It would have been a disaster that Maryland's football program is all too familiar with.
Had the Terrapins lost to William & Mary on Saturday it would have had more of an impact than just on Maryland's season; it would have served as a huge hurdle for its recruiters.
The upset certainly could have happened. The Terps needed a fourth quarter touchdown to beat the FCS Tribe, which registered more first downs, 15 to 13, than its BCS foe.
That surely had prospects thinking of last year when the Terps lost to another lowly opponent, Temple, at home 38-7. That loss came just two weeks after Maryland beat Miami 32-24 on national television and was on top of the world in recruiting. Nearby prospects were licking their chops at the chance to play for the nearby state school while being able to compete with more tradition-rich programs at the same time.
Then, Temple brought the party crashing down. What exact effect the loss and the 2-10 record had on recruiting is not completely known. Yet one highly rated prospect told ESPN last year on condition of anonymity that the mounting losses played a strong factor in his recruitment. He signed elsewhere.
Still, the Terps responded well in recruiting with a respectable 2012 class highlighted by the top prospect in Maryland, receiver Stefon Diggs from Olney (Md.) Good Counsel, and a handful of other local standouts.
It seems the program stands at a crossroad in head coach Randy Edsall's second-year. As long as Edsall's team can be respectable on the field, one would think the Terps would recruit well, especially with offensive coordinator Mike Locksley on the staff. The former Maryland coach is known for his recruiting prowess, but how many losses can he overcome?
So far, Edsall, Locksley and their fellow recruiters are doing pretty well. The Terps have 20 commitments. Of those 20, 16 are from nearby New England states. There's reason to think it could get even better. Maryland has a strong foothold in the three most talented, nearby schools.
The Terps have four current commitments from Washington (D.C.) Friendship, one from Baltimore (Md.) Gilman and three 2012 commitments from Olney (Md.) Good Counsel. Moreover, Locksley's son, Kai Locksley, is a sophomore quarterback and receiver at Gilman. That should certainly help the Terps recruit there. The younger Locksley reportedly received a scholarship offer from his dad's team this weekend.
All that works in Maryland's favor, but not as much as winning. Freshman defensive lineman Rahshaun “Shaq” Smith was at the game this weekend, surely considering the scholarship offer he holds from the 'Terps as they struggled to victory.
“For them it was very important, for it being their first game,” Smith said. “You always want to start out your season with a win. Also, playing at home in front of thousands that support Maryland football, it was important for them to come out on top.”
Gilman junior linebacker Melvin Keihn agreed. With nearly a dozen scholarship offers, including one from Maryland, his opinion matters.
“I think it was very important for them to get a 'W' and I think they are going to build up on that as a team,” said Keihn, who was also in attendance for the game.
Winning is the next step, which should lead to a better home-field advantage. There were boos throughout the stadium as the Terps struggled in front of an announced crowd of 31,321, which was the smallest-announced crowd for a Maryland season-opener since 1997. Still, prospects on hand didn't seem to mind.
“The experience was pretty good as usual,” Keihn said.
When asked of the environment, Smith added, “Really good game. I like Maryland as a school. I like their football program. I like there facilities and coaching staff.”
Clearly, losses have had a limited impact on local prospects' opinions of the Terps. How long can that last? Like an upset to William & Mary or Temple, recruiters in College Park don't want to find out.