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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. 86: Maryland

The two most hated coaches in college football: the guy in charge of your biggest rival and Randy Edsall. The first coach depends on your allegiance — Auburn fans hate Nick Saban, while the Crimson Tide faithful return the favor with Gene Chizik; U.C.L.A. fans still hold Pete Carroll in contempt; Arizona and Arizona State fans are still learning about Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez, respectively, but both sides hate what they’ve seen thus far. Every fan base, even parts of Maryland’s own fan base, hates Randy Edsall. Casual fans hate Edsall. Plugged-in fans hate Edsall. They hate his demeanor. They hate his my-way-or-the-highway style. They hate how he drove off a fifth of Maryland’s roster. They hate how he stymied Danny O’Brien’s transfer before pulling back on the throttle. They hate how he took nine-win Maryland and turned it into two-win Maryland. Hate, hate, hate. Edsall’s already lost the battle of public opinion, and lost it permanently, perhaps. All that’s left for Edsall to do is win the war — by winning big at Maryland, making fans hate him for a whole other reason altogether.

Conference
Atlantic Coast, Atlantic

Location
College Park, Md.

Nickname
Terrapins

Returning starters
15 (5 offense, 10 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 69

2011 record
(2-10, 1-7)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 104

2012 schedule

  • Sept. 1
    William & Mary
  • Sept. 8
    at Temple
  • Sept. 15
    UConn
  • Sept. 22
    at West Virginia
  • Oct. 6
    Wake Forest
  • Oct. 13
    at Virginia
  • Oct. 20
    N.C. St.
  • Oct. 27
    at Boston College
  • Nov. 3
    Georgia Tech
  • Nov. 10
    at Clemson
  • Nov. 17
    Florida St.
  • Nov. 24
    U.N.C.

Last year’s prediction

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: such situations often find a team treading water, perhaps taking a step back while it adjusts to new coaching philosophies. 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. 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.

2011 recap

In a nutshell With all due respect: Maryland was a disgrace. More specifically: Maryland was a disgrace after Sept. 17. The Terrapins opened with a rain-soaked win over Miami (Fla.) before hanging tight with West Virginia in a 37-31 loss, showing the same sort of play that led the team to nine wins in 2010. Then the bottom dropped out. Temple? Boston College — at home, no less? N.C. State? The hits kept coming at Maryland, fast and furious, turning a slightly promising season into one of the worst in program history. The impact: Maryland fired both its coordinators, revamped a roster chafing at Edsall’s coaching style and went into the offseason with as little confidence as any team in college football. If you’re looking for positives, look elsewhere. Well, here’s one: Maryland moved the ball fairly well over the last third of the year, averaging roughly 5.5 yards per play over its last four games — all losses, however. Another: Edsall did have an impact on this running game, as expected, lifting the Terps for eighth to third in the A.C.C. in rushing. The negatives: Everything else.

High point A 32-24 win over Miami in the season opener. Aided by the rain and Miami’s suspension-ravaged roster, but a victory nonetheless. The Terps would win one more game, against Towson, and would lose six of its final seven A.C.C. games by 11 or more points.

Low point Let’s see. Boston College would notch a 28-17 win in College Park — Maryland scored twice in the fourth quarter to make the game look closer than it actually was. On Oct. 15, Maryland would take a 35-17 lead early in the third quarter over Clemson before being outscored, 39-10, over the game’s final 26 minutes. It would get worse: In the season finale, Maryland blew a 41-14 third quarter lead in a 56-41 loss to N.C. State. Thirty-five unanswered points. What a way to head into the winter, huh?

Tidbit Ralph Friedgen was the second head coach in the modern era of Maryland football to post a winning season in his final year with the program, if we count only coaches who spent multiple seasons at the school — which excludes Bear Bryant. Edsall is the fourth head coach in the modern era to win two or fewer games in his debut. He joins Jack Faber, who went 2-6-1 in 1940; Bob Ward, who went 0-9 in 1967; and Ron Vanderlinden, who went 2-9 in 1997. Edsall is the first coach to lose 10 games in his first season, though I have no doubt that Ward or Vanderlinden would have posted double-digit losses if given the chance.

