loss to Michigan.
This week, Maryland just wants to wreck homecoming as if it was modern-version of Delta House.
The Terps, who won at Michigan Stadium in their first trip as a member of the Big Ten in 2014, hope to do it again and thus ruin the event for a lot of folks dressed in maize and blue.
Coming off an impressive 42-13 win over Minnesota in the Big Ten opener two weeks ago in College Park, and well-rested after a bye week, Maryland appears to be quietly confident for 17½-point underdogs.
The Wolverines are the first of four Big Ten East teams ranked in the Top 25 that Maryland will face over the remainder of the season, a daunting task for a team that needs to win three of its last eight games to become bowl-eligible.
The Terps will face the other three — No. 3 Ohio State, No. 11 Penn State and No. 20 Michigan State — in the final four weeks of the season.
Asked what it means to play such a competitive schedule, Maryland interim coach Matt Canada said at a news conference Tuesday in College Park, “Swimming in the deep water with the big sharks — that’s what you want to do. You want to play the best, be around the best. … We’re excited to go play them. A very storied stadium, a very storied program. Our guys are excited to play. So it will be a great opportunity.”
Senior running back Ty Johnson is following the mantra Canada and nearly every coach in the country — in every sport — impart before a game.
“We’ve got to treat every game the same no matter if it was Ohio State or Alabama or anybody, and just do our thing — film, preparation and execute on the field,” Johnson said after practice Tuesday. “Two years ago everyone knows what happened. But this is a different team. We just want to win and we want to prove to everyone that we can play with the top guys.”
Two years ago, Maryland was embarrassed in Ann Arbor by the No. 3 Wolverines, 59-3, and then took a 62-3 beating at home by No. 5 Ohio State at home.
They were the most one-sided back-to-back pummelings for the Terps since the first two games of intercollegiate football the school ever played, against St. John’s College in Annapolis (50-0) and Johns Hopkins (62-0) in 1892.
Asked if the current players will use what happened in 2016 against Michigan as motivation Saturday, Johnson said, “Yes and no. Obviously you don’t want that to happen again and obviously you want to pay back the debt from that. But this year, it’s just respect everyone, do the film, focus on this. This is Week 1 for us again. Last week was Week 1. Whoever we play that week, that’s our goal to beat them.”
Maryland will try to pull off the upset behind a now-healthy offensive line opening up holes for Johnson and redshirt freshman Anthony McFarland Jr., who each broke long touchdown runs against the Gophers.
Johnson, who finished with 11 carries for 123 yards, had a career-long 81-yard score. McFarland, who had two touchdowns, followed a 26-yard score early in the game with a 64-yard touchdown later on en route to 112 carries on just six carries.
“This offense is meant to have big gashes, big runs and everything,” Johnson said. “I think when you have a big run no matter who’s in — even if it’s [Chigoziem Okonkwo]. who scored on a jet sweep — you’re going to get hyped over that. Whether it’s in end of the game or beginning of the game, it’s something you like to see all the time.”
Canada is not taking this as a personal challenge, to match wits with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
“I’m going as the offensive coordinator, as we know. I’m not the head coach,” Canada said in deference to third-year coach DJ Durkin, who remains on administrative leave. “They have a tremendous staff. A lot of those guys I’ve known from afar, know some of them a little bit better through different places in our careers.
“Coach Harbaugh speaks for himself, all the places he’s been, the great player he was. Again on defense, what they do on defense is as good as anybody in the country. It’s a tremendous challenge that way, but it’s always about our players. Our players are excited to go play. Our players feel good about where they are. They’re excited to go play.”
Then there’s Harbaugh’s take on homecoming.
As he was about to wrap up his weekly news conference in Ann Arbor on Monday, Harbaugh was asked what homecoming means to him.
“It’s one of the great words in the English language,” Harbaugh said. “A homecoming. People coming back whether it’s a reunion or a get together of a family. That’s one of the top words in the English language.”