Asmussen on Maryland

Asmussen on Maryland

The team with the goofy-looking helmet won’t play its first game in the Big Ten until Sept. 27. But Maryland is already a part of the conference.

The Terrapins will participate in the Big Ten kickoff luncheon, scheduled for late July in Chicago. A few weeks later, training camp starts. And then the season opener at home Aug. 30 against James Madison. The rest of the nonconference schedule includes South Florida, West Virginia and Syracuse.

Maryland’s Big Ten debut is at Bloomington, Ind. The league schedule makers were nice with that one. Nobody better to open against than the Hoosiers. But it quickly turns nasty with games against Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin.

The Big Ten placed the Terrapins in the nasty East. That means annual games against Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan. Playing Rutgers every season won’t soften the schedule enough for Maryland, which hit a bad patch early in Randy Edsall’s tenure.

Does Maryland fit in the Big Ten? Certainly, better than Rutgers.

Edsall has an advantage as he ventures into the Big Ten: offensive coordinator Mike Locksley. For three years, Locksley helped build Illinois into a winning program. One good enough to reach the Rose Bowl. One good enough to win bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.
Locksley left for a head coaching job at New Mexico. That didn’t work out for Locksley or the coach he left behind at Illinois, Ron Zook.
Edsall was smart enough to hire Locksley back at Maryland, where he coached earlier in his career. Locksley has been around the Big Ten. He knows how to compete in the league on the field and in recruiting.

The second part is critical to the future of Maryland football. The D.C. area is loaded with talented players. But to contend in the Big Ten long term, the Terrapins need to develop other recruiting areas. Both in the Big Ten footprint and beyond. Locksley can play a major role.

Mention “Maryland” to a top recruit in Chicago and you are going to see a blank stare with the question “Where’s that again?”

It will take time for the school to become easily associated with the Big Ten.
Maryland is a different place. Not better or worse, just different.

Midwesterners like to consider themselves friendly and open. You don’t get the same feel from Maryland. Maybe it will just take time. Or maybe it will never happen.

Ask old-time Big Ten types about the inclusion of Maryland in the league and the response will be some version of “I don’t like it. But I like it better than Rutgers.”

That, for now, is Maryland’s status in the Big Ten. The lesser of two evils. A school added because of its media markets and its ability to enhance the Big Ten’s reach beyond past borders.

Change is hard. Fans get used to their tidy 10-team conference where everybody plays everybody (almost). That isn’t going to happen again in the 14-team Big Ten. The league continues to have a Midwest base but has added an Eastern branch. It’s like a restaurant chain. Burger Ten or Big Pizza Hut.

Once considered stodgy, you now must credit/blame the Big Ten for the most recent conference changes. Not everyone was happy when the Big Ten added Penn State. There were travel concerns and a fear that the Nittany Lions would dominate the league. It never happened.

Both the Big Ten and Penn State seem to have survived the Jerry Sandusky/Joe Paterno scandal. As the program continues to rebuild, it is hard to imagine the Big Ten without the Nittany Lions.

The 12th member, Nebraska, has quickly forged a bond with league fans. Nebraska is more of a traditional Big Ten type than Maryland and Rutgers. A lot of it has to do with geography. And a lot of it has to do with familiarity. Nebraska played conference games against Iowa, Michigan State and Illinois. It made perfect sense for the school to join the Big Ten when it wanted to leave the Big 12.

That same sentiment doesn’t apply to Maryland or Rutgers. Maybe later. Maybe a decade in. Or maybe when schools No. 15 and 16 are added.

Bob Asmussen writes Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at 217-351-5233 or at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

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