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The Countdown

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

The Countdown

No. 69: Maryland

Thanks for the memories. And the wins. Maryland bid adieu to Ralph Friedgen after 10 years, 75 wins, seven bowl bids and the finest single-season turnaround in program history, turning the reins over to former Connecticut coach Randy Edsall, the architect of that program’s rise from the F.C.S. to the top of the Big East. It’s a fairly even trade on paper. But aren’t programs supposed to upgrade, not trade apples for apples? Maryland was clearly entranced by Connecticut’s Fiesta Bowl run last fall, as were others. But sticking with the fruit theme, comparing the Big East to the A.C.C. is like comparing apples to oranges: the A.C.C. is not the SEC, but Edsall will miss Rutgers, Syracuse and Louisville when his Terrapins meet Georgia Tech, Clemson and Florida State over a three-week span in October.

Conference
Atlantic Coast, Atlantic

Location
College Park, Md.

Nickname
Terrapins

Returning starters
13 (6 offense, 7 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 74

2010 record
(9-4, 5-3)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 25

2011 schedule

  • Sept. 5
    Miami (Fla.)
  • Sept. 17
    West Virginia
  • Sept. 24
    Temple
  • Oct. 1
    Towson
  • Oct. 8
    at Georgia Tech
  • Oct. 15
    Clemson
  • Oct. 22
    at Florida St.
  • Oct. 29
    Boston College
  • Nov. 5
    Virginia
  • Nov. 12
    Notre Dame (in Landover, Md.)
  • Nov. 19
    at Wake Forest
  • Nov. 26
    at N.C. St.

Last year’s prediction

Here’s some more good news: after being decimated by graduation heading into last season — to the tune of only slightly more than a dozen returning lettermen — Maryland brings back most of last season’s contributors.The defensive line will have a new look, as will the secondary. Much depends on the development of last year’s true and redshirt freshmen, as Maryland currently has only nine seniors on its two-deep. This is a far better team, a hungry team, and one very capable of making a four-win improvement on last year’s mark and returning to bowl play. Let’s see if the Terps can send Friedgen out in style.

2010 recap

In a nutshell Only Miami (Ohio) had a finer one-year turnaround from 2009 to 2010. The RedHawks added nine wins, going from 1-11 to 10-4, while the Terrapins added seven, going from the bottom of the A.C.C. at 2-10 to nationally ranked at 9-4, 5-3 in conference play. So what happened? Quite simply, it was as if the team grew up overnight: decimated by graduation and attrition heading into the 2009 season, a young group turned a year full of struggles into the sort of experience needed to challenge for conference championships. And the Terrapins were very close to taking home the Atlantic crown, losing out to Florida State by a single game. Where did we see the most improvement? No one group stood out more than another; on offense, defense, special teams, forcing turnovers, what have you, Maryland was substantially improved. Yet it wasn’t enough to save Friedgen’s job, unfortunately.

High point A 38-31 win over N.C. State to end the regular season. That might double as Florida State’s high point of the year: the win gave F.S.U. the division title. N.C. State held a 14-0 advantage with 13 minutes left in the second quarter; 37 minutes later, it was 38-17, all Terrapins. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of a win over Navy in the season opener. Maryland, which won thanks to a late goal line stand, really needed a shot of confidence.

Low point A 30-16 loss to Florida State. Maryland’s lone home defeat of the season, it prevented Maryland from winning the Atlantic. The Terrapins were in the driver’s seat at that point, sitting at 7-3, 4-2 in the A.C.C., and with games against the Seminoles and Wolfpack on the docket. Maryland also laid an egg against Clemson, allowing 31 points to one of the A.C.C.’s most offensively-challenged teams.

Tidbit The streak continues. Maryland has not had a punt blocked since Nov. 13, 1999, a span of 137 games. It’s the longest such streak in the country. Just as a comparison, Ray Rychelski’s superb seven-year stint in College Park as Maryland’s special teams coach, from 2001-7, saw the Terrapins block 22 kicks, returning eight for scores.

