Randy Edsall came to the Maryland Terrapins in 2011 with some big shoes to fill. He was replacing arguably the most beloved coach in Maryland football history, Ralph Friedgen. If that wasn't daunting enough, according to Ivan Maisel of ESPN.com, 24 of Edsall's players transfered in the first year. That team went on to a 2-10 record. There was cautious optimism heading into 2012 before the bottom fell out. Every quarterback was lost for the season with an injury, which led to the Terps starting a linebacker under center for the final four games. Maryland went 4-8 and the sharks were circling. Last year, Maryland lost both of their top wide receivers, and both of their cornerbacks on their way to 53 starts lost according to football guru Phil Steele. Despite this, the team went 7-5, leading to a berth in the Military Bowl, which the Terps lost to Marshall.

The good is Edsall has his players. His team has improved every year he has been in College Park. He is in a new, more prestigious conference. And from an injury standpoint, things can't get much worse. There is a lot of experienced talent on this team, and Maryland looks poised for a breakout year.

 

Offensive Overview (Maryland was previously in the ACC)

2013 scoring offense: 26.2 PPG (ninth in the conference), total offense: 396.5 YPG (eighth), rushing YPC: 4.05 (eighth), passing efficiency: 130.28 (eighth)

Average scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: 8.4

Best scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: Second (2010)

Worst scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: 11th (2009)

Returning starters: QB C.J. Brown; TB Brandon Ross; WRs Stefon Diggs, Deon Long, Amba Etta-Tawo; OL Sal Conoboy, Michael Dunn, Ryan Doyle, Andrew Zeller

Open Positions: TE, OL

Offensive Formation: Multiple with spread leanings

Offensive Philosophy: Overpower up front, beat with big play and no-huddle

 

Offensive Breakdown

It's dificult to say what Edsall's offense is capable of, as it has been depleted by injuries for each of the last two years. At its base, it uses multiple looks, though it prefers working out of a three-receiver offense. It is no-huddle, but it is not necessarily up-tempo, as it has consistently been in the bottom half of total plays in the ACC. It strives for balance, and seeks to establish the run via both power and finesse, using both the running back and a mobile quarterback. To make this happen, there is a ton of 5-star talent on the roster, just waiting to get healthy and break through.

 

Offensive Outlook

Senior C.J. Brown is a dual-threat quarterback who has had an injury-riddled career. He has seen more success on the ground than through the air, but last year showed a marked improvement, as he completed 58.9 percent of his passes. He also did this with his top receiving threats out for half of the year. Furthermore, he rolled up 576 yards rushing and 12 rushing touchdowns. Junior Caleb Rowe and sophomore Perry Hills will back him up. Both of them earned multiple starts over the last two years, due to Brown's injuries. 

The running back situation is muddled according to the preseason depth chart which lists four co-starters. Junior Brandon Ross was last year's starter. He had mediocre production, compiling 776 yards rushing, 4.67 YPC and four touchdowns, though he was mostly shut down by better defenses, something the ACC, FSU and Virginia Tech aside, is not known for. Sophomore Wes Brown had a promising freshman year in 2012, but was suspended last year due to criminal activity. Junior Albert Reid was No. 2, and like Ross, had mediocre production. Finally, Jacquille Veii is a sophomore who saw carries as a true freshman.

Barring injury, Maryland has the best receiving corps in the Big Ten. It starts with junior Stefon Diggs, who missed the last half of 2013 with a broken leg. Diggs came to Maryland as the No. 2 receiving prospect in the country (per Rivals), and he hasn't disappointed, having led Maryland in receptions, yards, and touchdowns as a true freshman. Deon Long is another 5-star Juco transfer who was lost to a broken leg last year. Before going down in the seventh game, he had 32 catches for 489 yards and a touchdown. Junior Marcus Leak began the preseason as the third receiver. He was a starter in 2012 before his season was cut short by injury; he missed 2013, opting to take a leave of absence from the university. Along with the current starters, junior Lavern Jacobs and sophomore Amba Etta-Tawo have starting experience and provide depth. Edsall isn't huge on the tight end as a receiving option, but he will have to replace his starter. It will be a three-way competition between sophomores P.J. Gallo, Andrew Isaacs and redshirt-freshman Derrick Hayward.

The third in the series of hard-luck stories concerns the offensive line. Injuries plagued the 2012 unit. Last year, the unit was healthy, but left tackle Mike Medaras opted to leave the program eight games into the season. This year, four starters are back, with the biggest competition coming at left guard where senior Silvano Altamirano and junior Evan Mulrooney will vie for the spot. Meanwhile, true freshman Damian Prince—the No. 2 tackle prospect in the country (Rivals)—is the backup left tackle, while true freshman Derwin Gray—a Rivals 4-star—is the backup right tackle.

The only Big Ten programs that have more star power in their offenses might be Ohio State and Michigan. Injuries have derailed much of Maryland's star power, but the 63-0 beatdown at the hands of FSU happened before Diggs and Long went down. Nevertheless, this crew will destroy any defense without a secondary that can make tackles in the open field. The rushing game will improve, and if the Terps can stay healthy, it should have one of the top offenses in the conference.

