This is the sixth of a series of posts sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 11.
Expectations are a tricky thing.
I, for one, thought that Maryland football was going to be fine last year. Sure, the offensive line looked a little weak and the defense was questionable, but Chris Turner and Da'Rel Scott were back, and I was already on the Torrey Smith bandwagon. A bowl game and 6-6 seems reasonable, I thought.
I was wrong then. Very wrong, as you probably know. So when I saw today's Where I Come From prompt, I wasn't exactly thrilled. But like a valiant, blogging soldier, I worked through my disappointment.
This season is incredibly important for Ralph Friedgen and James Franklin. We didn't really know what Debbie Yow required from her football coaches for them to retain their jobs for another year, but we do know that Debbie Yow is now gone. And it's highly unlikely that whoever new comes in to replace her, especially a big name like Joe Castiglione or Jeff Hathaway, will tolerate a coach that has turned in two unspectacular (or downright bad) seasons in the school's biggest moneymaking sport.
They'll have even less reason to keep either of them considering neither is their own choice. They have no reason to defend these selections; they didn't make them. And if last year was any indication, they'd have no way to defend them even if they wanted to. Friedgen's seat is burning, and Franklin - HCIW and buyout in place or not - is not far behind him. So when I say this season is absolutely pivotal for both of these guys, I really do mean it.
My thoughts on the upcoming year, in a far longer form than necessary, with prediction at the bottom, are below. Feel free to skip it all and just share your thoughts/predictions, if that's how you roll.
The defense will be fine. It usually is and it was middle of the ACC pack last year in almost every conceivable state, even if at times it seemed worse. Don't believe me: check out the detailed stats, via Tomahawk Nation. Virtually every more advanced matrix than "yards per game" pegs Maryland somewhere in the middle 6 of the conference. Considering their record, they could've done a lot worse.
It's also worth mentioning that no one from last year's defense left that was irreplaceable. Nolan Carroll could've been until Maryland had to play 3/4s of the season without him after his injury. Both of the safeties that left had very talented, highly-touted backups that remain in place. No one on the defensive line at all last year, returning or not, was anything close to a star or irreplaceable - they were all good enough, mind you, but "good enough" is easier to find than "outstanding." There's little-to-no rebuilding to be done on defense.
Meanwhile, it's Don Brown's second year at Maryland, which means his vastly-different-from-Chris-Cosh scheme should no longer be as foreign. It also means that the sophomores, redshirt freshmen, and true freshmen on defense weren't recruited to play Cosh's defense - which emphasized zone defense and sitting back - but instead Brown's, which requires speed and aggressiveness.
Put those three facts together, and Maryland's defense will be good enough, probably middle of the ACC. Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten are two of the best linebackers in the ACC, Cameron Chism is set for a breakout year, and I doubt you'll find a more naturally talented pair of safeties than Kenny Tate and Antwine Perez.
But defense was never the question with Maryland's team this year. Perhaps in a fit of irony, it's the offense that figures to plague Maryland again. For all their stars - Torrey Smith, Da'Rel Scott, Davin Meggett - and the "offensive genius" their coach was so lauded for earlier in the decade, the Terps' offense has a large set of relatively large problems.
Don't forget Maryland's awful offensive performance last season: 98th in scoring offense, 105th in rushing offense, 102nd in total offense. The only decent stat on the year was passing offense - 68th, hardly good - but only 5 schools below Maryland on that stat attempted as many or more passes than they did. No, this offense wasn't a work of art.
That's reason #1 for worry. Reason #2 is that the two biggest causes - a porous offensive line and an iffy quarterback situation - haven't worked themselves out.
Jamarr Robinson was forced into a tough position last year, and did pretty well considering the circumstances. But, frankly, he didn't light the world on fire: as I've said before, he was good enough not to ruin his chances at a starting spot, but not good enough to secure it. That he seemed to earn it in spring ball is another matter: what we know right now about Robinson's ability doesn't amount to much. Robinson hasn't yet proven that he's a starting-level QB in the ACC, and to be honest (I'm going to be criticized for saying this) I'm not sure if we fans have all that much reason to believe he'll turn into one.