Tidbit (turnovers edition) There are a few constants found on teams that make sizable one-year turnarounds, as Maryland did a year ago. Most such teams typically struggle behind a young roster in one year only to have that same roster, a year older and more experienced, propel a strong lift in the win column. Such was the case at Maryland. Another near constant: a reversal of fortune in turnover margin. The Terrapins ranked 97th nationally in that regard in 2009 at minus-nine; that changed to plus-15 last fall, tied for fourth nationally. It gets better: opponents turned Maryland’s 14 turnovers into only 20 points, which is absolutely amazing, while Maryland turned its 29 takeaways into 100 points.

Tidbit (100-word preview edition) It’s that time again. Here’s how it works: I give you a quiz question; you become the first person to answer the question; you win the opportunity to pen a 100-word preview of your favorite team when it appears on the Countdown. Get it? Good. Here’s the question:

Maryland replaced Ralph Friedgen after he won nine games in 2010. That makes the Terrapins one of 19 B.C.S. conference programs since the end of the 2002 season to have undergone a coaching change – whether due to firing, a coach who took a job elsewhere or otherwise – after winning nine or more games in a season. Can you name at least 16 other B.C.S. conference programs that have made a coaching move between 2002-2011 after winning at least nine games in the prior season?

Teams already spoken for: California (Katster), Iowa (M Meyer), Mississippi (Flint Foster), Northwestern (NUwildcat09), Oregon (Eskynyt), Pittsburgh (htp2012), Texas (Burnt Orange), Washington (Dr. Klahn).

Former players in the N.F.L.

34 RB Lance Ball (Denver), CB Kevin Barnes (Washington), LB Eric Barton (Cleveland), OT Bruce Campbell (Oakland), CB Nolan Carroll (Miami), LS Jon Condo (Oakland), OG Phil Costa (Dallas), TE Vernon Davis (San Francisco), FB Jeff Dugan (Minnesota), LB Moise Fokou (Philadelphia), CB Domonique Foxworth (Baltimore), OT Jared Gaither (Baltimore), TE Dan Gronkowski (Denver), TE Joey Haynos (Miami), LB E.J. Henderson (Minnesota), LB Erin Henderson (Minnesota), OT Stephon Heyer (Washington), WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (Oakland), QB Shaun Hill (Detroit), DT Travis Ivey (Cleveland), LB D’Qwell Jackson (Cleveland), LB Shawne Merriman (Buffalo), DE Jeremy Navarre (Arizona), K Nick Novak (New York Jets), P Adam Podlesh (Jacksonville), RB Da’Rel Scott (New York Giants), WR Torrey Smith (Baltimore), DE Randy Starks (Miami), OG Jaimie Thomas (Indianapolis), C Edwin Williams (Chicago), WR Isaiah Williams (Arizona), S Madieu Williams (Minnesota), CB Josh Wilson (Baltimore).

Arbitrary top five list

Players in Maryland men’s basketball history
1. SF Len Bias (1983-86).
2. SG Juan Dixon (1999-2002).
3. C Len Elmore (1972-74).
4. PG John Lucas (1973-76).
5. PF Tom McMillen (1972-74).

Coaching

Randy Edsall (’80 Syracuse), entering his first season. Edsall went 74-70 over 12 years at Connecticut, leading the Huskies to last year’s Fiesta Bowl thanks to the program’s first Big East title. Time in Storrs flew by for Edsall, who oversaw Connecticut’s transition from the F.C.S. in 2000 and led the program through Independent status (2000-3) into the Big East (beginning in 2004). His first two teams on the F.B.S. level, from 2000-1, were the main contributors to his sub-.500 record; his Huskies went a combined 5-17. However, the 2002 team – the first UConn team to field a full roster of 85 scholarship players – finished 6-6, the program’s best mark since winning 10 games under current South Florida coach Skip Holtz in 1998. The strong finish carried over to recent Huskies teams: UConn finished 9-3 in 2003, its final season as an Independent, and has won at least eight games five times as a member of the Big East. Edsall’s F.B.S. coaching experience includes stints at Syracuse (1980-90), Boston College (1991-93) and Georgia Tech (1998). With the Orange, Edsall coached the running backs (1983-4, 1986), the tight ends (1985) and the defensive backs (1987-90); this experience made him a logical choice to replace Greg Robinson in late 2008, but Edsall removed his name from consideration. It was only logical that Edsall’s name would continue to be bandied about for mid-level B.C.S. conference openings along the East Coast, especially after last season’s success. Edsall found an attractive partner in Maryland, a program with more potential than Connecticut — but one with a far tougher hill to climb in order to land a B.C.S. berth.

Tidbit (coaching edition) Edsall retained two of Friedgen’s assistants: offensive line coach Tom Brattan, who enters his 11th season with the program, and wide receivers coach Lee Hull, entering his fourth. Edsall did not bring his defensive coordinator at Connecticut, Todd Orlando, along for the ride, opting instead for former Southern Mississippi coordinator Todd Bradford. His groups in Hattiesburg were always good at forcing turnovers, but really took a step forward last fall against the run. We are all familiar with Gary Crowton, whom Edsall pried away – or something along those lines – from L.S.U.; if all goes according to history, Crowton’s offense will be spectacular over his first year or two before taking a disappointing nosedive.

Players to watch

Some quarterbacks pad their statistics by turning in a dominant stretch during non-conference play. Pshaw, says sophomore quarterback Danny O’Brien: his numbers are all legitimate, minus some garbage works against Morgan State. O’Brien languished in a reserve role through Maryland’s first three games, playing behind then-starter Jamarr Robinson, but Robinson’s inconsistent play opened the door for O’Brien to put together one of the best rookie campaigns by a quarterback in A.C.C. history. Somewhat unexpectedly, I might add. Yes, O’Brien was lavished with praise during the spring and fall, but most assumed that his time was coming – that he would play but not factor heavily into Maryland’s fortunes in 2010.

Not quite, and I stand corrected. O’Brien was the primary factor behind this team’s resurgence: he threw for 2,438 yards and 22 scores with only 8 interceptions in 337 attempts, providing balance to an offense that had been far too reliant on the running game to shoulder the load. What can O’Brien do in 2011? He must find a new favorite target – make that two new favorite targets – but his presence alone leads me to believe Maryland will continue to make defenses take note of both the running and the passing game. The Terrapins can finally feel secure with their situation at quarterback, not just in 2011 but for the foreseeable future. That must feel good.

One thing Edsall won’t alter is Maryland’s fixation on getting it done on the ground. We saw this at Connecticut: Edsall’s teams offset sub par quarterback play with prolific back after prolific back, annually putting one ball-carrier among the nation’s leading rushers. Edsall would have loved to work with last year’s group, which included Da’Rel Scott, Devin Meggett and D.J. Adams. Scott is gone, taking his 708 yards rushing with him, so Meggett and Adams take center stage. They’ll make a fine pair: Meggett (team-best 720 yards) seems the more likely to break the big play, while Adams (239 yards, 11 scores) is a terrific short-yardage and goal line back. What if one – or both – go down to injury? As at quarterback, you don’t want to think about the possibility. There’s precious little game experience behind Meggett and Adams, so the Terrapins would need to find production from a redshirt freshman like Jeremiah Wilson or from little-used reserves like Desmond Haynes and Kwabena Ofori.

The offensive line brings back five players with solid starting experience, but one of the five, junior Justin Gilbert, tore his A.C.L. early in the spring and might miss most of the upcoming season. That’s another tough blow for Gilbert, who suffered the same injury in last September’s game against West Virginia and missed the rest of the year. His setback opens the door for sophomore Max Garcia to step in at left tackle: Garcia burned his redshirt for less than 20 plays against Florida State, which the Terrapins might regret down the road. The rest of the line will go according to plan. From left to right, as was the case a year ago: senior Andrew Gonnella, sophomore Bennett Fulper, junior Justin Lewis and junior R.J. Dill.

There will be changes defensively, from a new look to new names to new faces at new positions, which should lead to some growing pains for this defense. Bradford will be aggressive, much as he was with the Golden Eagles, which should bode well for a group that was about average in getting to the quarterback in 2010. But Bradford will need to temper some of that aggressiveness as he rebuilds part of his secondary.

Both starting safeties must be replaced, though one isn’t going far. Kenny Tate, who was a star at safety last fall, moves down to linebacker to fill a sort of hybrid role, one he’ll fill with ease. Tate has the skill set – the size and athletic ability – to be even better in this new spot, one that will ask him to play the run and the pass in equal measure. But his move, as well as the graduation of Antwine Perez, leaves Maryland in the hunt for two new starters. Who the starters will be really isn’t in doubt: it’ll be sophomore Matt Franklin and junior Eric Franklin, neither of whom lack for ability. But they are first-year starters, albeit first-year starters with some significant experience, so the Terrapins may suffer a bit of a drop-off.

