Big stage for WVU-Terps
BALTIMORE - For both West Virginia and Maryland, today's game at the Ravens' M&T Bank Stadium here is a welcome opportunity.
For the Terps, it's a chance to broaden their base, to bring college football to an area of their home state that doesn't usually get much of a chance to see it.
For the Mountaineers, well, it's almost like playing a road game without venturing into hostile territory. And these days, playing in the Big 12, that's unusual.
"Much like Mountaineer Field is, when you go to the other nine opponents in the Big 12 and play on their field, it's 95 percent the other team,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "I don't view this, really, as an away game. It's more like a neutral-site game than a home game for Maryland. I feel like we'll travel pretty good and there'll be some Mountaineer energy in there.''
The teams meet at 3:30 p.m. today in a game that will be televised by ESPNU. It is West Virginia's last non-conference game of the season and its only one against a traditional rival.
"It's something our guys are looking forward to,'' Holgorsen said. "We don't have many regional rivalries left.''
Nor do the Mountaineers play many games these days in NFL stadiums. That used to be a regular thing. When WVU was in the Big East, road games against teams like Pitt and South Florida were always played in pro venues. West Virginia's last game at Cincinnati was in the Bengals' house. Bowl games, too, were regularly played at NFL sites. Of the team's last 21 bowl games dating to the 1984 Bluebonnet Bowl, only four were not played at sites that now or were previously home to NFL teams. West Virginia has also played a handful of neutral-site games at pro stadiums, including last year's James Madison game in Washington.
Holgorsen likes the idea of playing in NFL venues for a variety of reasons.
"It's easier because the facilities are good and it's not a hundred-percent home crowd,'' Holgorsen said. "It's like the Big East was. When you went to Pitt, West Virginia had a lot of people. When I went to South Florida there was a bunch of West Virginia people. We played bowl games in NFL stadiums. We went over to Cincinnati and played in that stadium.
"Facility-wise it's good. You know it's going to be a great facility. It's like last year at the Redskins' facility.''
For Maryland, it's a matter of revitalizing and expanding a fan base that has perhaps grown weary of the program after several years of mediocrity.
"We're trying to continue to develop the Maryland pride,'' Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "With the city being as large as it is, and also having that venue, M&T Bank Stadium there in Baltimore, when you do have the opportunity being that we're the flagship university here in the state and we're the only state school that's an FBS, it's something that I think is important to us.
"It's accessible. It's easy to get to. And again when you're talking about the fan support in this state for football, there are a lot of football fans. And so, the more that we can do to develop that Maryland pride, get the people from Baltimore, Baltimore County and the surrounding counties to be involved with what we're doing, I think it's a win for us.''
Playing in Baltimore also gives both teams a chance to go into the heart of a recruiting area valuable to both. Obviously Maryland draws players from Baltimore, but the area has become huge to West Virginia recruiting, too. Tavon Austin came from Baltimore, as did Terence Garvin. The Mountaineers' top-rated commitment for the 2014 recruiting class, quarterback William Crest, plays at Austin's old high school, Dunbar.
It's also convenient. Baltimore is 31/2 hours from Morgantown and just a short drive from the Eastern Panhandle. The closest other road games on this year's schedule are Kansas and Kansas State.
"It's important to our administration, it's important to our fan base and it's important to our kids,'' Holgorsen said. "It's important to recruiting.
"And our guys get kind of jacked up about that because it's a big stage.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.