 

Defensive Overview (Maryland was previously in the ACC)

2013 scoring defense: 25.3 PPG (seventh in conference), total defense: 375.2 YPG (eighth), rushing YPC allowed: 3.74 YPC (sixth), passing efficiency allowed: 126.94 (eighth)

Average scoring defense conference ranking over last five years: 8.8

Best scoring defense conference ranking over last five years: Sixth (2012)

Worst scoring defense conference ranking over last five years: Last (2009 and 2011)

Returning starters: DEs Quinton Jefferson, Andre Monroe; DTs Darius Kilgo, Keith Bowers; LBs L.A. Goree, Cole Farrand, Matt Robinson; CB William Likely; S's Sean Davis, Anthony Nixon

Open positions: LB, CB

Defensive formation: 3-4

Defensive philosophy: Attack

 

Defensive Breakdown

While the offense has had unprecedented string of bad luck, the defense has also run afoul of the injury gods. Last year, the defense lost both starting cornerbacks, and it started nine different linebackers. Despite this, in three years under Edsall, the defense has improved each year. In 2011, it let up 34.3 PPG, 2012 was down to 27.2 and last year was two points lower. With nine starters back, 2014 should see another improvement.

 

Defensive Outlook

Maryland's defensive ends are set in stone. Senior Andrew Monroe, who was fifth in the ACC with 9.5 sacks, will start at one end, while junior Quinton Jefferson will take the other end. The nose tackle is a two-way battle between fellow seniors Darius Kilgo and Keith Bowers, both of whom who have starting experience. Bowers has also played end, so he would be the fourth man in or he would shift over in case of injury. The issue is depth, as most of the backups are freshmen, both of the true and redshirt variety. 

Due to last year's injuries, Maryland has a wealth of experience at linebacker. The inside starters will be seniors L.A. Goree and Cole Farrand. Senior Matt Robinson will start at one outside position while fellow-senior Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil will man the other. Senior Alex Twine and sophomore Yannick Ngakoue provide experienced depth. The Terps will have to replace Marcus Whitfield and his nine sacks.

Due to last year's injuries, the starting secondary for most of the year included a senior with two previous starts, a true freshman and two sophomores. This year, most of that secondary returns, plus it gets back the players who lost the year to injury. The first starting cornerback spot will go to sophomore William Likely, who was the true freshman in the above equation, and who will compete for all-conference honors. The second spot will be a battle between junior Alvin Hill, who started two last year, and senior Jeremiah Johnson, who missed most of last year due to injury. The safeties both return in juniors Anthony Nixon and Sean Davis.

For a 3-4, Maryland runs a small front, which might pose a problem against power-based Big Ten teams like Michigan State and Wisconsin. However, this is a downhill defense that can cause a lot of problems for teams with sketchy offensive lines or inexperienced quarterbacks. The Terps 2014 defense will not be an elite unit, but will improve for the fourth year in a row under Edsall.

 

Specialists

Junior Brad Craddock returns as the place kicker. Last year he hit 84 percent of his 25 field goal attempts, which was good for fourth in the ACC. Fellow-junior punter Nathan Renfro returns, having paced Maryland with a 40.30 gross average, 10th in the ACC, though that was coupled with the fifth-best net punting average.

Sophomore cornerback William Likely was third in the ACC with a 26.04 kick return average, and was fourth in the conference with 12.81 yards-per-punt-return, including one touchdown.

Compound this with strong kick return coverage—fifth in the ACC—and look for Maryland, along with Michigan State, to have the strongest special teams in the Big Ten.

 

Schedule

A pound sign—#—indicates must-win for Maryland.

An exclamation point—!—indicates a probable loss.

A dollar sign—$—indicates a swing game.

08/30: James Madison (FCS) #
09/06: at USF #
09/13: West Virginia $
09/20: at Syracuse $
09/27: at Indiana $
10/04: Ohio State $
10/11: Open
10/18: Iowa $
10/25: at Wisconsin $
11/01: at Penn State $
11/08: Open
11/15: Michigan State $
11/22: at Michigan $
11/28: Rutgers #

 

Best-Case Scenario

A healthy offense leads to a fireworks display through the air. Stefon Diggs tears up secondaries, which opens up the running game. The defense isn't great, but is good enough and gets help in the field position game via top-notch special teams.

Maryland sweeps the out-of-conference (OOC), and wins its first Big Ten game. It shocks Ohio State, pulling a close upset (don't sleep on this; it could happen), but after beating Iowa, it loses to Wisconsin before taking out Penn State. The Michigan State defense proves too much for the Terps, but Maryland ends the year with wins over Michigan and Rutgers. The Terps finish 10-2 (6-2) in conference and prove a surprisingly strong addition to the Big Ten football landscape.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

The offense is much better than last year, but the schemes still limit what all that star power can do. Meanwhile, the defense takes a small step forward, but is helped out by strong special teams.

Maryland goes 3-1 OOC (loss to Syracuse). The Indiana offense trades blows with the Terps' offense, but in the end, the Hoosiers come out on top. Maryland loses three of its final six, but with a final record of 6-6 (3-5 in conference), questions begin to emerge regarding the leadership of the program.

 

Prediction

Big Ten football championships are won with defense, and the Terrapins don't have the defense, yet, to win championships. However, the offense, coupled with strong special teams and a mediocre defense, is enough to win a lot of games in the Big Ten.

Look for Maryland to post one of the four best offenses in the conference—the Eastern Division will have all four of the best offenses in the conference—en route to a 4-0 OOC, and a surprising 5-3 conference record with the only losses coming against Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan. That is, providing injuries don't derail the Terps. Again.

Final Record: 9-3 (5-3 in conference)

 

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