Big Ten football welcomes Maryland to the fold

The University of Maryland and Rutgers University officially joined the Big Ten on July 1. The Post Sports Live crew debates whether the Terps will have a true rival in their new conference. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

— Moments after Maryland football Coach Randy Edsall’s opening statement at the first of two Big Ten media days Monday morning, there was a long, awkward pause, prompting the event’s host to tell the quiet media crowd that someone had to ask the first question.

Edsall didn’t know these people, and they didn’t know him. He just stared out into the crowd at the Hilton Chicago’s ballroom, clutching the podium in a grey suit, sporting a maroon tie and a red wristband bearing the Terrapins’ credo as they move onto a new frontier in 2014: “By Any Means.”

Those words were fitting as the question finally arrived, more in the form of a suggestion: Have you sought any advice from other coaches about making a move to a new league?

Edsall replied that he had but also noted that he was a seasoned nomad. He had been a part of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars franchise in the mid-1990s and guided Connecticut as it made the move from Division I-AA to the Big East about a decade later.

Maybe the more pressing question Monday was this: How is Maryland going to compete in a division with three of the sport’s blue bloods? How will it fit in with a first-year schedule featuring Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State — all in the top 12 on the Football Bowl Subdivision’s all-time wins list — as well as Rose Bowl champion Michigan State?

Edsall responded that preparations have been underway for months on the new set of opponents. But shortly after, in maybe his most colorful comments of the day, he envisioned what Byrd Stadium will be like Oct. 4, when the Terps host Ohio State in the Big Ten home opener.

“I think it will be electric,” Edsall said. “I think it will be a sold-out crowd. It will be something that I know our fans are looking forward to.”

The remark was a small deviation from a strict code, a discipline that states a coach must not look ahead. But how could Edsall, fresh off a vacation and ready to start fall camp in seven days, do anything else? There was very little nostalgia, too. When a reporter asked Edsall if he had thought about the ACC media festival in Greensboro, N.C., last week, he simply replied: “No, I was in St. Thomas, and I was enjoying the heck out of St. Thomas.”

On Monday, a bronzed Edsall and his players looked as if they were ready to enjoy the heck out of one of college football’s legacy conferences, even if they didn’t immediately look the part.

“I think the biggest thing they’ve done is not make anything different,” Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown said of Edsall and his staff. “For us, we’re still going out there and playing the game of football.”

Edsall and the players — and their counterparts from Rutgers — were the newcomers in the hallways of the Hilton, shaking countless hands and receiving a warm welcome to their new world. Most coaches extended a welcome to the Terps in their opening remarks, including Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini, who touched on his own personal history from four years ago when the Huskers made the move from the Big 12.

“I found myself in that position here a couple of years ago, understanding what they’re going through,” Pelini said.

Maryland should fit in come late September, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer said. He had tried to recruit wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Buckeyes two years ago and called the Maryland wide receiver one of the best players in the country — but competing for longevity in the conference extends beyond one star player.

“Absolutely. Absolutely they can” compete, Meyer said. “In a league like this, that’s like when I was at Utah: Could you play any one team at any time? Yeah. But can you go five games straight in a conference like the Big Ten? That’s going to be the difference.”

Maryland was chosen to finish fifth in the seven-team Big Ten East Division in a recent media poll, behind Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State, the last of which was a potential powder keg Monday after Edsall traded comments with Nittany Lions Coach James Franklin earlier this summer.

Maryland is coming off one of its most productive summers on the recruiting front under Edsall, which came on the heels of Franklin declaring the Washington area as “in-state” territory for Penn State earlier this spring.

“I probably said a few things that I shouldn’t have said because I’m trying to get our fans excited,” said Franklin, a former Terps assistant. “I do think there is a regional aspect to it; there’s no doubt about it."

As Maryland embarks on a search for new rivals, Penn State is at the forefront. Edsall skirted around controversy after a question about facing Penn State on the recruiting front — he never mentioned the school nor Franklin in his response — but he addressed the event earlier in the morning. He said he had crossed paths with Franklin in Chicago, and “just said hello, just like I did with all the other coaches around the table. That was about it.”

Like Edsall, Franklin took questions about a possible rivalry with Maryland and impending recruiting wars in the years to come, and he said Maryland was a “great addition.” He didn’t exactly apologize for his past statements Monday. Instead he got in line, and welcomed his former employer to the fold.

Roman Stubbs covers the University of Maryland athletics for The Washington Post.
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