Monday, July 1, 2013
Take Two: Will Terps, Rutgers build buzz?
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
It's moving day around much of the college sports landscape, as the ACC, the AAC and other leagues officially welcome new members. The Big Ten is still a year away from adding Maryland and Rutgers as its 13th and 14th members, and the buzz about the arrivals is decidedly low. Remember all the hubbub about Nebraska's road to the Big Ten? This time, nearly nothing.
Rutgers has been in the news for mostly negative reasons the past few months, while Maryland football has fallen on hard times under Randy Edsall.
Today's Take Two topic is: Will Maryland and Rutgers build any positive buzz during the next year to change the perception about their programs before they officially join the Big Ten?
Take 1: Adam Rittenberg
The enthusiasm among Big Ten fans for the arrivals of Maryland and Rutgers started off low and hasn't moved a whole lot. The league's motivation for adding these schools, while potentially key for its future TV contract and revenues, never really resonated with its fans. There's still some disbelief that the Big Ten went down this road and added members that lacked the athletic tradition and national name recognition Nebraska had when it joined in 2011.
Would a 2013 BCS berth be enough for coach Kyle Flood and Rutgers to impress Big Ten fans?
Can the mood change in a year? Sure. Maryland and Rutgers can help their cause on the field with good seasons, especially the Terrapins, who are just 6-17 in two seasons under Edsall. Rutgers has recorded back-to-back nine-win seasons despite a coaching change and has recorded eight or more wins in six of the past seven years. Although the Big Ten represents a big jump for Rutgers, especially into the brutal East division, the Scarlet Knights are a stable program that has had success on the recruiting trail and in the NFL draft (seven players selected in April). The important thing for Rutgers, as I wrote last month, is to simply stay out of the news after the Mike Rice scandal, the Tim Pernetti ouster and the Julie Hermann hire generated so much negative attention. The good news is Rutgers' football program hasn't brought any of the scrutiny.
I don't anticipate a countdown clock for July 1, 2014. The league isn't going to earn rave reviews from the national media when Maryland and Rutgers become official. There might be a collective shoulder shrug. But if Maryland shows some improvement on the field, and Rutgers continues its quiet success under Kyle Flood and the athletic program avoids further embarrassment, the mood about their arrivals won't be quite as dour as it is right now.
Take 2: Brian Bennett
It's not a great sign that the two biggest stories involving the Big Ten's next programs are Rutgers' athletic director controversy and Maryland's lawsuit with the ACC. You don't hear many people talking about how Gary Nova will do at quarterback for the Scarlet Knights, or whether the Terrapins can establish a running game.
If anyone is going to change the conversation back to football, it's the Scarlet Knights. They might win a lot of games this year, and if they manage to beat Arkansas and Bret Bielema on Sept. 21, they'll immediately create some new fans in the Big Ten. Still, given the state of the American Athletic Conference (yes, that's a thing now), hardly anybody is going to respect whatever record Rutgers puts up this year unless it includes a win at Louisville and/or a bowl win over a marquee opponent. Maybe Rutgers can win the AAC's automatic BCS bid (yes, it does still have one) and pull off a BCS shocker like Louisville did last year versus Florida. That would certainly create some buzz. If Hermann can smooth things out after a very bumpy start, that story will go away quickly once Rutgers starts winning games on the field.
I have less hope for Maryland creating any kind of excitement. Not only have the Terrapins struggled the past couple of years, they have modest expectations this season and a schedule that includes tests against West Virginia, Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech. Most of the ACC probably would take great delight in sending the Terps away with a butt-kicking. Plus, Randy Edsall's mostly conservative style of play rarely gets anyone fired up. Even if Maryland manages to get back to a bowl game, I doubt most Big Ten fans would A) notice or B) give the program any real hope of competing in the conference next year.
When Nebraska arrived, the Huskers brought great tradition and national championships to the table, and they were viewed as a league title contender right away. That won't be the case for either Maryland or Rutgers. The best thing about their arrival is that it will allow the Big Ten to go to a saner division structure, something most league fans will enjoy. Short of scoring some unexpected major victories on the field this season, the best thing the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights can do over the next year is keep the off-the-field stories as quiet as possible.