Football's almost back! Whether or not that's a good or bad thing depends on your outlook, I guess, and perhaps your allegiances as well. (Just wait until basketball season, Clemson fans.) It's understandably a bit of a nervy time for Marylanders, but I for one am well and truly excited to get this season kicked off, even if only to see what Maryland will look like this year.
If you're like me and raring for the season to go, it may be tough to get through the next five days while waiting for Saturday to arrive. We may not be able to help you with all of that, but we do have a nice, long preview roundtable to make your Monday that much shorter and sweeter.
So read on for Pete, Dave, Ben G., and my own thoughts on the state of Maryland football, from Randy Edsall's job security to the talented freshmen to season predictions and much more.
This season looks bleak, so let's start with some optimism. Maryland might have sustained some killer injuries, which we'll talk about in time, but the great thing about preseason is that anything can still happen. So what qualifies as a successful year for Maryland this season, and what has to happen to get them there?
PV: I'm usually an optimist, but these injuries have killed every ounce of positive energy I might have once had. A successful year for me this year is an improvement on last season at all. Four wins, to me, would be a miracle and a bowl game isn't even crossing my mind.
So let's talk about four wins, and what needs to happen to get there. It starts with the offensive line, because with a true freshman quarterback, you're going to need all the protection you can get. The defense, even with the recent injuries, is still solid, and I'm not even remotely concerned about them. If Locksley can figure out a way to get all of the new weapons on offense the ball, the Terps might even win some conference games.
DT: I think this season, fans want to see improvement. Maryland had a horrible year last year, but they were still in a number of games, even late in the season. I think showing improvement on defense and special teams is key, but an improvement in the win/loss column is crucial too. For Maryland, taking care of business against lesser opponents and being in games against stronger teams, like FSU, would help show that Edsall is building towards achieving success. Highlighting the potential this team has, especially moving into 2013, will also be huge, so make sure you showcase people like Diggs. I think finishing with 5 or more wins would be a big improvement and show this team is heading in the right direction.
BG: My first thought when reading this question was "There's no way this season can be a success." How's that for an indicator of where Maryland football is right now? Before Brown went down, I would have been satisfied with six wins. Now, I'll say four is the magic number. If this team can squeek out four wins with a true freshman at quarterback and all the injuries, I think you'd have to consider that a success. It would be respectable enough to keep recruits committed and hopefully position Maryland for a big turnaround in 2013.
In order to get there, the Terps have to start hot. If they don't win two of their first three games, I don't think they get to four wins. I also think they need to avoid any other significant injuries and get smart, solid play from quarterback Perry Hills. He doesn't have to be Aaron Rodgers, he just needs to protect the ball and I think four wins is within the realm of possibility.
BB: Four wins seems to be the magic number, and I think that's pretty fair. I certainly wouldn't be upset with a four-win season, but at the same time it's not a particularly exciting or even hugely encouraging year. Maryland would probably have to get that fifth win for me to class the year as truly successful, and while I think it's unlikely, it's within the realm of imagination. Looking at the schedule, Maryland needs to get those wins in early, which means Hills needs to be better than reasonably expected right out of the gate, and the running game will probably have to gel quickly as well. If Maryland can't win two of their first three, I think you can kiss the hopes of a productive season good-bye, because the back-end (@UVA, State, @BC, GT, @Clemson, FSU, @UNC) is killer. But I'll be hopeful if things click against W&M, because Maryland could reasonably expect as many as four wins from the opening five. And after that, it's not tough to pull off one - or maybe even two - upsets down the stretch.
Now, to a much more divisive topic: Randy Edsall's job security. Everyone seems to agree that he's a hot seat of sorts, but it's tough to nail down just how toasty his chair is. So, what say you: is Edsall's job in imminent danger, especially with all those injuries? How bad would it have to get for him to be really sweating this year, or is it still a season or two too early?
PV: I think Edsall's seat should be in danger, but I don't think it is. The injuries definitely cut him some slack (and rightfully so), but there are very few positive things that have happened since he's taken over. We knew it was going to be a poor hire in the short term - going from one extreme (player's coach) to another (military hard-ass) is never going to be easy - but the hope was that he would still go to a bowl game last year and build a foundation off that. The first didn't happen, but the second is starting to, thanks to some great recruiting classes.
Another 2-10 season would make the seat hot, but I think only a winless campaign gets him fired outright. Kevin Anderson has too much money and too much pride invested in this hire to make a swift move otherwise.
DT: This is a tough question. I really believe, even if Maryland struggles, Edsall returns next year for a variety of reasons. If Anderson fires Edsall, he's basically conceding that he made a mistake in hiring him, which could cost him his job soon after. A lot of factors went into the 2-10 season, including injuries, which Edsall couldn't control. Obviously he deserves blame in what happened last year, but if Maryland again struggles to a 2-10 or worse record this year, more of the blame can and will be placed on him. For example, Edsall had the chance to bring in a back up QB with experience in case something happened to C.J. Brown, but he didn't. If Hills or any of the other QBs struggle, that's on Edsall. He couldn't have known Brown would tear his ACL, but he didn't know he had a mobile QB who could go down at any minute as a result of his ability and desire to get out and run. Will he get fired? It's hard to say, but I think no.