Now a lot of QBs that become successful (most?) are just like that. Chris Turner was. Sam Hollenbach was. Damn near every successful signal-caller Ralph Friedgen's had was just like that. Riley Skinner, from Wake Forest. Kyle Parker, from Clemson. I can go on. It's not meant to be critical.
That said, Jamarr has three-and-a-half games under his belt, one of which was legitimately, undeniably good, one of which was average, and one-and-a-half of which weren't great. He never caught the eye of Ralph Friedgen and James Franklin before he was forced into the backup role unexpectedly; on the contrary, they worried over him more than anything. Remember, he was this close to changing positions. And he was never particularly highly-touted out of high school. (Again, these aren't meant to be criticisms, they're observations, which lead to what I'm about to say)
Point being, Robinson is a gamble. It's a gamble Maryland probably needs to take considering its not like they have any better options right now - every player behind J-Rob on the depth chart has never stepped foot on the field in a Maryland jersey - but its a gamble nonetheless. Maryland has to roll the dice on an unproven, untouted quarterback turning out okay, and they don't really have any other options, Danny O'Brien notwithstanding (is he better?). It may not be ideal, but its time to hitch our wagons to Jamarr Robinson (unless O'Brien pulls out a fall stunner to grab the spot, in which case he is to whom our wagons shall be hitched) and hope for the best.
As if that wasn't enough sunshiny optimism, let's turn to the offensive line. If Robinson turns out okay (a definite possibility) or even great (less probable, but still possible), Maryland still has this problem to deal with. In essence, they stopped recruiting linemen at a high rate and paid the price after injuries wreaked havoc on the line's depth to leave Maryland with a patchwork line made up of inexperienced players that were forced into playing time far too early.
As expected and as you know, the results were less than fantastic. Since the season started last year, not much has changed for the better: a few depth players are gone, Bruce Campbell declared for the draft, and Phil Costa graduated. Some of the calvary arrived in the form of Sal Conaboy, Max Garcia, and potentially Nate Clarke, but they won't be ready for some time. So Maryland will be relying upon natural progression and chemistry for offensive line improvement.
There's not much else to say past that; you know how bad the line was, and you probably know that its not a whole lot better right now. There's some bright spots - particularly the fact that Jamarr Robinson is at quarterback, who unlike Chris Turner showed that he knew how to avoid the rush - but by and large the line doesn't seem vastly improved on the surface.
So Maryland's going to have to hope for some magic turned in by Tom Bratten and Ralph Friedgen in developing the same players that struggled last year into starter-caliber linemen. And who knows, maybe they did? Unless that happens, though, Robinson's success suddenly means a lot less. Same goes for the rest of the talent on offense, like Scott, Smith, Meggett, Cannon, Ronnie Tyler, Caleb Porzel, and D.J. Adams. Maryland's offensive success, like it did last year, will ultimately rely upon the offensive line.
Now, maybe that's again a little too pessimistic; there have been definite offensive strides. Da'Rel Scott is healthy and hopefully fumble-free this year. Robinson shouldn't get hit and sacked as much as Turner did last year, meaning more opportunities for positive yardage and maybe a few more chances for Torrey Smith to turn in big plays. Robinson also shouldn't be hurt; Turner was, which limited his passing strength. There are improvements, but unless the line gets better, they'll be minor ones, not major ones.
So there we have it. A defense that will probably be good enough and an offense that has the potential to be great if two very crucial positions turn out okay. Part of me wants to say 4-8 is a probability, and maybe that's the part of me that wrote this entire preview. And for part of me, that's what my prediction is.
But this team could go 6-6 just as easily as they could 4-8. There are without a doubt 6 winnable games on the schedule, and Maryland's line improving enough to be decent isn't a stretch of the imagination. And being a fan is a lot more fun when you have hope (as the Orioles have proven to me time and time again).
So where on the spectrum do you fall? Be heard!