CHARLOTTESVILLE --- The question was a harmless one late this week, the sort Ralph Friedgen usually entertains with some curious tale from his long coaching career.
The nugget was simple: With Virginia coach Mike London less than a year into his gig, had his counterpart at Maryland run into him more often than predecessor Al Groh on the recruiting trail.
Friedgen praised London as a recruiter and paused for a moment.
"There's guys that are meant to go to Virginia," Friedgen said. "And there's guys that are meant to go to Maryland."
And there are some teams that are friendly rivals and some teams ... well, that are not-so-friendly.
Friedgen respects Navy, the only other I-A program in Maryland. He has a long-standing friendship with Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. He advocated the renewal of a series with West Virginia.
But Virginia is not high on the list of schools he has an affinity for.
So as Maryland boarded its buses for a ride back to College Park with a 42-23 victory in hand, the business trip --- the Terrapins' second road victory in less than a month --- carried great significance.
The Terps (7-3, 4-2 ACC) clinched a winning season and at least a .500 record in the ACC. But they also snapped a three-game skid against the Cavaliers (4-6, 1-5) and put the finishing touches on Virginia's exclusion from the postseason for a third consecutive year.
"Losing three years in a row is not good, and I wanted this one real bad," Friedgen said. "I think the kids knew it. I've been on 'em all week. I'm just very thankful to them for playing as well as they did."
At his weekly press conference, Friedgen casually observed Virginia was doing some things similarly to the way Maryland had for years. At least it seemed casual.
Except it wasn't.
A few days later, after Friedgen explained the difference between those bound for College Park and those destined for four years, he noted how Virginia unveiled a summer television series on a local cable sports network, letting the point linger before moving on.
The implication was left unspoken, but the disdain was left hanging. And to be sure, his players heard such thoughts, too.
"Oh, yeah," linebacker Alex Wujciak said. "He definitely expressed his dislike of Virginia a lot this week. It just added to the fire."
Don't think this is a personal affront toward London. It isn't. Friedgen always savored getting the better of Groh, and ugly losses in 2002, 2004 and 2008 in Charlottesville gnawed at him. Home losses in 2007 and 2009 stung even more.
Friedgen reviewed the film of the '09 loss this week, the images nightmarish more than a year later. It all called to mind a comment from a Terp from the not-too-distant past about Friedgen's feelings for the Cavaliers.
“Man, you’d think we were playing USC,” former Maryland safety Christian Varner said back in 2007. “He’d be serious. When we come to play Virginia, he’s serious. He’s very, very serious. You’d think they were No. 1 in the country. ‘We’d better beat them, we better do this.’”
(As background, I talked to Varner about Maryland's top rivals in the week leading into the annual Virginia game with the understanding the story wasn't running for weeks. When I asked if the pending Virginia contest had anything to do with the answer, Varner gave me a "are-you-serious?" glance).
Ultimately, the Terps left with their prize, a victory that continued a bit of a revenge tour. Duke, Boston College, Wake Forest and Virginia all dealt Maryland losses last year. The Terps have returned the favor this season.
"I think all week, people were talking about payback," defensive tackle Joe Vellano said. "They beat us last year, and we've beaten everybody so far that beat us last year. And as a D-line, the word respect, we're trying to get a win for every letter, so we got the 'T' today."
That goes beyond this week. Maryland's unexpected season took another step forward, and the Terps managed to stay in the Atlantic Division race for yet another week. Maryland's margin for error is basically shot --- barring an unusual three-way tie that can't be broken without resorting to BCS standings or a blind draw, the Terps have to win out to claim the division and a trip to Charlotte.
No one saw that coming. The defeat of Virginia was different; Maryland dispatched yet another team it was better on paper than on Saturday.
Nonetheless, the skid against the Cavaliers is done, and Maryland's hopes are just beginning. Florida State awaits in prime time next week, and after that N.C. State will roll into Byrd as well.
Victories over both would be satisfying, though maybe not in quite the same way as winning at Virginia. There were no fuzzy feelings for Friedgen, just the pleasant sense of knowing a long-time foe was vanquished for a change.
"It is meaningful," Friedgen said. "Here we are with two weeks to go in the season and we have a shot to win our division. We were picked last in our division preseason by all the experts, you people. That in itself is an accomplishment, but we're not looking to stop there. We have a huge game this week, coming home, hopefully have people come out and support us. Shouldn't get any better than what it's going to be. Who knows what will happen."