Tidbit (defensive edition) Maryland held only two opponents under 5.25 yards per play. That would be Georgia Tech, a 21-16 victor on Oct. 8, and N.C. State, which scored 56 points despite averaging 4.57 yards per play. Seven opponents averaged at least 5.99 yards per play, led by Clemson, which gained 7.2 yards per play. Overall, Maryland’s best defensive performance came in that loss to the Yellow Jackets; the second-best, improbably enough, came against the Wolfpack. The Wolfpack’s late run was aided by three Maryland turnovers, including an interception that N.C. State returned for a touchdown.

Former players in the N.F.L.

34 RB Lance Ball (Denver), P Travis Baltz (New York Jets), CB Kevin Barnes (Washington), OG Bruce Campbell (Carolina), CB Nolan Carroll (Miami), S Cameron Chism (indianapolis), LS Jon Condo (Oakland), C Phil Costa (Dallas), TE Vernon Davis (San Francisco), LB Moise Fokou (Philadelphia), OT Jared Gaither (San Diego), TE Dan Gronkowski (Cleveland), LB Erin Henderson (Minnesota), WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (Oakland), QB Shaun Hill (Detroit), CB Trenton Hughes (Miami), DT Travis Ivey (Oakland), LB D’Qwell Jackson (Cleveland), RB Davin Meggett (Houston), LB Shawn Merriman (Buffalo), LB Adrian Moten (Seattle), K Nick Novak (San Diego), P Adam Podlesh (Chicago), RB Da’Rel Scott (New York Giants), WR Torrey Smith (Baltimore), DE Randy Starks (Miami), OG Jaimie Thomas (Indianapolis), S Madieu Williams (Washington), OG Edwin Williams (Chicago), WR Isaiah Williams (Arizona), WR LaQuan Williams (Baltimore), CB Josh Wilson (Washington), TE Will Yeatman (Miami).

Arbitrary top five list

Maryland men’s basketball coaches
1. Gary Williams (1989-2011).
2. Lefty Driesell (1969-86).
3. Bud Millikan (1950-67).
4. Burton Shipley (1923-47).
5. Flucie Stewart (1947-50).

Coaching

Randy Edsall (’80 Syracuse), 2-10 after his first season. Not a great start. Edsall went 74-70 over 12 years at Connecticut, leading the Huskies to the 2011 Fiesta Bowl following 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 mediocre record; those teams 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 Edsall’s last Huskies teams: UConn finished 9-3 in 2003, its final season as an Independent, and 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 the Huskies’ successful 2010 season. 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. Little did Edsall know just how steep that hill would be.

Tidbit (coaching edition) Things aren’t working? Try firing both coordinators. Edsall did just that, jettisoning offensive coordinator Gary Crowton and defensive coordinator Todd Bradford after one season. Edsall has no one to blame but himself: Crowton was a miserable hire, for starters, and Bradford, originally hired as Maryland’s linebackers coach, was thrust into the coordinator spot after Don Brown left to join Paul Pasqualoni at Connecticut — ironic, that was. Maryland’s new offensive coordinator will be Mike Locksley, an overmatched head coach with a solid track record of play-calling and recruiting the Mid-Atlantic region. The new defensive coordinator, Brian Stewart, comes to College Park after rebuilding Houston’s defense as part of Kevin Sumlin’s staff. The Cougars could always score; Stewart’s defense provided the difference between nine wins and a push for a B.C.S. bowl. Stewart will implement a 3-4 system, as at Houston, which should lead to some growing pains for the Terps in 2012.

Players to watch

Locksley will run a multiple-set, balanced offense that should stay well within Edsall’s offensive demands: run to set up the pass, not vice versa. The early results haven’t been positive — though you can’t blame the roster for struggling adapting to its third offense in as many years, even a system like Locksley’s, which is far more direct and to the point than the offense run by his predecessor. This learning curve will continue through fall camp and likely through much of this coming season; that the Terps open with a bang doesn’t help matters, but the offense should play its best football over the second half of the year.

