As Maryland football players walk through Texas’ football facility this weekend for their season opener, they may encounter the Longhorns’ four national championship trophies.
Later, they might see banners from Texas’ 32 conference titles or a list of the team’s 56 consensus All-Americans, many of whom went on to complete All-Pro NFL careers.
If the players ignore those achievements on their way in, they won’t miss the 100,119 rowdy fans who fill out Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium — some of whom live and die by the Longhorns’ success and won’t lower their voices until hours after the final whistle.
It will be an unusual September setting for the Terps, who haven’t opened against a ranked opponent since 2009. But it’s the kind of atmosphere Maryland must embrace.
No. 23 Texas is one of the most prestigious nonconference foes Maryland has competed with over the past two decades. Regardless of the result Saturday afternoon, the Terps will experience the culture of a top program and receive a first-hand look at what they hope to become.
“Obviously our players have a great understanding of the tradition, the level of talent on the roster at Texas,” coach DJ Durkin said. “As a competitor, when you know you’re up against a worthy opponent, an opponent you have tremendous respect for, your focus tightens up a little bit. … There’s no easing into the season. It’s ready to go.”
Maryland has played in some of the most electric college football atmospheres since joining the Big Ten in 2015, including Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. But the Terps rarely challenge themselves to a test like Texas during nonconference play.
Since 2012, Maryland’s season-opening foes have been William & Mary, Florida International, James Madison, Richmond and Howard. It’s typical for teams to give themselves a scrimmage-type first game to warm-up for the rest of the season.
But Durkin rightfully disagrees with that tradition. If the Terps want to be a top team, he believes they need to beat the best inside and outside of their conference.
No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State, for example, will clash to kick-off their seasons.
“You always want to be able to compete against anybody,” defensive lineman Chandler Burkett said, “even if it’s a big time program, which is what we want to be.”
After its season openers, Maryland often continues to face inferior squads. The Terps have had an on-and-off rivalry with West Virginia since the 1950s — the Mountaineers have won nine of the past 10 contests — but they haven’t played since 2015 and won’t meet again until 2020.
Still, West Virginia doesn’t have a tradition like Texas. Neither does California, which beat Maryland in the 2009 season opener.
Notre Dame, which defeated Maryland in 2002 and 2011, is the only other program Maryland has played in the regular season since 2000 that can flaunt a never-ending shrine of awards.
“With it being such a big name and going to Texas and everything that [improves] our mentality a little bit,” running back Ty Johnson said, “and makes sure we’re crisp and preparing the right way.”
Some of Maryland’s players grew up on Texas football. Darnell Savage fell in love with the sport at the same time Vince Young led the Longhorns to the 2005 national championship, and Brendan Moore is an Austin, Texas, native.
These are the type of bouts recruits notice and dream of competing in. Durkin’s message to the Class of 2018 has become much simpler: commit now and you can play Texas next year at Maryland Stadium as part of our home-and-home series.
“I’m never one to predict anything, but if we come out with a win and everything,” Johnson said, “that’s going to say something to recruits.”
While Texas has been to 53 bowl games, it hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2013 and has a new head coach, Tom Herman. Maryland may not begin its season with another visit to a premier nonconference opponent for years.
“We told [the players] we only have one shot,” defensive coordinator Andy Buh said. “There’s only one bullet in the chamber. We’re only going to Austin one time.”
Saturday is the perfect opportunity for the Terps, who haven’t finished with a winning conference record since 2010, to hit a bullseye.