BG: I think you're one year away from Edsall's seat getting seriously hot. Last year went about as poorly as it could have but he had the built-in excuse of implementing his system and coaching his players. This year, his starting quarterback went down in training camp and the team has suffered a handful of other serious injuries -- again, the built-in excuse is there. Next year, injuries or no injuries, people will be tired of the excuses and he'll have to win if he wants to keep his job. It would take a truly disastrous season (1-11) and several 2011 Boston College game crowds for Kevin Anderson to have his hand forced here.
BB: Think everybody has this one right. In a vacuum, if you saw a coach who went 2-10 in his opening year and suffered through some of the things Edsall suffered through, you'd think he's certainly on the hot seat and anything short of five wins would get him the boot. That doesn't really apply here, for two reasons. First, the finances of the issue are still too tricky. Maryland's athletic department isn't in a position where it can bite a $6mil bullet, not in reality and certainly not in PR. Fiscally speaking that money's a sunk cost, but that doesn't mean it gets magicked up out of nowhere.
And, as Dave notes, there's the KA factor. Contrary to popular belief, Anderson took a massive risk with Edsall. When everyone and their mother was shouting for Mike Leach, Anderson went against the grain and picked the guy no one wanted. He's a "safe" coach, but because he didn't have anyone in his corner, a hugely risky pick for Anderson. With KA's overall performance as AD so far, I don't think he could survive spending $6mil firing the coach he hired against everyone's wishes. So it's likely that Anderson will want to go down with the ship, unless he gets assurance that making a move won't result in his own head. That said, his hand could be forced. He'll give Edsall as much cover as he can muster, but anything 2-10 or worse - resulting in a 2-year record of 4-20 at best - would probably give him no choice, especially once the big donors start withholding funds. Anything above that, and Randy's safe for another season.
Speaking of those injuries, a quick sampling: C.J. Brown and Andre Monroe out for the year, while Kenny Tate, Matt Robinson, A.J. Hendy, Josh Cary, Isaac Goins, and Isaiah Ross - just to name a few - will likely miss the first few weeks. How drastically have the injuries altered your outlook on the year? Are these injuries something Maryland can overcome to find a somewhat successful year, or are we potentially staring at a lost season?
PV: Beyond drastically. With all those guys healthy, I thought Maryland had an outside chance of repeating the surprise success of two years ago. The defense was extremely strong, the offense was inexperienced but talented, and the coordinators are big-time upgrades over last year.
C.J.'s injury obviously hurts the most, but we've talked about that extensively. Monroe's is a big killer, as well - I expected him to have a huge season this year and be the third wheel on a fantastic defensive line that just got 1/3 less fantastic. Tate, Robinson and Ross both have injury histories, so it was hard to expect them to stay healthy. While Cary and Goins were expected to start, they were in battles at their position so the other guy can take over for a few weeks, and Hendy is expected to play a role but missing the first few weeks isn't such a big deal. It really all comes back to Brown, because Maryland's team this season was not set up to survive that kind of injury.
DT: The injuries are going to be tough to overcome, especially since so many were to key positions. Some of them are only for a few weeks, which will result in those players being back for the tough stretch of the schedule (basically WVU and on). On a scale of 1-10, I'd say the injury impact is about a 5 on my outlook for the year. It hasn't completely ruined everything, but it definitely makes me think we have less of a chance of achieving an even somewhat successful season.
BG: They're pretty bad. Especially C.J. All we heard this training camp was how C.J. Brown had taken control of the team, it was his locker room, etc. To have him go down for the season is devastating. The injury is particularly damaging because of the three remaining quarterbacks on the roster, not one has a thrown a single pass at the college football level. The rest I could probably live with although Monroe out for the season is certainly a huge loss. But C.J.? By far the toughest pill to swallow of all the injuries.
BB: The saving grace is that a lot of the guys get back soon. The injuries to Brown and Monroe suck, but if these things are ever going to level out, I'm hoping that Tate, Robinson, Hendy and the rest will get back healthy within a few weeks and stay healthy from there on out. And if that does indeed happen, then yeah, I think the injuries can more or less be overcome. There's enough depth at line that Monroe was more of a luxury than a necessity, and while a true freshman at QB is always scary, he can be compensated for if everyone else is healthy.
I'm not necessarily expecting it, but yes, I think it's completely possible and wouldn't be at all surprised if Maryland somehow snuck its way into respectability after getting everyone else back.
Maryland's talented bunch of freshmen - Stefon Diggs, Wes Brown, Mike Madaras, Albert Reid, perhaps count Nigel King as well - have, thankfully, avoided the injury bug for the most part. What do you see this group achieving, over both the short term and the long run? And can Maryland build upon their recruiting successes on a long-term basis?