It’ll be roughly the status quo at cornerback. Senior Cameron Chism, an all-conference candidate, brings a team-best 23 consecutive starts into the fall. He’ll be joined by another senior, Trenton Hughes, who received plenty of attention from opposing quarterbacks due to Chism’s status on the opposite side. But Hughes might not retain his starting role, should sophomore Dexter McDougle’s strong spring be any indication. Hughes would then fall into a key reserve role as the team’s third cornerback; with this new system, he’ll see plenty of action.

Tate headlines a linebacker corps that was leveled by graduation: the Terrapins lost Alex Wujciak in the middle and Adrian Moten on the strong side, two large figures whose production will be hard to replace. Maryland will try its best, however, and having Tate on the second level will help matters immensely. Junior Demetrius Hartsfield (88 tackles, 6.5 for loss) will move from the weak side to the middle, where he should put up some big numbers. The Terrapins have high hopes for another junior, Darin Drakeford (36 tackles), who impressed in a reserve role in 2010 – he’ll take over for Hartsfield on the weak side.

Sophomore David Mackall is one of the most intriguing prospects on this team: he had an immediate impact as a first-year lineman last fall, making 18 tackles, 3 sacks and an interception. He’ll be Maryland’s rush end in this new alignment, which will place Mackall in a position to be an enormous difference-maker for the defense as a whole – as the pass rush goes, so goes much of the defense. But Mackall does lack the bulk to factor heavily against the run, which is a concern. Isaiah Ross will see plenty of time at end, as will redshirt freshman Clarence Murphy; he was somewhat of a surprise starter at end coming out of the spring.

Murphy is actually one of three young linemen due to start in 2011 – a second is Mackall. The third is tackle Andre Monroe, who moved ahead of converted end Justin Anderson (22 tackles, 2 sacks) to grab a starting role alongside junior Joe Vellano (63 tackles, 10.5 for loss, 5 sacks), one of the A.C.C.’s best. Anderson always seemed a little too stiff to make a difference at end, so his transition inside makes sense. Adding Monroe to a group that includes Vellano, Anderson and A.J. Francis gives Maryland a great interior.

Position battle(s) to watch

Wide receiver Torrey Smith’s big-play ability will be sorely missed, both as a return man and in the passing game. Maryland will also miss Adrian Cannon’s consistency, which helped him post 80 grabs over his final two seasons. One weapon, one consistent presence: this pair carried the load for O’Brien, breaking in the first-year starter with remarkable results. So where does Maryland turn in 2011? Three returning contributors are expected to hold lead roles. One is senior Ronnie Tyler, who made 13 catches for 149 yards in 2010. Option two is another senior, Quintin McRee, who is the most game-tested receiver on the roster. Then there’s junior Kevin Dorsey, who added 15 grabs fro 187 yards last fall – the yardage total is the most of any returning receiver. What comes next? A whole lot of inexperience. But there is talent, to be fair. Junior Kerry Boykins (10 for 124) has nice size, like Dorsey. And there are a few freshmen in the mix, like converted quarterback Devin Burns and true freshmen Tyrek Cheeseboro and Nigel King. Also in the mix is former Maryland basketball player Cliff Tucker, 6’6, who clearly does not lack for athletic ability – though his outside shot always needed work. There are several former basketball players who have turned in fine senior seasons on the football field, but Edsall did not seem convinced that Tucker was ready to make an impact during the spring. Perhaps his size and leaping ability can be used to Maryland’s advantage in the red zone.

