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Maryland, Rutgers surprise in 1st year as Big Ten members

Few had high expectations for the arrival of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten just over one year ago. As we stand here able to look back and reflect on the last year, its safe to say both Maryland and Rutgers surprised critics and advocates alike.

Many believed it would take forever and a day for the Terps and Scarlet Knights to compete on the football field. Same for the basketball court and just about anywhere else. After all, Maryland and Rutgers were jumping to one of the top overall athletic conferences in the country and an adjustment period would surely be needed.

That wasn’t exactly how things went though, as both programs pulled off some surprising moments along the way to showing that not only would they fit in well athletically and academically, but they could even excel.

In one years time there was a national championship, an undefeated Big Ten season, program-defining wins and plenty more. Let’s take a look at some of the big achievements in just one year by both programs.

Maryland:

1. Women’s Lacrosse wins a national championship — After going 21-1 in the regular season and only suffering a loss to Ohio State in the first-ever Big Ten tournament, the Terps went for back-to-back national championships and got that accomplished. It was their third in five years, but first for the Big Ten since Northwestern’s back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012.

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2. Men’s Basketball finishes 2nd in Big Ten — Once an ACC power, Mark Turgeon’s team was seen as a few years away from being able to be very competitive in a conference at the top of the college basketball game for the last few years. Instead, the Terps came out swinging in Big Ten play, beat eventual regular season and tournament champion Wisconsin, and were 14-4 in conference play. Not a bad “adjustment period.”

3. Football Wins in Happy Valley and The Big House — So, about that whole, “these guys won’t be able to compete” thing. Maryland made it to a bowl game in unexpected fashion, and it took two wins on the road in divisional play to get it done. Yes, neither Michigan or Penn State were there usual national contending selves in 2014, but going on the road to those schools are never an easy task regardless of the teams on the field.

If we were to tell you before the season that Maryland would get road wins at either place, let alone both the cross looks we would’ve gotten would’ve been endless (even if I did predict a W for the Terps over Michigan, thank you very much). That’s exactly what happened, and thankfully so, because the Terps didn’t have a loss to spare in making a bowl appearance in their first year in the Big Ten.

Winning those games were a huge step in gaining respect from fans around the Big Ten. The next step — not getting a butt-kicking from every top team in the conference along the way.

 

Rutgers

1. Winning a Bowl Game — Who had this happening in the first year for Rutgers? Given a schedule that featured Wisconsin and Nebraska out of the East division and a road trip out to Seattle to face Washington State, prospects for a bowl game were grim entering the season.

Yet, a win against Washington State in Week 1 and a shocking home win over Michigan in Big Ten play were enough to secure a bowl game and a winning season. Then Rutgers went out and showed just how big a gap exists between the Big Ten and ACC by playing a good defensive game against a good UNC offense and blowing the doors off of UNC’s ugly defense in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit, Mich.

It was the Big Ten’s first win of bowl season, so Rutgers was able to get the conference off to a positive start in the postseason. The fact that Rutgers played in and won a bowl game in the first season as member of the Big Ten should’ve been plenty shocking to the rest of the league’s fans. After all, most thought Rutgers football was light years from competing at the level needed to get to a bowl game in this league.

2. Men’s Basketball Beats Wisconsin — Ironically enough, it wasn’t MSU or Michigan or Ohio State or Illinois or Purdue (the historical giants of Big Ten basketball) that did in the run to perfection of the Wisconsin Badgers. Nope, instead it was the worst team in the Big Ten — Rutgers.

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No doubt that UW missing Frank Kaminsky and having Traevon Jackson go down with a broken foot changed how the Badgers looked, but the gulf between UW and RU was big enough for the Badgers to overcome those losses. Given the putrid history of Rutgers basketball, a win over any top 5 program is worth celebrating. Coming in and doing it in the first year of play (and just four games in no less) is 100 percent a highlight of the year.

Add in another road loss to Big Ten newcomer Maryland and you have the only two conference losses for the national runner-up Wisconsin Badgers. While the rest of the season was an utter disappointment, winning that game gave a glimmer of hope that Eddie Jordan’s crew could some day compete at a decent enough level to be a mid-tier Big Ten program.

3. $$$$$ — There are no two ways around it, Rutgers’ athletic department was one of (and still is) the most cash-strapped departments in major college athletics. Support had waned in pervious years and that means donation dollars were at a premium. However, Rutgers’ biggest accomplishment in the first year as Big Ten member institution was being able to gain eventual access to the Big Ten cash cow.

Not only will Rutgers be able to better balance its athletic department books, it can also invest in better facilities and hopefully better athletes because of it all. Getting earlier access to the cash money than even Nebraska did upon joining the conference was a huge deal and could be the biggest thing to happen to Rutgers’ athletics in the long term.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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