Maryland football is within reach of postseason play and a competitive Penn State rivalry

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

For the first time since 2018, bowl game eligibility is imminent. For the first time ever, a Penn State and Maryland border rivalry can potentially be actualized. 

Since the beginning of the Michael Locksley era, the desire for a marquee, Big Ten rivalry was clear. But beyond the proximity and the numerous times the two sides have met, there’s little reason to refer to this annual matchup a legitimate rivalry. The Nittany Lions boast a 40-3-1 all-time record against the Terps and throughout the time James Franklin has been at the helm, Maryland has only managed to win twice. 

Of those two wins, Locksley’s squad accounted for one. Last year’s meeting between the two sides marked a peak of the Terps’ 2020 campaign. Locksley and his Terps registered their first Big Ten winning streak with a dominant road performance against the Nittany Lions, and Rakim Jarrett had his coming out party with two touchdowns and 144 yards on just five catches. 

Jarrett, now the top receiver on the depth chart, has put little thought into the significance of his second Penn State game. 

“It doesn’t matter at all,” Jarrett said. “They’re just the next team. That’s always the biggest game for me.”

With another win, Locksley could even up his all-time record against Penn State to 2-2, giving him possession of half of Maryland’s all-time wins over Penn State. Perhaps in the Locksley era a Penn State and Maryland rivalry can be realized if Maryland can stay within reach of a .500 record. 

A win also grants Maryland a chance to play in the postseason — an occasion that hasn’t been a part of a Maryland football year since 2016. 

“It’s not something we will talk about before,” Locksley said. “But because we are at five [wins] and this is the next game, there’s a couple of things that are at stake … Obviously, six is the magic number to become bowl eligible. We all know it. Because we now have five we can talk about six.”

Despite being ranked and past the season midpoint, Penn State happens to be vying for bowl eligibility as well. With an identical record as the Terps, the Nittany Lions are currently enduring a three game losing streak that saw starting quarterback Sean Clifford fall to injury, a strange nine overtime loss to unranked Illinois at home and a surprisingly narrow loss at Ohio State. 

Even with the string of losses, Penn State is still fielding a top 10 scoring defense, one of the best quarterbacks in the league and an NFL hopeful in receiver Jahan Dotson. 

Of course, under Locksley’s philosophy, next week’s opponent remains faceless and nameless. And regardless of Maryland’s reach to postseason play or its commitment to the imagined border state rivalry, the focus remains on improvement within. 

“They put shoulder pads on just like we put shoulder pads on,” defensive back Jakorian Bennett said. “So we just gotta go out there just handle our business. And of course, winning out there last year kind of gave us a little extra juice, you know, this week, and we just ready to go out there and just be 1-0 this week and get that sixth win for the fans … For us.”