Maryland-Virginia has implications beyond this season

Virginia Coach Mike London (right) had reason to celebrate an Oct. 30 victory over Miami that helped to validate the optimism of the Cavaliers' staff on the recruiting trail.
Virginia Coach Mike London (right) had reason to celebrate an Oct. 30 victory over Miami that helped to validate the optimism of the Cavaliers' staff on the recruiting trail. (Associated Press)
By Steve Yanda and Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 13, 2010; 12:22 AM

One football program has been promising recruits a new beginning; the other has been selling stability as the key to its turnaround. But Maryland and Virginia coaches have been delivering essentially the same message to prospective players: Things will get better, and we want you to be a part of it.

Entering the teams' meeting Saturday at Scott Stadium, what both have accomplished on the field this season has lent credence to those pledges.

Maryland (6-3, 3-2 ACC) is bowl eligible and can play its way into the conference title game, while Virginia (4-5, 1-4) has turned in enough solid performances to validate the revival messages its coaches have preached from Hampton Roads to Baltimore and beyond.

"The way recruiting is, how fast it is and how many early decisions are being made, 75 percent of a recruiting class is finished by the end of the summer in most cases," said Mike Farrell, the lead football recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "So what you do on the field is helping you finish that last 25 percent. But it's also pushing you forward toward the next year."

Virginia has received 22 oral commitments for its 2011 recruiting class, which ranks No. 28 in the nation, according to Rivals.com. Maryland's 2011 recruiting class, which ranks No. 42, has received 18 oral commitments, including two players from last season's class who attended prep school. The soft cap for any given recruiting class is 25, and each program has its sights set on a few remaining targets.

In Maryland's case, how the rest of the season plays out may largely determine their degree of appeal to prospects such as Travis Hughes, a four-star linebacker from Kempsville High in Virginia Beach; Darius Jennings, a four-star athlete out of the Gilman School in Baltimore; and Donovan Smith, a four-star offensive lineman at Owings Mills High.

The fact that Maryland, which was predicted to finish last in the ACC Atlantic Division, has produced more wins than most outsiders anticipated "keeps the door open" with higher-profile regional recruits, according to Owings Mills Coach Steve Lurz.

One of the primary roadblocks Maryland had to overcome during the offseason was the perception Coach Ralph Friedgen and offensive coordinator James Franklin were on shaky ground in terms of their job status. Franklin was named Maryland's coach-in-waiting in February 2009 in an attempt to quell doubts about the program's stability.

Friedgen said he has been telling prospects he plans on being the head coach for the majority of their college careers. But Friedgen's contract expires after the 2011 season, and Franklin is guaranteed $1 million if he is not named head coach by January 2012.

"It has not been an easy sell," Friedgen said of recruiting amid his uncertain job status after last season's struggles. "There are some [recruits] out there that are still waiting. I was hoping that they would fall, especially when we were 6-2. I don't know what they are waiting for . . . The thing I've been saying is, at least here you know who the next head coach is going to be."

Maryland's early success with its 2011 recruiting class exceeded Friedgen's expectations. But while the Terrapins earned oral commitments from several out-of-state prospects, just three of their commitments - not including the two holdovers - had District or Maryland roots.

Franklin said Maryland soon will have an opportunity to keep "all the best players in the state of Maryland home that we want to." But that will begin to occur only when "we can get that one, what people view as that one big fish, that one big-name guy that jumps on board and says, 'I'm going to Maryland,'" Franklin said. "Or if you can get a guy with a dynamic personality, an in-state kid, he's going to take it personal to bring other guys with him."


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