Sacrificial lambs’ odds of survival are better than those Maryland and Howard faced Saturday when they ventured to Texas and Las Vegas, respectively.
The Longhorns were unveiling hotshot new coach, Tom Herman, hired to lead Texas back to its presumed rightful place among college football royalty. Herman’s scintillating two seasons at Houston (22-4) made him the sport’s most sought-after up-and-comer before he departed for Austin.
The Rebels were kicking off the second year of a deal with the Las Vegas visitors bureau, in which the season opens against an HBCU foe. Opponents are encouraged to bring the band and cheerleaders for in-town promotional activities. Last year’s arrangement worked out swell, as UNLV routed Jackson State, 63-13.
Maryland and Howard were expected to play their dutiful roles as subservient dance partners – always following, never leading – providing little resistance and less of a threat before returning home with a loss (and in Howard’s case, a check for $600,000). Texas was favored by 18-1/2 points, UNLV by a whopping 45.
These schools’ huge upsets put the DMV in the center of college football’s universe for Week 1. The Terrapins shocking, 51-41, victory over No. 23 Texas was Maryland’s first victory over a ranked opponent in seven years. The Bison did even better, posting the biggest point-spread upset in the sport’s history with a 43-40 stunner in the desert.
“There have been a lot of people telling the program what they can’t do for a long time, first-year Bison coach Mike London told The Associated Press. “We have been trying to instill a culture of all things being possible.”
For at least one weekend, it’s true: Anything is possible.
But that doesn’t necessarily apply to long-range outlook. goals.
Howard won’t regularly win “revenue games” against schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision, which allows 85 scholarships compared to 63 in the Football Championship Series, where the Bison reside. Maryland won’t routinely beat ranked opponents on the road, especially foes like Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in the Big Ten’s rugged East Division.
We can deal with that reality later.
For now, both teams showed resiliency after building first-half leads. The Bison were up by 12 in the second quarter but trailed by the same margin in the third. They regained the lead in the fourth quarter, lost it, and finally went ahead for good on a 4-yard run by Caylin “Cam’s Little Brother” Newton.
“To see guys’ looks in the locker room after the win really was overwhelming,” London said.
Maryland trailed when quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome threw a pick-six on the Terps’ first play from scrimmage. Texas never led again but the Longhorns trimmed a 16-point deficit to three points midway through the third quarter. Even worse, Pigrome, defensive lineman Jessie Aniebonam and cornerback Antwaine Richardson all left the game with injuries during Texas’ comeback, leaving Maryland’s offense in the hands of freshman quarterback Kasim Hill.
“There wasn’t anyone who panicked or flinched,” coach DJ Durkin told reporters. “No one was like, ‘Oh, no.’ Kasim came in there and just handled the moment.”
Such moments have been far and few between for Maryland and Howard. Considering Durkin’s pledge to build the Terps into a top-caliber program, Saturday’s victory was arguably Maryland’s biggest since the 2001 Orange Bowl. It was a great start for the 2017 freshman, the highest-rated recruiting class in school history.
London, who served as an assistant under Durkin last year, inherited a program with just one winning record in the last 15 seasons. The Bison, who went 3-19 combined the last two seasons, have begun this new era with the school’s first-ever victory against an FBS opponent.
“I think with his leadership and his reputation, it immediately makes Howard’s football program relevant,” University of Michigan assistant head coach/passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton told me during a phone interview in January. Hamilton played quarterback and won the Bison football team’s scholar-athlete award in 1995 and 1996.
Asking for relevancy shouldn’t be too much for Maryland and Howard.
Non-losing seasons more often than not … permanent residence in the conference’s upper-half … occasional forays into postseason play. No one expects a string of Big Ten titles and College Football Playoff appearances, or annual treks to the Celebration Bowl or FCS national tournament. Just don’t stink on a regular basis.
Our DMV schools won’t always be such focal points They won’t always generate such buzz on ESPN and social media. They will be huge underdogs in some games and indeed fail to cover the spread.
But for one weekend at least, they gave us a taste of life on the other side.
How sweet it is.
— Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.