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HEISER: Without Edsall, Penn State-Maryland rivalry loses some local luster

STEVE HEISER
YorkDispatch

For York County fans, Saturday's Penn State-Maryland battle was shaping up as one of the most highly anticipated games of the 2015 college football season.

After all, it pits the single most popular team in the county (Penn State) against the Football Bowl Subdivision school that is nearest to the county (Maryland).

It also has the added allure of being played in an NFL facility (M&T Bank Stadium) that is less than 40 miles from the southern York County border.

Finally, it was supposed to feature a York County native (Susquehannock High School graduate Randy Edsall) leading the Terrapins against a program he desperately wanted to beat.

Of course, all that changed about a week and a half ago when Maryland fired Edsall.

His primary offense? He simply didn't win enough games to suit the Maryland administration, and perhaps more importantly, the Maryland boosters and fans.

Saturday's game is still of great interest to area fans of both the Nittany Lions and the Terrapins, but there's no denying that some of the local luster has been lost.

Coaches added spice to rivalry: Edsall and PSU head coach James Franklin had definitely added some spice to the rivalry with some of the comments they made before last year's contest — which was the first meeting between the two teams as Big Ten foes.

Franklin, when he arrived in Happy Valley, said he wanted to dominate the state and the region in recruiting, including Maryland.

Edsall responded by saying "talk is cheap" while appearing at a charity event in York.

Then, when the two teams faced off last Nov. 1, Edsall's Terps pulled off a 20-19 upset in Beaver Stadium — a game most remembered for the Maryland captains refusing to shake hands with the PSU captains before the game, leading to some pre-game pushing and shoving.

Edsall later apologized for the actions of his players, but there was no doubt that he intensely enjoyed the victory, which came on a last-minute field goal. The triumph made the Terps bowl-eligible, and it helped Maryland achieve its goal of establishing a rivalry with a high-profile team that has dominated the series.

It was Maryland's first victory at Penn State and its second win of the teams' 38-game series, which it trails 35-2-1. The teams hadn't played since 1993.

"Let the rivalry begin now; let it begin," Edsall said after the game. "There should be a trophy for this game. It's a bordering state. Let's have some fun. Let's really make it competitive. That was a hard-fought game."

Edsall's high-water mark: That win was probably the high-water mark of Edsall's stint at Maryland. With the PSU win, the Terps improved to 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten. They finished last season by losing three of their final four and started this year by going 2-4, including three losses by 20-plus points in Edsall's last three games as Maryland's head coach. That sealed his fate.

Mike Locksley, the former head coach at New Mexico, who was Edsall's offensive coordinator at Maryland, has been named the interim head coach for the Terps. He will lead the team in Saturday's contest.

During his stint at New Mexico, Locksley was a woeful 2-26, which is far worse than Edsall's 22-34 overall mark at Maryland. But that didn't seem to matter much to the Maryland administration.

If Locksley wants to get the Terps bowl eligible (something that Edsall did in each of the last two seasons), he will almost certainly have to beat PSU on Saturday. Maryland has the advantage of coming off a bye week, meaning the Terps will have had two weeks to prepare for PSU and adjust to Locksley.

The Lions (5-2), meanwhile, are fresh off a 38-10 pounding at the hands of No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday night. Still, the Lions have been installed as 6 1/2-point favorites.

Teams should be motivated: Normally, given the circumstances, Maryland would seem to have the motivation edge. The Terps are taking on a nearby program that has owned them over the years. And teams often play with renewed vigor after a coaching change.

PSU's players and coaches, however, certainly remember the disrespectful way the Terps acted before last year's contest. And this will be Penn State's best chance to get the sixth win needed to become bowl eligible.

So both teams should have plenty of incentive.

It should make for an extremely interesting contest for the hundreds (or thousands) of fans who make the trek from York County to see the game.

Without Edsall prowling the sidelines, however, there's no doubt that the local story line is just a little less captivating.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.