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A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

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Maryland’s Looking for the Old Locksley

The details of Mike Locksley’s tenure as the head coach at New Mexico seem ripped from the headlines of The National Enquirer. He punched an assistant coach. Was accused of age discrimination and sexual harassment. Had a recruit cited for D.U.I. while driving a car registered in his name. Lost games at a record clip. Enquiring minds wanted to know: What would Locksley do next?

He’s back in a role more suited for his demeanor and coaching approach as the offensive coordinator at Maryland. Instead of standing front and center as the face of a program – a role that he was utterly unprepared to hold – Locksley can take a backseat behind Randy Edsall, that lightning rod of coast-to-coast criticism.

This will give Locksley room to breathe, and Maryland should be the better for it. He’s returning to his comfort zone as a chief lieutenant, not as a general; with pressure off, Locksley can help the Terps sweep up the mess that was last season’s offense.

Locksley will play a large role in Maryland’s quest for a post-2011 resurgence. Part of this lies in his abilities as a recruiter: Locksley dominated the Mid-Atlantic region as an assistant at Florida and Illinois, helping the latter edge out Maryland – among others – for prospects like Arrelious Benn, Vontae Davis, Eddie McGee and Reggie Ellis.

He’s off to a fine start on the recruiting trail as part of Edsall’s staff, though the fireworks are yet to come. Two months ago, Locksley helped the Terps land Baltimore product Shane Cockerville, the 15th-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the country, according to Rivals.com.

More recruits will show Maryland some love once – or if – the Terps start playing a better brand of football. For now, the program’s in a bit of a holding pattern with the sort of regional prospects bound to receive attention from the rest of the A.C.C., let alone a select few programs from the SEC and the Big Ten. Edsall is counting on Locksley to open doors that would otherwise be closed to his retooling program.

But make no mistake: Locksley’s biggest impact, whether positive or negative, lies in his ability to rebuild last year’s inconsistent offensive attack. It’s not a stretch to say that Maryland’s play on offense will decide Edsall’s fate – not to discount the importance of Locksley’s counterpart, new defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, who will implement a 3-4 set in 2012.

So what is Locksley as an offensive coordinator? Proven, that’s what, and proven in the way that matters most: While at Illinois, Locksley remade a dismal offense into one of the Big Ten’s best. This experience will come in handy in College Park.

The Illini made great strides offensively over Locksley’s four seasons with the program, from 2005-8 – the yearly progression, the clear and steady improvement, is what first made Locksley a candidate for the spot at New Mexico. The numbers: Illinois averaged 17.0 points in 2005, 19.6 points in 2006, 27.8 points in 2007 and 28.7 points in 2008.

The Illini averaged 354.6 yards per game in 2005; by 2008, they were averaging 438.8 yards per game. The Illini could run from the start, but became more balanced over Locksley’s last two seasons. Illinois threw for 269.3 yards and ran for 169.5 yards per game in 2008.

This is music to Edsall’s ears. And as at Illinois, Locksley’s first offense is going to be more slanted towards the run than the pass. For now, it’s impossible to view junior quarterback C.J. Brown as anything but one of the worst passing quarterbacks currently starting on the B.C.S. conference level. But Brown can run – his 574 yards rushing last fall was the most by a Maryland quarterback in school history.

The offense will be geared towards running the football, if only because the Terps don’t have any other choice. Brown, Maryland’s only real option under center, will be utterly useless if forced to throw in order to keep Maryland in games. The Terps must run, because they have no other choice.

Even Locksley has admitted that the Terps’ offense remains a work in progress. “We got a lot of work to do,” he told The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer in April. That they do: Maryland lacks explosiveness at receiver, unless Stefon Diggs can immediate impact, and must find a go-to running back and a pair of starting offensive tackles.

Yet Locksley has been here before. It didn’t go well at New Mexico, perhaps due to his inability to handle the C.E.O. aspects of being a head coach. But Locksley handled a similar situation at Illinois with aplomb, both as a coordinator and a recruiter. Maryland’s looking for that Locksley, the one who blossomed as a lead assistant before crashing and burning in legendary fashion with the Lobos.

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