By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It's a rivalry not as old, nor played as many times as the Backyard Brawl, but it is a border battle that for nearly 30 years has served as a barometer for the West Virginia University football season. Since 1980 the Mountaineers and Terrapins have played every year, except 2008, 2009, and when WVU takes the win, they've usually had good seasons. When the Terps have been victorious, well it hasn't been as good for WVU.
West Virginia holds a 25-21-2 lead in the series which dates to 1919. Last year in College Park the Mountaineers took a 37-31 win. The year before at Mountaineer Field, WVU won 31-17. West Virginia has an overall six game winning streak in the series, losing last to Maryland in the 2004 Gator Bowl, a year in which the teams played twice and Maryland won both times by big margins.
Geno Smith has never lost to the Terps.
"It's a pretty good rivalry, I've been a part of it for four years," Smith said. "I'm 2-0 so far, hopefully I'll be 3-0. I know their guys are going to play us tough. I know we have a lot of guys from that area who have friends and probably family on the team. I know they always come in eager to play. We need to do what we always do and be prepared to fight."
One of those Maryland players on the WVU roster is Tavon Austin, who graduated from Dunbar High School in Baltimore. For Austin, this is a special game.
"It means a lot. I'm from there and it's a good feeling playing Maryland," Austin said. "My cousin went there, so there's always some bragging rights with him. I thank them (Maryland) for recruiting me and the opportunity to play there, but at the end of the day I chose to play at West Virginia. It should be a good game."
Maryland is the first BCS conference team the Mountaineers face this season and Austin said it is all business for the Mountaineers.
"We're still going to do what we do best and put up points," Austin said. "We still want to come out with a win. The media always says we haven't played anybody yet, so this is going to be our first challenge. We need to step up to the plate now and hopefully everything goes well."
Linebacker Doug Rigg also talked about playing a BCS-level team.
"We really want to see how we stack up against another BCS team," Rigg said. "Right after that we're thrown into the fire of the Big 12 and there's no looking back. We really need to put emphasis on this game and improve dramatically before we go into the next stretch of games."
Rigg, a New Jersey native, talked about how some of his teammates feel about the upcoming game.
"There is definitely excitement, especially from the Maryland kids on the team. They really want to beat the kids that they grew up with," Rigg said. "I'm not too far from Maryland myself. It's definitely a big game. I've been around for two years and I know what type of game this is. I think the tempo will really pick up the Thursday practice before the game."
West Virginia (2-0) has 10 players on the roster from the state of Maryland, Tavon Austin, Terence Garvin, Mikal Mayo, Nana Agyire, Josh Francis, Troy Gloster, Ryan Clarke, John Bassler, J.D. Izon and Jeff Braun. Avery Williams is from the District of Columbia, less than five miles from the University of Maryland campus.
The Terrapins, with wins over William and Mary and Temple, and a loss to Connecticut, enter the game with a freshman quarterback and a set of young wide receivers. Rigg challenged the fans at Mountaineer Field to help the home team.
"Our crowd is going to play a big part in the game. We need to get after him," Rigg said. "Once a freshman gets confident, they can play like a veteran. We need to get after him in the beginning of the game. We need to confuse him early."
Defensive back Pat Miller talked about the young receivers Maryland will put on the field.
"They're really good. Just because they're young doesn't mean you can overlook them," Miller said. "As a whole, I feel that this is the best receiving corps we've seen so far this season. Marshall had good receivers too. These guys are fast and there are a lot of them, because they're so young."
West Virginia has played Maryland more than any other team on the 2012 schedule and there is not a single team on the schedule that has a winning record against WVU. The Mountaineers are perfect against Marshall (12-0), James Madison (2-0), Kansas (1-0), TCU (1-0), Texas (1-0) and Texas Tech (1-1). WVU is 2-1 against Oklahoma State and .500 against Kansas State (1-1) and Oklahoma (2-2). WestVirginia has never played Baylor or Iowa State.
The 49th meeting between West Virginia University and the University of Maryland kicks off just past noon, Saturday from Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. It will be televised nationally on FX.