Team: Maryland Terrapins
2011 W-L: 2-10 (1-7)
Head Coach: Randy Edsall (2-10; one season)
Returning Starters: 15 (5 Offense, 10 Defense)
After arriving at his dream job coaching the University of Maryland football team last year, Randy Edsall proceeded to rub both media and players the wrong way while turning a 9-4 squad into a 2-10 disaster. The team’s defense allowed over 34 points per game. The team’s offense scored just 23 per game. Only two of the team’s 10 losses occurred by a single-digit margin, they barely defeated a suspension-depleted Miami team on opening night, and only beat FBS team Towson, 28-3. Additionally, they managed to choke away double-digit leads against Clemson and NC State, with the latter putting up 42 in the second half to come back and win. Needless to say, Edsall’s first year on the job was a challenging one. But it appears he’s taken steps to fix it.
First up was the offense, which demanded radical changes after a tumultuous 2011 campaign. So the ineffective Gary Crowton was fired, and in his place, the team returned former recruiting coordinator Mike Locksley, who spent the last three seasons at New Mexico. Now, he’ll have to figure out a way to mold C.J. Brown — who showed some signs of success in 2011 — into a program-defining quarterback. On top of conditioning the junior passer to take less hits, he’ll also have to work to replace several major pieces on offense, lost by the major attrition since Edsall took the helm. Beyond the obvious departure of former starting QB Danny O’Brien, Locksley will have to sort out former star tackle Max Garcia‘s replacement as well. With major question marks on the offensive line, it won’t be easy for Brown to quickly establish himself in the pocket. He’ll be relying on top targets Kevin Dorsey and Stefon Diggs to get open often, as well as the questionable running game to help pick up the slack; all uneasy propositions beyond the senior, Dorsey. Again, Locksley was brought back into the fold for a reason, and he’ll have his work cut out for him.
On the defensive side, Maryland returns all but one member of a group that failed to meet any expectations set for them in 2011. Beyond that, though, everything will change. For a unit that was mostly lackadaisical last year, with drowsy coverage and a lack of real urgency while getting unmercifully beaten during second-halves, the arrival of new D-coordinator Brian Stewart should a huge shot in the arm. Serving in the same position at Houston these past two seasons, Stewart instituted a lethal 3-4 set that relied on strong linebacker play and only allowed 22.4 points per game last year. While he doesn’t have all of his personnel instituted with the Terps just yet, you can already see things coming together. Star defensive tackle Joe Vellano will split time between lining up on the outside (more chances at rushing the passer) and nose tackle (to continue his expert run-stuffing). Linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield will also be even more involved in the overall defensive setup and should improve upon his 108 tackles from last year. The move won’t be completely seamless while some defensive ends and linebackers truly figure out where they fit in to the new scheme. But even if the shift doesn’t pay dividends in 2012, it’s a step in the right direction for a squad that needs to correct major issues on the defensive side of the ball.
All in all, Maryland has a lot of adjustment and work ahead of them, and we may not truly see the results of these shifts until 2013. After a heavily disappointing first season on the job, Terps fans have already lit a fire under him: either starting winning or pack your bags. He’ll heed the warning, but his team may just not be ready as currently constructed. As mentioned above, on offense, a lot depends on the line, along with Brown’s consistency at quarterback. The defense is in the midst of a scheme shift to 3-4, and still has to move players into their appropriate places. Essentially, this team’s wagon gets hitched to the hopeful success of a few individuals.
And that’s just something the schedule may not allow for. Three (Florida State, Clemson, NC State) of the conference’s four best teams are in its division, plus there are additional dates with quality ACC teams in Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia Tech. In non-league play, West Virginia could end up being the first of five or maybe even six top 25 teams on the slate, with several ranked in the top 10-15. So with a mountain sort of built into this season, it’s clear that they will, indeed, struggle once more. Edsall should be able to stick around if he gets this group to 5-7, but even if he falls short of that mark, the athletic department can’t necessarily pay to fire him either. How they fare on the recruiting trail may also decide a lot. Thus far, they’ve seen a lot of success in the local D.C. and Baltimore areas, and if that continues, even with failure on the field, it may be reason enough to ride it out another season.
Prediction: (3-9 (1-7); no postseason