Maryland-WVU: It’s personal

MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

If you’re a Maryland fan, it’s West Virginia week. If you’re a West Virginia fan, you pretend like it’s no big deal — just another game on the schedule, not unlike the way Duke basketball used to say they felt about Maryland “Not our rivals” basketball.

But, okay …

Maryland hosts (which is a nice word for it) West Virginia on Saturday to help open the first week of the college football season. It will mark the first time the schools have played since 2015, because that’s just what college athletics has become – eliminate popular border-state games to build super conferences for the sake of Football Almighty and then watch super conference members eat their own.

So, how’s that working out?

I don’t know … You’ll have to ask what will remain as the walking dead of the Big 12 in a couple of years. But, I digress …

The schools first played each other in football in 1919. The series, though, didn’t resume until 1943 and remained every now and then, before running uninterrupted from 1980 to 2007.

WVU leads the series, 28-22-2. But it seems as though it should be by more than that because the Mountaineers have won nine of the last 10.

Both schools have had their moments in the series; both have had their winning streaks, their losing streaks; their highs, their lows … They’ve never been in the same conference because the ACC wouldn’t let WVU in, which … we won’t even get into today. But this game, for close to 30 years, was a key early-season non-conference match-up that gave both teams a pretty good idea where each one of them stood through the first couple of weeks in a young season before entering conference play.

As National Basketball Hall of Famer Gary Williams, a Maryland alumnus and former Terps basketball coach, said one year, “You beat West Virginia in this game to start the season and it gets the whole school year off to a positive start. Everybody on campus just feels good about things from the get-go and it can have a carryover effect for everybody.”

Bottom line to the common, non-uniformed personnel, both sides loathed, loathe and will always loathe each other. That’s the way it’s always been with border-state rivals, particularly because both schools recruit each against each other geographically.

But it is particularly the case here in Cumberland, Maryland, which is less than one hour from Morgantown, W.Va., and a little over two hours from College Park, Md., the home of our state university.

Maryland fans do not like West Virginia even a little bit. West Virginia fans feel the same disdain for Maryland, even though they are reluctant to admit it until they are in the presence of somebody wearing University of Maryland apparel. It is a game that should be played every year for just these reasons.

None of it makes much sense if sportsmanship is a thing for you. There is too much drinking at the site of each game (of which I partake), there are fights (of which I have been involved), there are lewd and asinine comments hurled (many of which have been directed toward me) and there are hard feelings born anew each year that will fester forever.

It’s personal. And as Bruce Hornsby once said, “That’s just the way it is.”

This Saturday, WVU enters as a 2½-point favorite, which is understandable and seems about right. True, the game is being played in College Park, but Maryland hasn’t had a true homefield advantage at Maryland since the early 21st century – and for valid and deserved reasons.

It is said West Virginia has one of the best defenses in the country and one of the very best in the Big 12. I won’t pretend to know if that’s true, because I don’t recall even seeing them play last year. But … okay.

Maryland’s wild-card is its athleticism and speed. By all accounts, Terps head coach Michael Locksley has been recruiting a different and higher-stock football player the past few years that is said to be able to make a difference in a border game between teams of such contrasting styles such as this game is expected to be.

The key, of course, particularly in light of Maryland’s recent history, will be the play of the quarterback.

Terps quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa came to Maryland from Alabama, following Locksley when the Terps head coach returned to College Park. Tagovailoa, as his brother, Tua Tagovailoa, was for the Crimson Tide, is a blue-chip quarterback. If he is able to remain healthy (a big if in recent Terps history) and has a big game, Maryland is likely to win on Saturday. If WVU is able to pressure him and get to him, the Mountaineers will win.

There is your game analysis. How easy was that? Isn’t this great?

Until then, have a safe, healthy and happy tailgate and enjoy the game.

And, hey … Let’s be careful out there.

Mike Burke writes about sports and a lot of other stuff for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at mike.burke@wvradio.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT