Maryland’s football players were asked this week about what their lives entailed in early 2004. Terrapins center Sal Conaboy, then barely 13, was taking karate. Linebacker Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil concerned himself with video games. Quarterback C.J. Brown, who wasn’t yet a teenager, played travel baseball and idolized Michael Jordan.
Why the trip down memory lane?
“Because that was the last time we were 3-0?” Brown asked this week. Not quite. Before this season, Maryland had last opened a season with three straight wins in 2001.
But on New Years’ Day 2004, Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien engineered a 41-7 shellacking of West Virginia in the Gator Bowl. It was the last time the Terrapins beat their border rival, a nasty blemish they hope to wipe clean on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
“Oh for real?” Brown said, eyebrows raised. “Oh. Yeah, I had no idea. It’s been a long time.”
Cudjoe-Virgil sighed when he heard that. “Well,” he said, nodding matter-of-factly, “it’s a new year. That’s all I’m going to say.”
The two schools have played each other seven times since Maryland’s Gator Bowl win, seven occasions for Mountaineers fans to bask in a rivalry that’s grown increasingly lopsided over the years. Since a 19-16 overtime loss during the 2004 season, Maryland has come within single digits of West Virginia once. Its average margin of defeat in that span: 13 points.
Terrapins Coach Randy Edsall talked to his players about the losing streak during a team meeting Tuesday, because it was good for them to know about the recent history of the series.
But even though Maryland might have its best shot at toppling West Virginia in years, he is trying to keep his players focused on the task at hand.
“As far as putting anything on this game, we’ll never do that and I’ll never say that to our kids,” Edsall said. “At the end of the day, they all count the same. . . . You have to have an even keel, respect everybody you play on a weekly basis, understand that team’s really good.”
Nevertheless, the Terrapins seem to have the edge in firepower this season, averaging 40.7 points and 554.7 yards through three victories. The Mountaineers, meanwhile, have yet to beat a full-fledged Football Bowl Subdivision opponent this season, sandwiching wins over William & Mary and Georgia State (a team that is transitioning to FBS) around a nine-point loss at No. 14 Oklahoma. Gone are NFL draftees Tavon Austin, Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey, the spread-offense wonders who tormented Maryland from 2010 to 2012. Instead, redshirt freshman quarterback Ford Childress will make his second career start.
Maryland last had the upper hand in the series during the 2003 season, winning two games against the Mountaineers by an average of 30 points. In the second matchup that season, McBrien earned Gator Bowl MVP honors with a 381-yard, three-touchdown performance.
The DeMatha graduate had originally enrolled at West Virginia, but a coaching change forced him to transfer closer to home. He accepted a walk-on role under then-Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen, and beat his former team three times.
Now a sideline reporter for Maryland’s radio broadcasts, McBrien is one of the rare people who understand the rivalry from both sides. He recalls sitting inside an empty Florida steakhouse, enjoying a night off during Gator Bowl preparation, when West Virginia fans avalanched through the doors.
They recognized their old quarterback, paraded over to his table and chanted the name of McBrien’s successor.
McBrien remembers that story with affection, an example of the passion that surfaces once each year and will continue until the current series ends in 2017. He still receives text messages from old West Virginia friends, full of trash talk and memories of the days when they were still teammates, but even to McBrien it seems so long ago.
“Can’t believe it’s been 10, 11 seasons,” he said this week. “Wow. Yeah that’s hard to believe. It’s been 10 years. That’s wild.”