Thursday, August 8, 2013

season preview: Maryland Terrapins


8/31: Florida International
9/7: Old Dominion
9/14: @ Connecticut
9/21: West Virginia
9/28: BYE
10/5: @ Florida State
10/12: Virginia
10/19: @ Wake Forest
10/26: Clemson
11/2: BYE
11/9: Syracuse
11/16: @ Virginia Tech
11/23: Boston College
11/30: @ NC State

Skip: Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh

2012 results:

William & Mary: W, 7-6
Temple: W, 36-27
Connecticut: L, 24-21
West Virginia: L, 31-21
Wake Forest: W, 19-14
Virginia: W, 27-20
NC State: L, 20-18
Boston College: L, 20-17
Georgia Tech: L, 33-13
Clemson: L, 45-10
Florida State: L, 41-14
North Carolina: L, 45-38

Record: 4-8 (2-6); 5th of 6, Atlantic Division

Projected starters:

QB: C.J. Brown (4Jr.)
RB: Brandon Ross (rSo.)
WR: Stefon Diggs (So.)
WR: Deon Long (rJr.)
WR: Nigel King (rSo.)
TE: Dave Stinebaugh (5Sr.)
LT: Mike Madaras (So.)
LG: De'Onte Arnett (5Sr.)
C: Sal Conaboy (rJr.)
RG: Andrew Zeller (rSo.)
RT: Nick Klemm (5Sr.)

DE: Quinton Jefferson (So.)
NT: Darius Kilgo (rJr.)
DE: Keith Bowers (Jr.)
OLB: Matt Robinson (rJr.)
ILB: Cole Farrand (Jr.)
ILB: L.A. Goree (rJr.)
OLB: Marcus Whitfield (5Sr.)
CB: Dexter McDougle (5Sr.)
CB: Jeremiah Johnson (rJr.)
S: Sean Davis (So.)
S: Anthony Nixon (So.)

K: Brad Craddock (So.)
P: Nathan Renfro (rSo.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Randy Edsall, 3rd season

Media prediction: 5th of 7, Atlantic Division


2012 1st team: DT Joe Vellano
2012 2nd team: LB Demetrius Hartsfield
2012 HM: KR Stefon Diggs, DE A.J. Francis, LB Kenny Tate
2013 preseason: KR Stefon Diggs

(Italics indicate departed player.)

I seriously considered writing a season preview for Louisville in this slot, just out of spite.  But Maryland has been so bad in the past couple seasons that this might actually be a pleasure.  Randy Edsall's tenure has been rocky at best and disastrous in his first season, although things settled down some last year.  That's a pretty strong statement about how bad the first season went when you consider that Maryland had to use a linebacker at quarterback last year.  Edsall has more of "his" guys in place now than he has in the past, but it'll remain to be seen how that translates into wins.

-- Offense

Theoretically, stability returns at quarterback now that all these guys are healthy again.  Returning to the top of the depth chart is C.J. Brown, who did a decent job running the offense in 2011 once given the reins, except for some atrocious passing numbers.  Brown is a dangerous running threat, but his arm remains totally unproven.  If Brown falters, Perry Hills started the first seven games of 2012 while Brown recuperated from a torn ACL.  Hills eventually tore his own ACL, but his passing stats were not awful and he gives Maryland a decent insurance policy.

The optimism in College Park as it regards their offense, however, stems from the wide receivers.  Stefon Diggs is a legitimately elite talent who managed an 848-yard freshman season last year with six touchdowns despite the quarterback merry-go-round.  Diggs is Maryland's top weapon and an extremely difficult cover for any cornerback in the country.  This year, he'll be paired with juco transfer Deon Long.  Long has been all around the block with academic issues; first at West Virginia, then to New Mexico where Mike Locksley was.  After a year at juco in Iowa, where he set all sorts of receiving records, he followed Locksley to Maryland.  Despite his travels, Long is considered a tremendous talent, and there's potential for the Terps to have by far the best receiving duo in the ACC.  Maryland also likes 6'3" Nigel King, who will help them fill the gap left by the (possibly temporary) loss of Marcus Leak, who withdrew from school in May.

The running game may be another matter.  Depth at tailback took a major hit with the transfer of Justus Pickett to Tennessee and the yearlong suspension of Wes Brown.  They're left with last year's leading rusher, Brandon Ross, who needed only 390 yards to accomplish that feat.  He'll at least start out splitting carries with Albert Reid, who was used sparingly last year and averaged only 2.6 yards per carry.  Beyond that, the tailback depth chart is full of freshmen.

