Maryland Terrapins Football: Move to Big Ten Only Slight Upgrade from ACC

Mike FrandsenCorrespondent INovember 26, 2012

Photo by Bill Bride, Inside Maryland Sports.
Photo by Bill Bride, Inside Maryland Sports.

The University of Maryland’s upcoming move from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten Conference, contrary to popular belief, is only a minor upgrade for the football team. Big Ten football is overrated, while ACC football doesn’t get enough credit. 

The level of athletic competition in the two conferences is about equal when looked at as a whole. Maryland’s switch, to take place in 2014, is a step up for football and wresting, a lateral move for men’s basketball and a step down for lacrosse and soccer. 

First, why did Maryland make the move?

The Maryland Terrapins jumped at the chance to join the Big Ten primarily for the financial windfall it will provide and to improve the struggling football program, although the administration says the Big Ten research consortium was a major factor.

The conferences appear to be similar academically, however. Each one has 10 universities ranked in the Top 100 of the latest U.S. News rankings. Maryland is ranked 58, behind five Big Ten schools and six from the ACC. 

The Big Ten is expected to raise the profile of Maryland’s football program because of the Big Ten Network, higher-profile teams and additional money for a football program that has been struggling on and off the field. Many Big Ten teams have large alumni bases in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, three teams have football stadiums with over 100,000 seats and some of those fans will help fill Byrd Stadium. 

The Terps’ athletic program has been deep in debt, and Maryland eliminated seven varsity sports earlier this year. It’s hoped that the conference switch will provide Maryland enough money to restore some or all of the non-revenue sports that were slashed. 

The Big Ten expects the additions of Maryland and Rutgers to help the conference gain entry into the coveted Washington, Baltimore and New York media markets, though Rutgers has much more of a New Jersey than New York presence. 


As for football, the Big Ten is perceived as an elite conference, as if this were the 1970s. Meanwhile, fans and media constantly deride the ACC. But does this reflect reality, or is the Big Ten really only slightly better than the ACC? 

Since 1980, the ACC leads the Big Ten in national championships, three to two. Since the advent of the Bowl Championship Series in 1998, the ACC and Big Ten are each 1-2 in national title games, with Ohio State and Florida State representing the conferences all three times.

As for Maryland, the Terps also have a greater history than their national perception would indicate, perhaps in part because they have won just six games in the past two seasons.  

But the Terps, even with their recent struggles, are 5-2 in bowl games since 2000, and Maryland finished 9-4 with a bowl win as recently as 2010. Maryland also has 11 bowl wins all time. That ties Wisconsin for sixth among Big Ten teams, while six Big Ten teams have fewer bowl wins than Maryland. 

Take a look at the number of ex-Terps playing in the NFL. After all, that’s a major factor in why football players go to college.

The Terps have 23 current NFL players, which is tied with Penn State for sixth in the Big Ten.

Unlike the Nittany Lions, however, the Terps have star power in the pros, with San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis, Baltimore receiver Torrey Smith and Buffalo linebacker Shawne Merriman. Maryland also has a proud history, led by greats such as pro football Hall of Famer Randy White and former NFL MVP Boomer Esiason, not to mention a national title in 1953. 

At the most important position in the game, quarterback, Maryland has had eight signal-callers drafted since 1967. That’s more than were drafted from any Big Ten school except Ohio State and Purdue. Maryland has also had two quarterbacks start in the Super Bowl, more than any other Big Ten program except Purdue. 

Terrapin quarterbacks to start NFL games include Jack Scarbath, Bob Avellini, All-Pros Boomer Esiason and Neil O’Donnell, Frank Reich, Scott Zolak, Stan Gelbaugh and Shaun Hill. 

Football Rankings 

As for national rankings, ACC football teams don’t quite match up with those from the Big Ten, but taking a look at the top teams from each conference, the difference between the ACC and the blue bloods from the Big Ten isn’t as vast as many assume. 

Nebraska only joined the Big Ten in 2010, so the Cornhuskers aren’t mentioned here. 2012 numbers aren’t included. 

  • Since Virginia Tech joined the ACC in 2004, the Hokies have finished each season ranked in the AP Top 25, though that streak will probably be broken this year. Virginia Tech has averaged a No. 13 season-ending ranking as an ACC member. 
  • Since joining the ACC in 1992, Florida State has averaged a No. 10 ranking except for the three seasons the Seminoles failed to end the season in the Top 25. 
  • Clemson has finished in the Top 25 six times since 2000, averaging No. 21.  
  • Ohio State has been ranked nine times since 2000, with an average of No. 6, going unranked three seasons. 
  • Michigan has finished the year ranked an average of No. 14 since 2000, failing to make the Top 25 four times. 
  • Wisconsin has finished ranked eight times since 2000, with an average of 14. 
  • Iowa has finished a season ranked five times since 2000, averaging number 10. 
  • From the time Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1990 until the Nittany Lions had their wins retroactively vacated starting in 1998, Penn State finished ranked seven of eight seasons, with an average ranking of nine. 

So the Big Ten, like the ACC, has its powers, average teams and those at the bottom of the conference, but it’s only a notch better than the ACC at the top.

NCAA Probation 

When it comes to running clean programs, it appears that Big Ten football teams cheat more than ACC squads, if NCAA sanctions are any indication.

