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October 4, 2013

Beyond the Field: Florida State vs. Maryland

MORE: Mind of Mike: Too soon to fire Brown

Even the slow and steady tortoise of Aesop's Fables needed a few breaks to defeat the heavily favored hare.

History has shown that eighth-ranked Florida State has the advantage against No. 25 Maryland, winning 21 of 23 contests between the two teams. But more importantly the Seminoles have been able to spot-recruit elite prospects out of the DMV -- or the District, Maryland, and Virginia.

As the Terrapins travel to Tallahassee to take on the Seminoles, the pressure is on the shelled reptiles to stem both tides.

Randy Edsall understands that the program has an opportunity to prove it is one on the rise as well as show top-tier players from the DMV that they do not have to leave home to be a part of a conference championship-caliber team.

Being off to an undefeated start has helped spread that message, but showing well against the Seminoles would be a major launching point.

"It was great to be 4-0 and go out recruiting," Edsall said. "There was a better reception to us being out there and people taking notice. I also think that it even ramped up a little bit after West Virginia beat Oklahoma State (last) weekend.

"People see what we've done so far this year, and now all we have to do is go out and play and continue to get better each and every day. If we do that, people will take more notice."

Coaches cannot talk specifically about prospects, but the message from Edsall was clearly sent to those in the local market.

"I've always been very fond of the players from the DMV," he said. "Where I was previously [coaching at Connecticut], we had quite a few players from this area who came and played well and contributed to a whole lot of the success that we had.

"I think people recognize the talent that's in this area, and again you're never going to keep everybody at home because some players want to get away from home. Some want to stay, but you do your best to keep those guys that have the academics, have the athletic ability, and have the character and work ethic that you're looking for."

Week Six of the college football season is when the slate of non-conference games nearly dries up as jockeying for position begins. Of the five BCS automatic-qualifying conferences only Alabama, Boston College and Virginia will play opponents not within their conference as they face Georgia State, Army and Ball State, respectively. With the recruiting focus on No. 25 Maryland at No. 8 Florida State, the other two top-25 battles shift to the background as the opponents rarely battle for prospects. In the Big Ten, No. 4 Ohio State will travel to No. 16 Northwestern for a primetime national showcase game, and in the Pac-12, No. 15 Washington closes the action for the day against No. 5 Stanford in Northern California.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell weighs in on both games and says that the two favorites need to hold serve while upstart programs are hoping to steal some attention and gain momentum off the field.

"Ohio State and Northwestern rarely go head-to-head for players because the Wildcats have to go around and spot-recruit smart kids that play football," Farrell said. "This is still a next-level opportunity for Northwestern, and staying close or winning would be huge. Honestly even the upset-alert cutaways are attention grabbers.

"I thought Ohio State was just going to blow the doors of Wisconsin -- and it started that way before Wisconsin fought back -- and I think that Ohio State will need to be focused for the whole game because Northwestern is improved. It just needs to win though. That isn't because it is going to lose kids to Northwestern, but it would lose them to other major programs if it loses this one."

Stanford is another program that must recruit around academics but it has been successful in football for a longer period of time.

Washington is an upstart on the West Coast -- potentially rebounding to past glory under Steve Sarkisian. Farrell believes that with the disaster situation at USC, this game presents a lot of opportunity for the Huskies.

"Washington has done an amazing job on the field and in recruiting under Sark, and beating Stanford in back-to-back seasons would be a major statement," Farrell said. "The program has been able to get into Southern California anyway, but with [Lane] Kiffin being fired and an uncertain future there, this is a chance to really get some impact players headed north.

"Stanford -- like Northwestern -- is going to have to get a different kid to go there and I don't know how much the two cross over. The Cardinal just need to keep banging the drum and David Shaw certainly knows the beat. Getting to 10 or 11 wins, competing for conference titles and BCS Bowls will keep the recruiting on the right track."

In recent years Florida State has not only acknowledged the talent, it has been able to mine it out.

The Class of 2012 produced five-star defensive tackle Eddie Goldman from Washington (D.C) Friendship Collegiate as well as four-star defensive back Ronald Darby of Oxon Hill (Md.) Potomac.

