-- To get to the root of the growing animosity between the football programs at Maryland and Virginia, one must go back to the late 1960s, when Terrapins Coach Ralph Friedgen played guard for his alma mater, and shortly after Cavaliers Coach Al Groh played defensive end for his school.
"They always tried to put us down," Friedgen said. "They were too good for us. We were blue-collar kids."
Today, as Maryland travels to sold-out Scott Stadium to play No. 12 Virginia, Friedgen and the Terrapins are still carrying that chip on their shoulders, and Groh and the Cavaliers are still looking down their noses -- and the ACC standings -- at Maryland. Virginia (6-1, 3-1) is tied with Miami and Virginia Tech for first place in the ACC; the Terrapins (4-4, 2-3) are trying to salvage their season and would like nothing more than to spoil the Cavaliers' championship hopes.
"We both hate to lose, and more importantly, we hate to lose to each other," Virginia tailback Alvin Pearman said. "All that adds up to a lot of emotion."
There has been a lot more emotion between the teams since Friedgen and Groh returned to their alma maters. Although the schools are separated by less than a three-hour drive, seemingly they are worlds apart. Maryland's campus in College Park sits outside the northern edge of the District, and the school is perhaps best known for its championship-caliber men's basketball program. Virginia's campus in Charlottesville sits at the foothills of the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, and some might have actually forgotten the Cavaliers still play basketball.
The schools' football coaches are as strikingly dissimilar. Friedgen is an offensive guru who worked 32 years as an assistant before finally getting his first head coaching job. His gruff appearance and personality embody the blue-collar qualities of the Terrapins.
Groh has earned the reputation of a defensive mastermind with his 3-4 scheme. He was on the NFL's fast track after working for Bill Parcells, coaching the New York Jets for one season before returning to Virginia in 2001. Although Groh prefers a sweatshirt and ballcap to a coat and tie, his vast vocabulary and eagerness to use it suit his wine-and-cheese constituents, who are as concerned about U.S. News & World Report rankings as any coaches' poll.
But for all their differences, from the sideline to the classroom, Maryland and Virginia find themselves at the same football crossroads -- on the cusp of winning big but still fighting to get to the top of the newly expanded ACC. Maryland has been to the top, winning the ACC in Friedgen's first season in 2001. Groh hasn't taken Virginia past the ACC's middle rung -- or the Continental Tire Bowl -- but the Cavaliers could take a big step today in getting there by beating the Terrapins.
"It's definitely become a serious rivalry in the ACC," Pearman said. "I think it's a combination of a lot of things. The proximity, we're relatively equal teams. I don't know if Coach Groh and Coach Friedgen had a misunderstanding back in the day, but that would make sense if they had. I don't know what happened between them in the past, but it definitely dictates how the game is played."
Until recently, the series had been one-sided. Virginia won nine consecutive games from 1992 to 2000; Maryland won 16 games in row from 1972 to 1987. But the schools have split the last four games, with the home team winning each season. And the intensity has grown exponentially each year.
"When I first got here, we always knew the rival was Virginia Tech," Cavaliers quarterback Marques Hagans said. "Somewhere down the line since we've been here, I think the rivalry [with Maryland] has grown. I think there's some bad blood."
The intensity nearly reached its boiling point before last season's game, won by the Terrapins, 27-17, in College Park. During pregame warmups, Groh had a heated exchange with Maryland assistant coach James Franklin, which nearly led to a pregame brawl between the teams.
"There's some bad blood between us," Virginia safety Jermaine Hardy said. "The coaches were out there disagreeing, and we had to back up our coach."
The Cavaliers are 14-point favorites today and haven't played since a 37-16 win at Duke on Oct. 23. The Terrapins stunned then-No. 5 Florida State, 20-17, last week, their first win over the Seminoles in 15 meetings. Florida State beat Virginia, 36-3, in Tallahassee on Oct. 16.
Maryland needs to win two of its last three games to avoid its first losing season under Friedgen. Virginia needs to keep winning to maintain pace with the Hurricanes and Hokies.
"I think it's a rivalry," Friedgen said. "It's been a rivalry for a long, long time. It stopped being a rivalry when they beat us 10 years in a row. But it's back on pretty good right now."
Staff writer Eric Prisbell contributed to this report.