According to www.footballgeography.com, Michigan State leads the Big Ten with 10 seasons on probation, Illinois and Wisconsin each have nine, Ohio State has seven and Penn State will have been penalized for five seasons, including the next four.

Meanwhile, Maryland has only been on probation for one season in its history, while the most sanctioned teams in the ACC have been penalized fewer seasons than their equivalents from the Big Ten. Georgia Tech has been on probation for six seasons, while North Carolina is currently in the first of three years on probation. 

However, the short-term future of Miami football is unclear with regard to NCAA sanctions.


In basketball, the move is essentially a lateral one. The ACC has traditionally been the best basketball conference in the country, but it has often been top heavy, with Duke and North Carolina leading the pack. The Big Ten may have more balance, though. 

Since 2000, the ACC has won five NCAA titles; the Big Ten has one. Maryland won the national championship more recently, in 2002, than any national champ from the Big Ten (Michigan State won it in 2001). But the Spartans have made it to the Final Four six times since 1999, and five-time champion Indiana has once again reached elite status. 

During the last decade, Duke and North Carolina finished fourth and seventh, respectively, among teams with the most first-round NBA draft picks. Maryland has had 17 players drafted in the first round of the NBA draft in its history, and is one of two ACC schools to have had two overall No. 1 picks. North Carolina is the other, while Michigan is the only Big Ten school to accomplish that feat. 

The tradition of ACC basketball is what Maryland fans will miss the most, although the league has changed in recent years anyway with the additions of Virginia Tech, Miami, Boston College and the future additions of Pitt and Syracuse.

It will be very strange in all sports for Maryland to play teams as far away as Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota, but designating new ACC member Pitt as a “rival” would have been an adjustment as well. 

The young, talented Terps are poised to make deep runs in the NCAA tournament for years to come, and should make the Big Ten better. Give the ACC the edge in hoops, but not by much. 

Lacrosse, Soccer and Wrestling 

The change is a huge step down for Maryland’s nationally ranked men’s lacrosse and soccer teams. The ACC has some of the best lacrosse and soccer teams in the nation. Only a handful of Big Ten teams even play lacrosse. 

Maryland is ranked second in the nation in soccer and won the NCAA title in 2005 and 2008.  The Terps will play next week in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament Saturday. Two other ACC teams are currently ranked in the Top 14. The ACC has won 13 national soccer championships in the last 30 years. National power Indiana has seven overall titles, but the Big Ten is not as strong top to bottom as the ACC in soccer. 

In lacrosse, Maryland made it to the NCAA finals each of the last two seasons. Three other ACC teams finished ranked among the Top 11 teams in the country in the 2012 year-end poll. 

The Terps have appeared in the NCAA title game 11 times, winning twice, and ACC teams have won 12 national titles in the last 40 years.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten doesn’t have a lacrosse league. Ohio State and Michigan play in the ECAC, while Penn State participates in the CAA. So the move presents some serious challenges for Maryland’s lacrosse and soccer teams. Maryland may opt to become an independent in lacrosse. 

One sport the Big Ten dominates is wrestling. Incredibly, the conference has five of the top six teams in the country, according to the latest poll, and nine teams in the Top 25. Maryland comes in at No. 16, while two other ACC schools made the most recent poll. 

Big Ten vs. ACC 

The Big Ten excels in overall NCAA championships.

Penn State is tied for sixth in the country with 41 total titles, although the majority of them came before the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten. Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa also make the top 17. But Maryland ties Iowa with 25 championships, better than eight Big Ten teams. North Carolina was the only other ACC school to make the top 17, ranking ninth in the country with 38 overall titles. 

The Capital One Cup recognizes the best college sports programs each year based on final standings of NCAA Championships and final coaches' polls. In the current standings, the Big Ten and ACC each have one team in the top 10 for men’s sports (Wisconsin and Florida State), and two teams in the top 10 for women’s sports (Michigan, Penn State, Florida State and North Carolina).

Maryland is tied for 11th in the women’s standings; the men’s standings don’t go beyond 10. 

The Director’s Cup, another ratings system that scores colleges on their complete athletic performance, shows that over the last two decades, the Big Ten has a very slight edge over the ACC. Since 1993-94, Big Ten schools made the Top 10 a total of 32 times, while ACC schools qualified for the Top 10 28 times. 

Statistics don’t tell the whole story, but they are one measure to compare teams and leagues. Big Ten and ACC basketball is about even, though it will be odd and sad for Maryland to leave the ACC for the Big Ten.

In basketball, Maryland is a notch below Duke and North Carolina, much like Iowa and Wisconsin are a notch below Ohio State and Michigan in football. Football is better in the Big Ten than the ACC, though not by as much as people think. Maryland football will be in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, much like it is in the ACC.  

Nobody knows how this will turn out. There will be growing pains. The move will most likely affect the non-revenue sports the most, for teams that have to drive to games instead of fly. Fans and family who are used to driving to games will also be negatively impacted.

The two conferences are very similar overall athletically and academically. While the gap between the Big Ten and the ACC in football is smaller than most people think, perception sometimes becomes reality, and the big money from the Big Ten in football has the potential to ultimately improve Maryland’s sports if the athletic department manages it correctly.

To be a success, Maryland will have to continue to schedule as many ACC teams as possible so that rivalries are continued not only in the major sports, but the non-revenue sports as well.