The rivalry between West Virginia and the Terrapins football team has had many storylines over the years.
Former Terps defensive lineman A.J. Francis had his stories about his great-grandfather, Shaky, who hailed from deep within coal-mining country in West Virginia. He also said an 85-year-old woman spit on him the Terps played in Morgantown, W. Va., in 2010. There was the stretch in the early 2000s when the Terps defeated West Virginia four straight times — including twice in 2003 — by an average score of 39-13.
But in recent years, things have changed. The Mountaineers have topped the Terps seven straight times since 2004, driven by the star power of players like Geno Smith and Tavon Austin. For this year’s Terps, though, the one-sidedness of the border rivalry is merely a footnote. In fact, they’re barely even treating Saturday’s matchup at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore differently than any other game.
“Really, we just don’t think about that stuff,” outside linebacker Marcus Whitfield said. “Just treat every opponent as we treated the ones before. Treat every opponent equal, not so much as more or less. Just try to go out there and get the ‘W.’”
Last season, the Terps traveled to Morgantown, W. Va., as 28-point underdogs to face a team averaging more than 55 points per game and ultimately exited with a 31-21 loss. This year, with a transition to a new quarterback and some tweaks to account for their new talent, the Mountaineers are 2-1.
Still, playing in Baltimore on ESPNU and wearing reportedly flashy new uniforms, it’s the opportunity to make a statement — even if Edsall won’t say so.
“I just know West Virginia is a really good team,” coach Randy Edsall said. “We’re going to have to play really, really well in order to win, and we expect to play really well because of how we’re going to prepare this week.
“But as far as putting anything more on this game than we had in any of the first three games, no, we’ll never do that and I’ll never say that to our kids. At the end of the day, they all count the same because you take a look and some people that can go and maybe upset somebody and then the next week you lose to someone maybe they’re not supposed to lose to.”
Edsall’s rhetoric has trickled down to the rest of the team, as expected. There’s no more stock in this game than in any other game. Outside linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil doesn’t point to a single memory of any matchup between the teams that particularly stands out.
He had his first real dose of the rivalry last season when he traveled to watch the Terps and Mountaineers in Morgantown. While he continued to downplay any significance, he still acknowledged that the game’s stage could give it a little extra meaning.
“This is going to be my first West Virginia game and stuff, so I don’t really know too much about it,” Cudjoe-Virgil said. “All I’ve really heard is just ‘battle of the border,’ that’s all I’ve been hearing. Actually, from last year, when I traveled myself to see the game on my own, it got a little heated, I saw on the field. So I think this is going to be a big game.”
The Terps have the chance to make a statement and record a marquee win early in the season. They could end a seven-game losing streak to a geographic rival. But the opportunity to go 4-0 and match last season’s win total before the end of the season’s first month is just as alluring.
“We just treat every week like a new week, clean slate,” Cudjoe-Virgil said. “Out there to prove ourselves to everybody else again.”