For his players, it likely became real about the 100th time a media member in the Windy City at the Big Ten Media Days asked about their new home.
The schedule confirms it is real, though – Maryland and Rutgers are in the Big Ten. More than that, the two East Coast schools are in the league’s East Division, meaning they’ll be on the Ohio State football schedule every year for the foreseeable future.
In other words, get used to the Maryland flag battling for stylistic supremacy with Ohio’s pennant and the Scarlet Knight roaming the sideline at Ohio Stadium. And get used to road trips to College Park and Piscataway every other year as well.
Not much across Big Ten country might be known about the two new schools, which went a respective 7-6 (Maryland) and 6-7 (Rutgers) a year ago. That’s why the annual media confab in Chicago was a chance for the coaches and players to introduce themselves to the conference, and each certainly took the chance.
For Maryland – a state, after all, that does crabcakes and football – that meant bringing the boisterous state flag into the fray. The black, red, yellow and white banner – the only U.S. flag based on English heraldry, as it is the banner of George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore – is the inspiration for the school’s Under Armour uniforms designed by company CEO and football program alum Kevin Plank.
“The fact that the guy who designs them was a former player – not even that he went to the school but he’s been through what we go through on a daily basis, that means so much,” cornerback Jeremiah Johnson said. “The fact that he takes the time out to make sure that we’re wearing something that is representing the state we’re from, it means a lot, man.”
Maryland also brings a solid football tradition that includes a national championship in 1953 as well as eight ACC titles, the last in 2001 under Ralph Friedgen. “The Fridge,” as many knew the portly mentor, oversaw that years Orange Bowl appearance and took the Terrapins to seven bowls in 10 years before surprisingly being fired after going 9-4 in 2010.
His replacement, Randy Edsall, was just 2-10 his first year as injuries and turmoil beset the team, but he improved the mark to four wins in his second campaign and seven last year.
The state also boasts some of the top football talent on the East Coast, as evidenced by Diggs, a five-star wideout two years ago from Gaithersburg, Md., who chose to stay home despite being wooed by Ohio State, among others.
“There’s a lot of state pride,” he said. “If you’re from Maryland, you know what it feels like. If you’re not from Maryland, you won’t know.”
This year, Maryland has not been picked by many to contend for a Big Ten title, but the team does return its starting quarterback, its top running back, three exciting receivers and its top five tacklers from a season ago.
“Maryland is going to fight,” Johnson said. “Every minute of the game, regardless of the score, we’re coming in with a chip on our shoulder. We think people doubt us, but we know how good we can be. We’re self motivated and we have a lot of pride.”
Then there’s Rutgers, a school that enters Big Ten play without much of a distinguished history on the gridiron. The Scarlet Knights became Division I independents in 1976 and joined the Big East in 1991 but their history is generally one of losing, as Rutgers never topped seven wins in a season upon joining the league until Greg Schiano’s 2006 team went 11-2 and romped over Kansas State in the Texas Bowl.
Kyle Flood’s first squad in 2012 shared the league title as well, and Rutgers has eight bowl appearances in the last 10 seasons after just one before that. However, last year’s 6-7 mark has many expecting the team to finish last in the Big Ten East Division.
But the players on the team have one word to describe their outfit, and it’s an adjective that is common to the state of New Jersey.
“We’re tough, we’re relentless and we have a lot of heart,” undersized D-tackle Darius Hamilton said.
“We may be small but we’re tough and tenacious,” safety Lorenzo Waters said.
“You can definitely expect a tough football team when we come to play,” fullback Michael Burton said.
Whether that will be enough to win in a division that includes traditional powers Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State as well as defending Rose Bowl champ Michigan State remains to be seen, but that’s the team Flood will bring to the table.
“We’ve been to several bowls the last several years,” Burton said. “We’ve grown so much as a program, our facilities and things like that, academically and athletically, and to be able to become a part of this new conference, such a prestigious conference, it’s an awesome opportunity and we’re all excited about it.”
Ohio State will play at Maryland on Oct. 4 and host Rutgers on Oct. 18 this year.