And it’s important to remember that in total, Locksley’s offense jibes well with what Maryland wants to achieve on this side of the ball. One player who will fare better in this system is junior quarterback C.J. Brown, who became the unquestioned starter following O’Brien’s transfer to Wisconsin. Brown even started five games in 2011, displaying the sort of dual-threat athleticism that should make him a nice fit in Locksley’s offense. He rushed for at least 110 yards three times last fall, each time during A.C.C. play, and finished second on the team in rushing with 574 yards — the most by a quarterback in school history.

It’s this running ability that makes Brown the Terps’ best option, not his ability to throw the football in the pocket, where he remains an enormous work in progress. He completed less than 50 percent of his attempts last fall, averaging a paltry 5.1 yards per pass — a total that would have finished last in the F.B.S. by a wide, wide margin had Brown made enough attempts to qualify. He’s gifted athletically but far behind the curve as a pure passer. And the Terps need Brown to stay healthy, let alone grasp the offense by the time the calendar turns to September: Maryland’s depth behind Brown goes senior Ricky Schultz, a transfer from Shepherd University in West Virginia, and two true freshmen.

Maryland will need Brown to help carry the load in the running game without Davin Meggett, a steady, tried-and-true producer who ended his career with the seventh-most yards in school history. The top two at running back are sophomore Justus Pickett (274 yards) and redshirt freshman Brandon Ross. Pickett’s experience might give him an edge over Ross, but the latter’s size — about 205 pounds — should allow him to at least step into the role of Maryland’s short-yardage back, one left vacant when would-be junior D.J. Adams transferred to Portland State.

Whether Pickett can maintain his tenuous grip on the starting role depends on two factors: one, whether his body can handle 150-plus carries; and two, whether Ross has a stronger grasp of the little details of playing the position — pass protection, for example. If he has, Ross has the frame and ability to grab the top spot on the depth chart. Maryland also added a nice prospect in true freshman Wes Brown.

Another incoming freshman, Stefon Diggs, is going to play a big role at wide receiver. Part of this stems from Diggs’ own ability, which is immense, according to those who project high school talent to the next level. Another fact that helps Diggs’ cause is the thin depth Maryland touts at the position, where two seniors lead the way but everything else remains very much up for debate. There’s nothing wrong with the two seniors, Kevin Dorsey (45 receptions for 573 yards) and Kerry Boykins (37 for 480), though neither is going to strike fear into A.C.C. defensive backs. Maryland also has a reliable tight end in senior Matt Furstenberg (31 for 348). What the Terps need is some flash; they need a receiver capable of stretching the field and drawing double-teams.

Is Diggs going to be that good in 2012? Perhaps, though likely not until the second half of the year — though it is possible for a gifted true freshman to make a huge impact at the position, with several recent examples at our disposal. Maryland could use more consistent play out of sophomore Marcus Leak (12 for 85), who moved into the starting lineup in October but seemingly moved back to the bench nearly as fast, never to be seen again. And the Terps are hoping for a healthy season out of redshirt freshman Tyrek Cheeseboro, who sat out the spring following knee surgery. Diggs holds the key: if he’s as good as advertised — good as advertised from the start — Maryland could scare opponents away from the line of scrimmage.

Maryland has the pieces up front to make a smooth transition into Stewart’s 3-4 base set. The Terps also return the meat of last year’s linebacker rotation, and add into the mix a few ends best suited at outside linebacker in this new system. There’s a hole at cornerback, where Maryland must replace a three-year starting cornerback in Cameron Chism, but the secondary welcomes back five players who made at least three starts a season ago. Deeper, more experienced, better. You’d pencil in the Terps for a major defensive turnaround if not for the scheme change.

But in my opinion, Maryland will improve on defense despite learning a new philosophy on the fly. The defense’s overall stinginess depends on how well several players adapt to new roles – senior A.J. Francis, for one. Francis, a 23-game starter over his first three years, will be tasked with the all-important role as Maryland’s starting nose tackle. The defense runs through the nose; Francis, the only interior lineman seemingly capable of filling the role, will play his entire season under a spotlight.

