By Nick Ferrara, Alexa Limbach and Billy Owens
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writers
In the week leading up to Towson’s trip to College Park, coach Rob Ambrose was asked repeatedly why the two largest public universities in Maryland, separated by fewer than 50 miles, had only met once before in football.
“Politics has kept us apart,” Ambrose said after a midweek practice. “For them it’s a lose-lose. If they don’t kill us, if it’s a close game, perception-wise they lost. And god help them if we beat them. You saw what happened to the head coach at UConn when we beat them [in 2013]. They were calling for his head. If you’re in Maryland’s shoes, you don’t want to play [Towson] because you might get upset. ”
That didn’t happen Saturday, as Maryland won 63-17 in an emphatic home opener that featured eight offensive touchdowns and a pick-six for the Terrapins. For Towson, there were no moral victories on the field. But entering the week, Ambrose said that simply having Maryland on the schedule is a positive for the program. “For us, it’s an awesome game to play,” he said.
Playing an in-state, nearly-ranked Football Bowl Subdivision team on national television is a chance for Towson to gain national exposure and test itself early in the season.
“I think it is a great experience for our guys to be able to go into a larger stadium and play in front of a larger fan base,” Tim Leonard, Towson’s director of athletics, said in an e-mail. “I think it is good for the program and it is good for the kids to let them match up and see what they can do. A lot of times we have just as many talented guys as some of these programs we play and it is fun to get to see them match up.”
Added Ambrose: “What it does is give us a measuring stick against 85 scholarship guys that are [FBS] four- and five-star guys.”
Regular matchups against Maryland are “good for recruiting and I think it’s good for the state of Maryland,” Ambrose said.
Off the field, Towson benefits as well. The university gets upwards of $300,000 — revenue that is shared within the athletic department — for traveling to Maryland. “The good news is we net a decent amount because our expenses are extremely minimal for travel,” Leonard said. “It is probably just as good, if not better, than some schools that would pay more, but then you have to fly and deal with buses and hotels.”
Leonard said he likes playing as many in-state schools in all sports because it’s convenient for students and caters to local football fans.
“I loved playing at East Carolina or South Florida the last couple of years,” Leonard said. “Those are great experiences and great venues, but playing Maryland gets a lot more talk here than it would if we were playing another school like ECU, USF, Connecticut or even West Virginia.”
Why so few Maryland-Towson matchups?
Leonard’s predecessor as athletic director set up Saturday’s meeting against Maryland. The two teams are slated to meet again in 2020, and Leonard said he and Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson have discussed playing more often in the future.
As for why it hasn’t happened more often in the past?
“I don’t know what the reasoning is,” Leonard said. “We only have so many openings and our openings have to match up with their openings. We are only going to play one FBS game a year so the opportunities have some limitations.”
Leonard said he doesn’t want to play more than one FBS team per year given that “when we are playing teams with more scholarships” those teams “have more depth.”
Ambrose said the lack of an in-state rivalry has to do with the programs’ history.
“We’ve been playing football for 49 years,” he said. “We’ve been Division III, Division II and we’ve only been Division I for a minute. Maryland has been Division I since the beginning of time. To say that we’re behind Maryland historically would be like saying the sun is maybe warm. We’re catching up.”
Towson’s results against top-level teams
It looked early in Saturday’s game that Towson may be catching up on the field. The Tigers were in striking distance of cutting Maryland’s lead to seven points late in the second quarter. But the Terrapins’ pick-six and hot third quarter shut the door quickly.
Maryland’s 46-point margin of victory was nearly double what it was six years ago when the Terps won 28-3 in the schools’ first-ever meeting.
Towson has had little success against top-division football teams in recent history.
“We’ve been beaten by most of the [FBS] schools we play, but then again that’s the standard for the [FCS] schools against the [FBS] schools. Everyone once in awhile you’ll see one of us knock one of those guys off.”
Such as week one of the college football season, when 45-poing underdog Howard pulled a major upset at UNLV, winning 43-40.
Towson’s upset came in 2013, a 33-18 win at UConn. That season, Towson went to the FCS Championship Game before losing.
The Tigers have played other FBS teams tough — including a 38-22 road loss in 2012 to third-ranked LSU in which Towson led 9-7 late in the second quarter.
Ambrose knows it takes a near-perfect game for Towson to upset an FBS team. That didn’t happen on Saturday. He said during game week that, “No one game is more important than any other, but it would be nice to beat the flagship.”
Now that the game is over, Ambrose admitted that he’ll be pulling for Maryland the rest of the year.
“Those guys are going to represent the state through the game of football for the rest of the season extremely well,” he said. “We should all like that. I would have liked it if they did that for the rest of the year with a win in my pocket, but it is what it is. They’re going to get better, we’re going to get better. I like how football is in the state of Maryland right now. It’s pretty good and it’s going to keep getting better.”