Game(s) to watch

Maryland hits the ground running with Miami (Fla.) and West Virginia to open the season. A brief lull precedes the heart of A.C.C. play, which kicks off in earnest with the quartet of Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida State and Boston College. Welcome to the A.C.C., coach. Perhaps the most highly-anticipated game to be played at FedEx Field this fall is Maryland’s date with Notre Dame. The Cowboys are coming to town, but the Redskins will lose that one, I promise.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell What did Edsall see in Maryland? Is it more fitting to ask what he didn’t see at Connecticut? What he sees in Maryland is a program with a brighter future, a higher ceiling, even if he’ll find a B.C.S. berth far harder to come by in College Park than it was in Storrs. Edsall has made his choice: he’s opted for promise over comfort, and one can only hope he doesn’t come to regret leaving a place that would have had him for the rest of his coaching career. This move may someday prove wise; it won’t be an easy transition, however. I don’t think Edsall is going to experience immediate success with the Terrapins: this team won’t near last season’s win total, in my mind, in part thanks to the changes that occur with any coaching change. The list of recent first-year A.C.C. coaches – not counting former coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher – who have taken over a bowl team and made a substantial improvement from the start is a short one: Paul Johnson did so at Georgia Tech, but such situations often find a team treading water, perhaps taking a step back while it adjusts to new coaching philosophies. That’s not a good enough reason to think Maryland a six-win team. But when taken in conjunction with the losses at receiver, a lack of depth in the backfield and a few dangers spots on defense, you can see why we should tone down the expectations for Maryland in year one under Edsall. Can he get it done eventually? Say one thing for Edsall: his system would work anywhere. And it should work at Maryland. Will he lead the Terrapins to the B.C.S., like he did at Connecticut? I would bet against it, but Edsall has surprised before. Let’s take it one year at a time. For now, I think Maryland’s a bowl team, but on the lower end of the bowl ladder.

Dream season Edsall leads Maryland to the A.C.C. title game, leaving him right on the doorstep of a second consecutive B.C.S. bowl appearance.

Nightmare season The Terrapins drop to 4-8, 2-6 in the A.C.C.

In case you were wondering

Where do Maryland fans congregate? You could always hang out at Terrapin Times and Turtle Sports Report, the two biggest Maryland fan sites. But don’t forget about these solid blogs: Tracking the Terps, from The Baltimore Sun, Testudo Times and Turtle Waxing. Did I forget anyone? As always, list additional sites below.

Word Count

Through 52 teams 149,741.

Up Next

Who is No. 68? Tomorrow’s program  has posted one only losing record in conference play since 2003.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Alex Payne says:

    Troy

  2. roo says:

    while somehow resisting the urge to cheat…

    nebraska, michigan, ohio state, wisconsin?, USC, WVU (twice), texas tech, LSU, stanford, florida, boston college, louisville

  3. Ol' Rock says:

    LSU(Nick Saban); Wisconsin (Barry Alvarez); Nebraska (Frank Solich); Texas Tech (Mike Leach); USC (Pete Carroll); Ciny (Brian Kelly); Boston College (Jeff Jagodinski); Oregon (Mike Bellotti); Boston College (Tom O’brien); Lousiville (Bobby Petrino; Alabama (Dennis Franchione); Washington St. (Mike Price); Ohio State (Jim Tressel); Michigan (Lloyd Carr); West Virginia (Rich Rod.); West Virginia (Bill Stewart)

    -If Correct I will take the Fightin’ Texas Aggies of Texas A&M

    Paul: A dominating performance, complete with coaching names. For that added bonus, I think you should get 150 words. Have at it. You get A&M.

  4. HW86 says:

    Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, USC, Stanford, Oregon, Washington State, Utah, Texas Tech, Nebraska, Alabama, LSU, Boston College (twice), Maryland, West Virginia (twice), Louisville, Cincinnati

    If correct, I’d like Florida State.

  5. Sipe says:

    Paul,

    Ggreat job as usual. One small correction, Maryland is in the Atlantic Division of the ACC, not the Coastal

  6. Gotham Gator says:

    Ohio State (2010), USC (2009), LSU (2004), Michigan (2007), Texas Tech (2009), Boston College (2006), West Virginia (2007 and 2010), Oregon (2008), Louisville (2007), Stanford (2010), Washington State (2002), Wisconsin (2005), Clemson (2007), Nebraska (2003), Utah (2004) (not sure if they count).

  7. schedule nit says:

    Auburn is next!

  8. terps says:

    one of the better UMD blogs out there:

    http://www.terrapinstationdmd.com

  9. Scudderfan says:

    Schedule Nit – Channeling your inner Narby?

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