He’ll get help. Senior Joe Vellano (94 tackles, 7.5 for loss), who makes a move outside to end, is one of the best defensive linemen in college football. Productive: Vellano’s 94 stops – made from tackle – were the most of any lineman in the country. And at 285 pounds, Vellano has the size to make a seamless move outside to end in the 3-4. He’ll be joined at end by sophomore Keith Bowers (36 tackles, 2.5 sacks), an 11-game starter as a freshman. Bowers will be pushed for snaps by another sophomore, Andre Monroe (18 tackles, 5.0 sacks), who moves outside from tackle. Monroe could be very productive at end or inside on clear passing downs.

The Terps have a number of options at linebacker, which marks a distinct change from a season ago. Part of the depth stems from last season’s ever-changing rotation: Maryland started eight different linebackers, whether due to injuries or sour play. The group’s strength lies in the middle, where Stewart will team senior Demetrius Hartsfield (108 tackles) with one of two sophomores, L.A Goree (60 tackles, 6.5 for loss) and Cole Farrand. After earning honorable mention all-A.C.C. honors in 2011, Hartsfield should be in line for greater postseason accolades as the star in the middle.

A few defensive ends will move up to outside linebacker. One, junior Marcus Whitfield (11 tackles, 2.5 sacks), started the final five games of last season. He’ll have a tremendous chance to move into the starting lineup on the weak side with senior Darin Drakeford (68 tackles) sidelined with academic issues; while Drakeford should be back on the field by August, it may take longer for him to work his way out of Edsall’s doghouse. The favorite on the strong side, sophomore Alex Twine, fared admirably as a way-too-young true freshman thrown into the mix in 2011.

The biggest issue at safety will be finding snaps for three players with starting ability. That’s a pretty good issue to have. In all likelihood, the starting pairing will be the same as it was over the first three games of last season: Matt Robinson and Eric Franklin. Robinson, a sophomore, made 36 tackles through three games before suffering a season-ending injury; at the time, that total led the A.C.C. and was tied for seventh in the country. If healthy, he’ll move right back into the starting lineup, backed up by sophomore A.J. Hendy (30 tackles), a three-game starter as a freshman. The Terps could stand for Franklin (106 tackles) to do less against the run and more against the pass, but that will depend on the play of the front seven.

Maryland still needs to address the cornerback position. The defense returns one starter, junior Dexter McDougle (44 tackles, 3 interceptions), but must replace two seniors who combined to start all 12 games on the opposite side – Chism and Trenton Hughes. Not that the pair played especially well, mind you. Nevertheless, Maryland does move from senior experience opposite of McDougle to youthful inexperience. There’s a great chance for JUCO transfer Isaac Goins to move into a starting role at cornerback, though he’ll need to fend off sophomore Jeremiah Johnson to do so.

Position battle(s) to watch

Offensive line Maryland lost a three-year starter to graduation in left guard Andrew Gonnella, but the loss comes with an asterisk: Gonnella suffered a season-ending injury five games into last season, allowing his successor at guard, junior De’Onte Arnett, to rack up invaluable experience in the starting lineup. This is good news. Now, the bad: Maryland lost a clear all-A.C.C. contender in would-be junior left tackle Max Garcia, who opted to transfer earlier this year — his decision to transfer was lost in the O’Brien shuffle, but losing Garcia on the blind side could have an equally significant impact on the Terps’ bottom line. More bad news: R.J. Dill, a rising senior, chose to spend his final season of eligibility at Rutgers.

Garcia was a foundation-level piece; his return would have greatly increased the overall potential of Maryland’s offensive front. As is, Garcia’s decision to transfer makes a starter out of junior Nick Klemm, Garcia’s former understudy now entrenched in a key role. Is he ready? It’s hard to say. Klemm, like the rest of the offense, will move into a starting role just as Locksley breaks in a new system. One thing for sure: Klemm is a downgrade from Garcia. And Dill’s departure has Maryland searching for answers at right tackle; clearly, the Terps were not overly prepared for the process of finding Dill’s replacement one year ahead of schedule.