At offensive line, there are some building blocks and some question marks.  True sophomore Mike Madaras looks like a keeper at left tackle, after earning eight starts during his freshman year.  As well, Sal Conaboy established himself as a starting center in 2011, and since then the only thing that has kept him from that spot is health.  De'Onte Arnett is another one who would have been more of a fixture in the past if not for injuries.  If healthy this year, the left side of the line should be in decent shape.  The right side could still be up in the air.  Nick Klemm has started a little bit at left tackle, but appears to have shifted semi-permanently to the right side.  All in all, however, there's little depth, and this is not a line that either run-blocked well or kept their quarterbacks healthy in 2012.  Their 3.17 sacks allowed per game was worst in the ACC and 116th of 124 in the country last year.

The main thing this offense has going for it is its receivers; C.J. Brown's accuracy might go up just by virtue of throwing to some crazy wide open targets.  But the offensive line is still not a strength, and must improve over last year or the offense will be nothing more than frustratingly inconsistent.  And there's nothing in the running game save Brown's own feet that will scare any defenses, freeing them up to flood the secondary and take away the big gains in the passing game.

-- Defense

If there was any reason the Terps won four games in 2012, rather than zero, it was the defense, a respectable unit whose results belied their win-loss record.  The problem they'll have is that pretty much all their biggest playmakers have moved on.  There are some quality holdovers that will need to step into their shoes if Maryland's defense is to be successful again this year.

The foundation will be at inside linebacker in Maryland's 3-4 defense.  Cole Farrand is the top returning tackler with 78, and that number should go up quite a bit without Joe Vellano up front to clean up so many plays before they even started.  Fellow ILB L.A. Goree was an honorable mention pick for freshman all-American in 2011, but injury and upperclassmen limited his time in 2012; the starting job is now his and he should at least be solid.  The OLBs come from opposite sides of the field; Matt Robinson is a converted safety and strong in pass coverage, while Marcus Whitfield started his career at defensive end.  Robinson is a good player when healthy; Whitfield, however, had only nine tackles in 12 games (including two starts) and his backup at hand-down OLB is a transfer from D-II Seton Hill.  (Not Hall.  Hill.)  If Robinson remains injury-prone - he's missed huge chunks of the last two seasons with various ailments - his backup Alex Twine has a fair amount of starting experience, but the two OLB positions aren't interchangeable.

The cornerbacks are also a point of strength for the Terps; Dexter McDougle has 24 starts (every game for the past two years) and Jeremiah Johnson also started every game in 2012.  They're both good in run support, solid if unspectacular in coverage.  Sometimes prone to getting beaten over the top.  Their leadership will be important, because sophomore safeties Sean Davis and Anthony Nixon were thrown into the fire a little last year.  Nixon has the makings of a potential star after a pretty good freshman season.

It's up on the line where there's a lot of work to be done.  At nose tackle, Darius Kilgo has a lot of promise and some ability to get into the backfield.  His 11 starts last year make him the only returning starter from 2012; however, none of his backups have ever played a down of college football except for a few snaps for Alex Walker two years ago, against Towson.  The Terps could be vulnerable up the middle when they spell Kilgo.  DE Keith Bowers had 11 starts two years ago, but like Goree, injury and upperclassmen conspired to limit him last year.  At the other end, Quinton Jefferson will be pushed by Andre Monroe, who had five sacks in 2011 as a redshirt freshman but lost all of 2012 to injury.  The upshot here is that Maryland's defensive ends could be pretty productive, but there are big shoes to fill and at the moment, mostly only potential to do it with, along with a need to prove they can stay healthy.

That's kind of the story of Maryland's defense.  They're missing a lot of talent and production from their 2012 team, and they likely have the ability to replace most of it.  If they keep the injuries to a minimum.  This could be more of a gelling year for this unit if it stays healthy, with 2014 as their more likely peak year - by which time they'll be Indiana's problem instead.

-- Special teams

Nathan Renfro had an OK season as a freshman and should work his way into being a good punter as time goes on.  Maryland will definitely need better production from Brad Craddock as the placekicker; Craddock hit a 52-yarder last season but missed four of ten inside 40 yards.  Stefon Diggs took two kickoffs back for touchdowns last season and averaged nearly 30 yards on his returns, as well as 10 yards per punt return.

-- Outlook

Randy Edsall called it a full-blown "process" when Maryland was really looking for a guy to take them to the next level, and then made it a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This team isn't ready for the big-time yet.  But getting back to the postseason isn't a wild idea either.  The first three games will be telling; if they go 3-0 there, which they're capable of doing, scraping together three more wins won't be too surprising.  Giant question marks loom on offense, however, and the defense is more likely to take a step back than forward, if only because it was so surprisingly good last year.  A season in the range of 4-6 wins is the most likely outcome; 7 if they can get every chip to fall just right.

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