One for the Border
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Penn State and Maryland met almost annually on the football field until the series was ended after the 1993 season, partly because the Nittany Lions had won 35 of the 37 meetings. Maryland still plays Virginia every year, though that's part of the ACC schedule.
But neither rivalry has compared with the Terrapins' longstanding "border war" with West Virginia, particularly in recent years.
Maryland and West Virginia meet again tonight, when a sellout crowd at Byrd Stadium will be joined by a national television audience to witness a rivalry that has only grown in stature in recent years because of its remarkable competitiveness, with the Mountaineers holding a 22-21-2 advantage, and because of the ramifications it holds for football players not yet in college.
"There's been some ups and downs," Terrapins Coach Ralph Friedgen said. "But if you look at it over a 45-year span, it's pretty even."
Once again, there's plenty at stake for both teams. Running back Steve Slaton and quarterback Pat White, both Heisman Trophy hopefuls, hope to help the No. 4 Mountaineers preserve their national championship aspirations. On the other hand, an upset could vault Maryland back to the stature it enjoyed from 2001 to 2003, when the Terrapins racked up 31 victories.
"Regardless of what happens this week, I think we'll be better for it," Friedgen said. "We're going to find out where we are as a team. We're playing one of the better teams in the country. Obviously, it would be wonderful to win the game. I think it would do tremendous things for our confidence, for respect and prestige."
The rivalry took on another dimension in November 2000, when West Virginia hired Rich Rodriguez and Maryland tabbed Friedgen. Both returned to their alma maters; both had earned their reputations as offensive gurus. And thus far, both have had their moments.
Friedgen won his first four meetings against West Virginia, a streak capped by a 41-7 trashing of the Mountaineers in the Gator Bowl after the 2003 season.
"We just got killed, [they] beat us every which way they could beat us," Rodriguez said. "They were dominant. What was disappointing for us was that even though they were clearly the better team, I don't think we were playing our best or giving our best against them."
That changed in 2004, when West Virginia beat Maryland in overtime, the first of three straight victories over the Terrapins. Last year's meeting, a 45-24 blowout, typified West Virginia's recent dominance.
Despite the swings, Friedgen and Rodriguez have compiled the exact same record, 52-24, as head coaches of their respective programs.
"It's been a long, competitive rivalry for many, many years," Rodriguez said. "I think the two teams have been very close. Last year, we got off to a good start. Again we had some turnovers and got fortunate. But it's always been a pretty competitive game, and I would suspect Thursday night will be the same way."