At least the staff has some options at their disposal. Senior Justin Gilbert was moved out to right tackle during the spring. Another senior, Bennett Fulper, has the flexibility to swing outside from center to right guard. That would allow Maryland to start both Fulper and sophomore Sal Conaboy, the former’s injury replacement over the final two weeks of last season. If Maryland goes this route, the starting five would go as follows, from left to right: Klemm, Arnett, Conaboy, Fulper and Gilbert. And the Terps would still have a few experienced linemen in reserve, such as Josh Cary and Pete White. Not terrible, right? Just imagine how solid this line would have been with Garcia and Dill on the outside.

Game(s) to watch

In all, Maryland will play 11 B.C.S. conference teams — with Temple now in the Big East, though this game was scheduled back when the Owls were still a member of the MAC. The only clear win comes in the season opener, when the Terps host William & Mary; from there, every game will be a dogfight. I think that this team should go at least 2-2 in non-conference play, however, which would leave Maryland in the position of needing to go 4-4 in A.C.C. action to reach bowl eligibility. That sounds like a tall order. So the Terps could do themselves a huge favor by starting 3-0, beating a pair of Big East teams along the way, in advance of a road date against a loaded West Virginia team. If Maryland does need three or more wins during conference play, two must come against Wake Forest and Boston College.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Now this feels like a rebuilding year. New schemes on both sides of the ball. A new starting quarterback. A rebuilt offensive line. This is what a rebuilding year is supposed to feel like. If calling this coming season a rebuilding year does ignore last season’s painful experience, then all the better: Maryland needs to put 2011 out of mind, if possible, and look ahead to starting with a fresh slate in September. That’s easier said than done. How can this team turn the page? By focusing on the positives. Locksley and Stewart are substantial upgrades at offensive and defensive coordinator – Locksley’s not a head coach, but he is a capable coordinator. Brown could gain 2,500 yards of total offense as the Terps’ starting quarterback. Diggs could have a profound impact on Maryland’s passing game, lending a degree of explosiveness not seen elsewhere at receiver. There are enough pieces up front to hit the ground running in Stewart’s 3-4 system; Vellano is wonderful, Francis experienced and Hartsfield an all-conference contender. Be positive. If you want to talk negatives, consider Brown’s current weaknesses as a passer, the dearth of proven options at running back, an offensive line in flux and a secondary searching for answers at cornerback. Just don’t stay too long thinking about the bad news; instead, focus on the fact that Maryland will absolutely be much improved after Edsall’s dreadful debut. How good can this team be? I don’t think a bowl trip – by the skin of Maryland’s teeth – is out of the question, though I think a safer bet is four or five wins, especially when given the difficult schedule and the changing schemes. If the Terps can get to five wins, playing better as the year wears on, I think you can call this season a success.

Dream season Maryland opens 3-0 before losing to West Virginia. The Terps bounce back to win three of their first four A.C.C. games and head into the year’s final month at 6-2 – having already clinched a bowl berth. A split of four November games leaves Maryland at 8-4 heading into the postseason.

Nightmare season As in 2011, Maryland wins its season opener. And as in 2011, that win is followed by 10 losses in 11 tries. For the second straight year, Edsall and the Terps finish 2-10.

In case you were wondering

Where do Maryland fans congregate? You could always hang out at Terrapin Times, Inside MD Sports 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. And for great coverage of all area sports, including the best college lacrosse coverage in the country, check out Patrick Stevens’ work at The Washington Times.

Maryland’s all-name nominee WR Tyrek Cheeseboro.

Word Count

Through 39 teams 137,034.

Up Next

Who is No. 85? This season, tomorrow’s team will play three teams over the first half of the year whose name begins with the first letter of the alphabet; in all, nine of the 12 teams on its schedule have names that begin with a letter in the first half of the alphabet.

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Comments

  1. Vic says:

    Going with Western Kentucky tomorrow…

    Austin Peay
    Alabama
    Arkansas St.

    and only North Texas, Southern Miss., and Troy not in the first half.

  2. 'Catatonic Tim says:

    The Terps out-nightmared your nightmare season, Paul.

  3. Chazz says:

    Don’t see how you could put all these words together on a pretty bad Maryland team and not mention Kenny Tate who is back for his senior year and had 100 tackles and was 1st team ACC in 2010.

    Maryland’s front 7 is actually pretty good.

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