Friday, August 14, 2009
season preview: Maryland
As promised, the blogroll and links are updated for the new season. Encouraging additions are a pair of Miami blogs, a team which wasn't represented last year. Duke blogs are like the tachyons of the blogging universe: theoretically possible, but not known to exist. An "ACCR" next to the blog name indicates a member of the ACC Roundtable, a College Game Balls initiative that brings ACC blogs together to speak of ACC topics. Look for those to spin up at times this season.
On to the Maryland preview, where I even manage to say some nice things about them. Try not to Ralph.
9/5: @ California
9/12: James Madison
9/19: Middle Tennessee
10/10: @ Wake Forest
10/24: @ Duke
11/7: @ NC State
11/14: Virginia Tech
11/21: @ Florida State
11/28: Boston College
Skip: North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Miami
QB: Chris Turner (5Sr.)
RB: Da’Rel Scott (rJr.)
FB: Cory Jackson (Sr.)
WR: Torrey Smith (rSo.)
WR: Ronnie Tyler (rSo.)
TE: Lansford Watson (rJr.)
LT: Bruce Campbell (Jr.)
LG: Andrew Gonnella (rSo.)
C: Phil Costa (Sr.)
RG: Justin Lewis (rFr.)
RT: Paul Pinegar (rJr.)
DE: Derek Drummond (rSo.)
NT: A.J. Francis (rFr.)
DT: Travis Ivey (5Sr.)
DE: Jared Harrell (5Sr.)
SLB: Adrian Moten (rJr.)
MLB: Alex Wujciak (rJr.)
WLB: Demetrius Hartsfield (rFr.)
CB: Anthony Wiseman (5Sr.)
CB: Nolan Carroll (5Sr.)
FS: Terrell Skinner (5Sr.)
SS: Jamari McCullough (Sr.)
K: Mike Barbour (So.)
P: Travis Baltz (Sr.)
(Italics indicate new starter.)
Coach: Ralph Friedgen (9th season)
2008 1st team: RB Da’Rel Scott, C Edwin Williams, P Travis Baltz
2008 2nd team: LB Alex Wujciak
2008 HM: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, TE Dan Gronkowski, OT Scott Burley, OG Jamie Thomas, DT Jeremy Navarre
2009 preseason: LB Alex Wujciak, P Travis Baltz
Media prediction: 5th, Atlantic Division
If Ralph Friedgen seems like only three-quarters the coach he was last season, it’s because he literally is. Tipping the scales at 400 pounds last season, Friedgen has dropped over 100 pounds through a combination of a medically-approved diet and no longer eating players who don’t make it through end-of-practice gassers. I still hate Maryland, but recognize a good effort when I see it – Friedgen is very noticeably slimmer – and will thus retire the nickname Plutoid Ralph.
Why do I bring this up? It may be the highlight of Maryland’s season. The Terrapins were ridiculously inconsistent last season. If told they would go 1-1 in the games against California and Middle Tennessee with the win being a blowout, 100% of people would have chalked up the Cal game as a loss. The Terps had two separate teams last season and apparently flipped a coin to decide whether they would send Good Maryland or Completely Incompetent Maryland on the field each Saturday. Despite the roller-coaster season, it may be that their fans wish they could have 2008 back when 2009 is done.
Maryland actually has one of the most experienced starting quarterbacks in the entire conference – Chris Turner is second only to Wake’s Riley Skinner in that department. Turner is a mediocre quarterback, but you can’t dismiss experience, and a three-year starter at quarterback is almost always a plus, unless your quarterback is Reggie Ball. The difference is that Turner will be far more in charge of his team’s fortunes than he has been in the past. Whether Maryland won or lost last year was seemingly independent of whether Turner had a good game. With so many new starters on the depth chart, though, Turner may not always be able to win a game with quality play, but he will definitely lose the game if he plays poorly.
The Terps will also pin their hopes on senior running back Da’Rel Scott, one of the few ACC first-teamers last year to return to his team. Scott piled up a 1,000 yard season last year, and the Terrapins’ running attack is bolstered as well by Davin Meggett, another quality back who runs like a bowling ball. The top two receivers are gone, but Torrey Smith and Ronnie Tyler were enough a regular part of the passing game last year that they should be able to make for an almost-seamless transition. Tight end will be a little different – Maryland leaned so heavily on Dan Gronkowski that his backups very rarely saw the field. There’ll be a competition at that position that may stretch into the regular season.
Unfortunately, none of the skill-teamers will be able to make the impact they’re capable of if the offensive line doesn’t gel. It’s a very inexperienced line, and that could be enough to sink the season. Last year at the beginning of the season, every starter was a 5th-year senior. Phil Costa ascended to a starting job early in the season, but it was at right guard – because he’s the most experienced (and has played a little center in the past) he moves to the middle this year. The rest of the line is more or less brand-new to this whole starting thing, and some positions are still up in the air. More than likely, these guys will have to exceed expectations in order to make opposing teams worry about Maryland’s offense.
The story’s very similar here. The defensive line isn’t exactly inexperienced, but they’ll need time to gel as a unit because every starter last year was a senior, and this year’s cast still needs seasoning and lacks starting time. They have good players behind them though: Alex Wujciak is a playmaker at middle linebacker, and Adrian Moten is a quality player on the outside who’s getting his turn to shine after backing up a player two years his senior. Demetrius Hartsfield will be raw, but Maryland clearly has high hopes for him as he’s leapfrogged a fifth-year senior on the depth chart. The linebackers should be the strength of this defense. Maryland lost two excellent starters here but should find themselves able to replace them without much difficulty.
The secondary is good too. Jamari McCullough is new to the starting gig, but regardless, he was the team interception leader last year with four. Fellow cornerback Anthony Wiseman did not intercept a single pass but broke up ten. They’re both seniors, as are safeties Nolan Carroll and Terrell Skinner. This is the only unit on the whole team that didn’t get hit hard with departures, and they’re not spectacular but they’re respectable and will keep passing offenses honest.
Travis Baltz is an all-conference punter and booted ten punts 50 yards or more. No worries there. A new kicker steps into the spotlight for Maryland, and though I like to say new kickers give fans more heartburn than any other position, Maryland fans can rest assured that Mike Barbour will be an improvement on onside kicks if nothing else.
Maryland’s got the skill players, especially at running back and linebacker, to prevent a total meltdown, but the uncertainty on the lines will be extremely difficult to overcome. Offensive line in particular looks shaky, and could – nay, will –make or break the offense. Maryland has some pieces to the puzzle, but this looks like a transition year, and an unlikely one to make a bowl in. Though they manage to avoid two of the better Coastal teams, they may not win a game in their own division until the very last one of the season.