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ARMOLD: Penn State, Maryland can't be forced into a football rivalry

ELIJAH ARMOLD
YorkDispatch


Today's society, specifically the Internet crowd, seems to have a proclivity for hyperbole.

They abuse words such as "epic" and "awesome," often applying them where they don't belong.

The sports world isn't innocent of this phenomenon, either. A word that's often abused is "rival."

More specifically, this notion applies to Penn State and Maryland.

One of the key fundamentals of a rivalry should be competition. With a series record of 35-2-1 in favor of the Nittany Lions, this pairing doesn't come close to qualifying.

Sure, Maryland eked out a 20-19 victory last season. Not to make excuses, but to simply explain, Maryland caught a sanctions-riddled Lions squad at the right time.

To be fair, should the Lions triumph Saturday, it could be said that PSU is catching a down-on-its-luck Terrapins team in the midst of a coaching change.

Also in 2014, Rutgers played that same PSU team close in a 13-10 Lions victory. But even the Scarlets Knights' coach had the common sense to tone down the rivalry talk, despite Rutgers and Penn State sharing some of the same basic qualifications as the Maryland-PSU "rivalry." After all, the Lions claim a similarly lopsided 24-2-0 edge over the Knights.

"Is it the start of something like that?" Kyle Flood told reporters earlier this year at Big Ten media day. "It might be. But I think those things have to happen organically. I don't think you can create them."

Even this season, when Temple defeated Penn State for the first time since 1941 to move that series to a better-than-Maryland 39-4-1 mark (still in favor of PSU), the Owls knew better than to label the match-up a "rivalry."

Rivalries can't be forced when they lack competition. For example, no one has suddenly considered the Nittany Lions a viable rival to the Terrapins on the hardwood, and rightfully so. That would be silly.

Even as a marketing ploy, it comes off as disingenuous when a faux "rivalry" lacks the necessary back and forth.

Reciprocity, in terms of respect and perspective from fans, is also another key factor in a true rivalry.

When Maryland squeaked by last year, only the Terrapins side really seemed to care. Most Lions fan put the loss in perspective and the result was mostly met with a tepid "Oh, how cute, good for you" response from the Penn State side.

The Nittany Lion faithful cares far more about results against the likes of Ohio State and Michigan.

In fact, Penn State only trails the Buckeyes 17-13 in their series, and is behind the Wolverines, 11-7. But even those two aren't considered definite rivals by most, mainly because the Buckeyes and Wolverines have such a historic rivalry of their own.

No real rival for PSU: In fact, Penn State has been in the Big Ten for more than 20 years and still lacks a definitive rival.

If fact, the Lions will go out of conference to add the team that used to serve that role, Pitt, for four years beginning next season. The Lions hold a much more competitive 50-42-4 edge in that series.

Yes, there is the basic component of proximity, undoubtedly a requirement for a good rivalry. In the college game, that translates into a competition for recruits.

But again, Penn State has held the historic edge there, collecting notable Maryland names over the past few years alone, such as Aaron Maybin, NaVorro Bowman and Derrick Williams, among others.

Saturday will also see safety Marcus Allen, cornerback Trevor Williams and right guard Brian Gaia, players from the Old Line State, suiting up against the Terps.

Sure, Maryland's recruiting power was likely given a boost by last season's win. But it benefited more from joining the Big Ten. When you have to upgrade your conference membership to improve yourself, that's little brother status.

In fact, Greg Schiano gave the Lions a better run in that regard than Randy Edsall ever did, and the Scarlet Knights weren't even Big Ten members back then.

Stefon Diggs' poor behavior in last season's game does not a rivalry make. Being immature and not shaking hands does not a rivalry make. In fact, rivalries are often made better when teams can compete hard in emotional battles while still maintaining good sportsmanship.

Also, to make a good rivalry, there has to be something on the line, at least once and a while.

It's what makes rivalries such as Yankees-Red Sox, or even the young-by-comparison Ravens-Steelers, great. The fans get into it, and the games often matter for division standing.

The term "rivalry" loses its luster if we apply it too broadly. Look up "famous college football rivalries" and you won't see Penn State-Maryland on any reputable list. Nor should you.

— Reach Elijah Armold at earmold@yorkdispatch.com; @EADispatch on Twitter.