Team: Maryland Terrapins
2012 W-L: 4-8 (2-6)
Head Coach: Randy Edsall (6-18; third season)
Returning Starters: 9 (5 Offense, 4 Defense)
The Terrapins’ ACC farewell tour sets up rather well. Outside of the top two spots, the Atlantic Division is largely up for grabs. They play a very manageable schedule. And they’ve got an offensive star on their hands in wide receiver Stefon Diggs. All of that sounds great, but there’s plenty to overcome as well. Coach Randy Edsall has won just six games total in two season in College Park, and while the team has talent coming in, there’s not a whole lot of experience to speak of either. Plus, the entire athletic program is pretty much bankrupt and there’s declining fan interest across the board (but notably in football). So how does this all end up playing out?
For starters, Maryland should automatically be better on the offensive end, now that they have quarterback C.J. Brown back from last summer’s torn ACL. Though they trotted out four different players to under center (including a freshman linebacker) in 2012, things actually didn’t start off half bad for the team on offense. With a huge assist from Diggs’s play-making, they started off 4-2, moving the ball reasonably well and scoring 22 points per game. But then the injuries struck, and the Terps would end up with one of the country’s worst offenses across the board. Brown will change things immediately by bringing a versatility to the quarterback position (had seven passing TDs and five rushing TDs in 2011), and help them fix their weakest link from last year. There are still plenty of questions about Brown — fans forget that he completed less than 50 percent of his passes in 2011 — but at least it’s better than what they dealt with last season. Along with the dynamic Diggs catching passes, he’ll also have transfer Deon Long at his disposal. Last playing for New Mexico, Long had 47 catches for 809 yards in 2011, and paired with Diggs, should surpass those numbers this year. So long as Brown can get the ball to both of them, Maryland’s obviously looking at a much more dynamic passing game compared to what it had (104th in passing yards per game).
That is only half of the equation, though. Maryland also replaces half of their offensive line this year, especially daunting when the 2012 edition allowed 38 sacks. There’s questions around the running game too — some of which will automatically be alleviated by a stronger passing game. At just 103 yards per game on the ground, the Terps’ rushing attack was putrid last year, but what else could they have done given the circumstances? And there’s plenty of excuses for why things will be a struggle once again in 2013, too. Wes Brown‘s been suspended after a summer run-in with police, so all eyes are now on Brandon Ross, who led the team with just 390 rushing yards last season. He’ll be joined in the backfield by Albert Reid, but the pressure is largely on Ross to show that he can be the featured rusher here. No matter the circumstances, he’ll be expected to produce, so he must find a way to overcome all of the external factors. There’s no guarantees there, unfortunately.
The defense was Maryland’s strength last year, and after losing a ton of players to graduation, this unit now brings more questions than answers. They have experience despite their relative youth — just two seniors out of the 11 projected starters — but this is a group that needs to figure out a way to gel quickly with a bunch of new faces. Can they replace Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis on the line? The two impact players were the heart of the Maryland pass-rush, which will now be headed up by Darius Kilgo and Keith Bowers. Bowers had six TFLs in 2011 (he missed 2012), while Kilgo had 5.5 at nose tackle last year. Despite the lofty goals set by their predecessors, they’ll have a lot of pressure on them as well, with such a young linebacker corps. Everyone has experience, sure, but of the four, junior Cole Farrand, looks most poised to pick up where former standout Demetrius Hartsfield left off. He’s entering his third season playing extensive minutes, and holds the key to this group’s success.
Maryland’s secondary creates some intrigue, especially at safety, where things are far from settled. Anthony Nixon and Sean Davis look like starters (they played extensively last year), but are only sophomores now. Nixon, in particular, looks like a star in the making, gaining a reputation for hard hits down the field. Despite injuries, they were able to keep long passing plays in check last year — though admittedly, some of that is due to Maryland being out of games early, resulting in teams running out the clock. At corner, Jeremiah Johnson and Dexter McDougle both present opportunities for All-ACC consideration, though McDougle has to do a better job of preventing receptions after recording 71 tackles last year (meaning his receivers were catching the ball a lot). If they want to keep the pressure off the younger safeties, they’ll both need to step up their respective games to better lock down pass-catchers.
The Terps have a manageable slate — one that may assist in masking some issues on both sides of the ball. There are only three games (Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech) they’re almost guaranteed not to win, but at the same time, there’s so many toss-up games that it’s hard to really get a read on how they’ll fare. Yes, the offense is better, but Brown still has plenty to prove, and the running game’s weakness will put a lot of pressure on passing the ball. Defensively, they have to replace a lot in the pass-rush, which puts additional stress on the secondary. Maryland is in transition, but if they want to appear on the upward trend, this is the year to do it. Edsall has dealt with some very unfortunate circumstances through his first two seasons. However, if they don’t make the postseason this year, it’s likely he’s out the door.
Prediction: (6-6) (2-6); Advocare V100 Independence Bowl