The Washington Times - July 24, 2008, 06:06PM

Do you believe in conspiracy theories? If so, and if you’re a Maryland fan (though those two traits often tend to overlap), a one big concern on your mind is the Terrapins‘ football series against Duke.

That is to say, its conspicuous absence from the schedule.

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Maryland didn’t play Duke last year. Or the year before that. Or the year before that. They won’t play this year either.

It could be a scheduling quirk – one of two such pairings of teams that won’t come up between 2005 and 2008. The other is Florida State-North Carolina. It could be something more sinister, if you’re inclined to indulge your paranoid side.

Coach Ralph Friedgen seemed eager to do so Monday at the ACC Kickoff, an event during which he grumbled about reporters writing what they saw at his practices and mused off and on about the limited coverage his team receives in the Potomac and Patapsco river drainage basins. (More on those comments tomorrow).

But the Duke stuff was amusing enough to warrant an entry all its own. Here’s Ralph’s initial comments on the subject:

I don’t play Duke until 2010, and by then David [Cutcliffe] will have them as national contenders. Like Rutgers, right? I get Rutgers last year, they’re ranked eighth. I want to know how come I get that? I played Virginia Tech three times. I haven’t played Duke once. I want to know how that one’s going around.

Oh, where to begin with a little polishing of this gem? For the record, Rutgers was No. 10 when Maryland won in Piscataway last year, but that’s a minor detail.

In a linear sense, Maryland will indeed play Virginia Tech three times (2004, 2005 and 2008) between games against Duke (2004 and 2009). Heck, if the schedule breaks a certain way, it could be four since Virginia Tech comes to College Park in 2009. But there’s only two years in between games against Duke that the Terps were stuck with a game against the Hokies.

You might notice the “2009” part instead of “2010.” Ralph returned to this subject later in the session, and I pointed out Duke was indeed finally back on the schedule in ‘09.

“David will have them as national contenders by then,” Friedgen replied.

And just like that, Duke’s rebuilding plans accelerated by a year.

Ultimately, the thing that led to this unusual drought (and it is plenty unusual since Maryland would have been in fine shape to make a bowl game in 2005 if it drew Duke rather than Virginia Tech) is the actual years of the schedule model linked above. It runs from 2006 to 2015, which means in the first year the ACC had 12 teams, it came up with its schedule another way.

That’s the magic variable. If this schedule model was in place when expansion was consummated, there would have been a three-year wait rather than a four-year wait and wouldn’t seem quite so ridiculous.

Here are, by the way, the way the five Coastal Division opponents not named Virginia (which is the crossover rival played every year) rotate on and off Maryland’s schedule between 2006 and 2015, with games at Byrd Stadium in bold:

Duke: 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015

Georgia Tech: 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012

Miami: 2006, 2010, 2011, 2015

North Carolina: 2007, 2008, 2012, 2013

Virginia Tech: 2008, 2009, 2013, 2014

So what all that means is that things will even out over time – except for that 2005 season.

Friedgen’s complaints – and by extension, those of Maryland fans – are valid for that one year, when replacing Virginia Tech with Duke might have netted a bowl berth. That’s the only team that’s true of, since the Terps beat their other two Coastal Division opponents (North Carolina and Virginia) that season.

And maybe, just maybe, that will help solve one of life’s great mysteries.

 – Patrick Stevens