Last season four-star linebacker E.J. Levenberry left Woodbridge (Va.) C.D. Hylton for Florida State.

Currently the only player from 2014 to commit to the Seminoles from the area is Middletown (Md.) High defensive end Rick Leonard. The three-star was between Clemson and Florida State although he gave Maryland strong consideration early in the process.

Maryland has had more success in recruiting than on the field against the Seminoles as it was able to keep a pair of four-stars local in the last class. Friendship Collegiate teammates Derwin Gray and Yannick Ngakoue both signed with the Terrapins.

Edsall also dipped into Florida and pulled Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Central four-star defensive back Will Likely in 2013.

According to Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell, the frequency in which the two overlap on offer lists has turned this game into an unexpected recruiting battle.

"They do recruit the same guys," he said. "Odell Haggins is tasked with recruiting up there for Florida State, and he does a great job in identifying players and building relationships.

"Maryland has been spot-recruiting in Florida, but it is more important that it starts pushing Florida State back from coming into its backyard. Keeping (five-star athlete) Stefon Diggs -- who was probably the best playmaker maybe ever from the area -- from leaving and then showcasing his talents is going a long way toward keeping other guys interested in Maryland. And staying close or beating Florida State would be a major victory for them."

The last two games have not gone the way of Maryland on the field as the finals of 41-14 and 41-16.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said that those games are in the past and that this is a vastly different and much improved opponent.

"Maryland, as you see, is a very good team," he said. "In every conference standing, they're one or two in every statistical category across the board; playing very good football.

"(They have) very dynamic players on offense -- quarterback C.J. Brown is playing lights out. Diggs is a great player -- he's catching balls everywhere. Their back, (Brandon) Ross is way up there and does a good job. They are a very good team."

Florida State will be hosting a moderate recruiting weekend to open October with its most high-profile official visitor being Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway safety Montae Nicholson.

Nicholson is the No. 126 prospect in the Rivals250 presented by Under Armour and will be joined by several Seminole verbal pledges such as running back Jonathan Vickers, linebacker Jacob Pugh, receiver Markell Pack, defensive back Trey Marshall and defensive end Blake McClain -- among others.

Two five-star prospects may also have eyes on the outcome.

Forestville (Md.) Bishop McNamara offensive tackle Damian Prince has both teams in his latest top 10 list and says both have a very realistic chance of landing his services.

Friendship Collegiate cornerback Jalen Tabor is the No. 20 player nationally and has Maryland in his top four. He is not considering Florida State but is looking at heading south as Florida is among his finalists.

Farrell said a strong showing by Maryland is imperative.

"This was a make or break season for Edsall and I think that with a healthy roster there is finally something positive happening there," Farrell said. "They need to stay close to Florida State to really make people believe in the brand because wins over Florida International, Old Dominion, Connecticut, and West Virginia aren't exactly statement-makers.

"If Florida State comes out and thumps them again, it is not good for them -- obviously -- and will again get kids thinking that they need to leave home if they want to win."

Edsall understands the task at hand and thinks it will take a strong defensive effort to win the game and contain FSU redshirt freshman quarterback, Jameis Winston.

"When you look at him physically, he looks a little bit like E.J. Manuel in terms of his body type," Edsall said. "His is just a very good player. He is strong and a big guy. He is tough to bring down and has got good escape ability."

The Maryland defensive unit is second in the nation with 17 sacks and is third in scoring defense. It is led by Marcus Whitfield and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil.

Fisher said that the linebackers are a focal point for his team's preparation.

"Defensively, Whitfield has five or six sacks and six or seven tackles for loss," Fisher said. "(They are) doing a lot of different thing with coverages and blitz packages -- playing great football."

The baseline measurement will still be the final score, and Edsall hopes that it reads favorably to recruits as he continues to push for marked improvement.

"I think we've gotten faster and more athletic in two years," he said. "Again, what we've got to do is make sure we go down there and get everybody to do their job and get everybody to play with a high level of confidence and play hard. If you do that, then you got a chance to go and win."

Dallas Jackson is the national columnist for Rivals.com. You can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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