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After two straight tight games, Terps pushing to start football rivalry with Penn State

The Nittany Lions represent Maryland's only chance to develop a real rivalry in the Big Ten. The geography works and the timing might finally be right for two teams that arrived at this point from very different directions but find themselves at similar competitive crossroads.

The 2015 Penn State Football Yearbook doesn't waste any time conveying the Nittany Lions' no-frills, no-nonsense ethic.

The message on the cover pretty much sums it up:

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"Black Shoes, Basic Blues, No Names, All Game," above one more word in much larger letters: "UNRIVALED."

The Maryland Terps would like to think otherwise, since the Nittany Lions represent their only chance to develop a real rivalry in the Big Ten. The geography works and the timing might finally be right for two teams that arrived at this point from very different directions but find themselves at similar competitive crossroads.

That much was apparent Saturday when the Terps engaged the Nittany Lions in a wild and crazy comedy of errors at M&T Bank Stadium that ended with Maryland coming up just a point short in Mike Locksley's Terps coaching debut.

The 31-30 loss had to sting, since the Terps has so many opportunities to win the game. But the second meeting with Penn State in the Big Ten era certainly didn't do anything to discourage the notion that this budding conference relationship could turn into something bigger.

It's probably never going to be Ohio State-Michigan or USC-UCLA. But both teams could benefit from some mutual dislike, which last year's Maryland team did its best to foment with a no-handshake coin-toss ceremony and former coach Randy Edsall's exhortation to "Let the rivalry begin," after the Terps' 20-19 victory in not-so-Happy Valley.

They would appear to be polar opposites. Penn State really does do it old-school, with its Plain Jane uniforms and no-I-in-team philosophy. The Nittany Lions have a long and proud history of success, but are still rebuilding their football tradition after it was sullied by the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

The Terps have also played football for a long time, but have tried to re-emerge as one of the new-age college football programs, hooking up with Under Armour and trotting out new uniforms at the drop of a helmet.

They were wearing throwback jerseys Saturday, channeling the 1961 team that was the only one to defeat Penn State at home, but Maryland is all about the future now that Edsall has been dismissed and the search is on for his permanent replacement.

The jury is still way out on whether the Terps will ever be a force in the Big Ten. This season has been a major disappointment thus far, and the remaining schedule does not spawn much hope for a dynamic mid-course correction. Though there is some hope on the horizon with a promising recruiting class on deck, everyone seems to agree that Job One is reeling in a high-profile coach to excite the fan base and change the subject.

So, why does it matter whether the Terps develop a rivalry with a venerable program such as Penn State?

For one, it will further legitimize their move to the Big Ten and — by association — enhance Maryland's profile as an important national program. That's good for recruiting, particularly in a Mid-Atlantic region that is hugely important to both schools.

For another, a big-time rivalry also provides an anchor game every other year that matters regardless of either team's place in the Big Ten East standings. Saturday's game drew 68,948 to M&T Bank Stadium even though the Terps came in with a 2-4 record and the Nittany Lions were not considered to be as good as the 5-2 record they brought to Baltimore.

There is some question as to whether Penn State fans will buy into the rivalry concept. They've been to the mountaintop enough times that they might not feel Maryland is worthy of that level of respect and competitive animosity. That's probably true at the moment, considering that the Terps had to reach back 54 years to commemorate their lone home victory over the Nittany Lions.

These things take time and it's fair to point out that the Terps struggled throughout their long history in the Atlantic Coast Conference to build and maintain an exciting long-term rivalry — though they did engage in a heated series of games with Clemson during the 1980s.

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Nobody got all hot and bothered Saturday, but the Terps gave Penn State all it could handle for the second year in row.

It's a start.

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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