PV: In the short term, I only expect Diggs to have a "successful" year out of the big names. I think some of the less-heralded guys - an Isaac Goins (when he's healthy) or a Sean Davis - will have good seasons. For Brown and Reid, I expect a learning curve - only because everyone, their defensive coordinator, and their defensive coordinator's mother will know that Maryland is going to run the ball. The young backs will be facing a lot of stacked boxes, and while they're extremely talented it's going to be a tough adjustment.
In the long run, this team is set up for success in the future. With Hills, Rowe or Cockerille at quarterback, Reid and Brown at running back, Cierski at fullback, Diggs, King and a host of others at wideout, Madaras, Brigham and Gray on the O-Line, there is a whole lot of young talent either in College Park already or coming in next year...and that's just the offense. This team, if they stay in the program and stay healthy, could be a legitimate conference contender in just a few years.
DT: I think Maryland has to do a good job showcasing and promoting these guys throughout the season. They're not going to be as immediately impactful as freshman can be in basketball because so much more, including more players, goes into achieving success in football. But I think you'll still notice these guys, especially Diggs, who has a chance to be an energetic force on special teams and in the passing game. They are the future of Maryland football. If Maryland's record is indeed bad again this season, fans need to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. They need to know that progress is being made and will come, even if it's not immediate. And as long as Locks is on the staff, you have to anticipate that the current recruiting trend will continue.
BG: In the long-term I think the aforementioned group of guys is going to be great. Particularly Diggs. He's got superstar written all over him.
In the short-term, I think this group will make a big impact on the field as well. Diggs, specifically, has the chance to be the face of the team by seasons end if he can find the endzone a half dozen times and get casual sports fans talking positive about Maryland football. Wes Brown and Albert Reid also have a chance to make major contributions this season, although it'll be interesting to see how Locksley divides the carries between those two, Justin Pickett, and Brandon Ross.
My biggest concern with the injuries this year isn't so much that our record will be awful (we weren't winning the ACC this year anyway), but that it could have a negative impact on the momentum we've built in local recruiting. We've got a great group of freshman this year and next year's class is ranked as high as #22 by scouting services. Most the studs in those two classes have been local guys and in order to get those guys to keep buying in, the Terps are going to need to show their moving in the right direction. I think recruits will recognize all the injuries the team has suffered and continue buying into the vision of Maryland becoming contenders with a group of locals. But that vision becomes harder to sell with another 2-10ish season.
BB: Short-term, Diggs and perhaps Brown and Reid will contribute, all to varying levels. None of them are game-changing players at this point in their career, save maybe Diggs, but they'll help Maryland's offense by providing some dynamic tools. Long-term, though, this is a core that should be going to at least a mid-range bowl game in time, especially if Maryland can keep building on local recruiting. Which, by the way, I'm not sure they'll be able to do if they win fewer than five games this year.
Rapid fire round: I name a category, you give me an answer and short justification. Let's start it off: Maryland's MVP at the end of the year:
PV: Demetrius Hartsfield. Almost went Vellano here (the strength is clearly on the defensive side of the ball for the Terps), but I think Hartsfield will excel in the 3-4.
DT: Perry Hills. I think he'll surprise a lot of people, despite being a true freshman.
BG: Joe Vellano. He's the best player on Maryland's best unit this season.
BB: You are a braver man than I, Dave Tucker. I'll second my namepatriot and go with Big Joe.
A breakout player who isn't in the spotlight now but will be by season's end:
PV: On offense, Nigel King. He's got all the tools to be a star, and now has the opportunity to do so. On defense, Isaac Goins. I really believe in this JuCo transfer, and think he'll be a big-time contributor to this team.
DT: Justus Pickett. Yes, he's on top of the depth chart, but I don't feel like anyone is talking about Maryland's running game. I think Pickett will will have a very good season, as long as the offensive line can hold together. By the end of the season, I think you'll hear a lot of excitement about Pickett's potential behind a better o-line as we head into 2013.
BG: I'll go Wes Brown here. He's the biggest back on the roster and I think he'll make his mark in goal line situations.
BB: Dexter McDougle. Okay, sure, he's already a starter, but I do think he'll emerge as one of the better cornerbacks in the country this year, especially due to his playmaking ability. He's like our Honey Badger.
Perry Hills' final statline:
PV: 1,400 yards passing, 8 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 600 yards rushing, five touchdowns.
DT: 2,900 yards, 56% comp., 20 TD, 9 Int
BG: 2,100 yards passing, 10 TDs, 12 interceptions, 550 rushing yards, 2 TDs
BB: 1,900 passing, 600 on the ground. 14 (8 through the air, 6 on the ground) touchdowns, 8 interceptions.
(Taking the average, it'd be 2,075 passing yards, 11 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 583 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns. So basically we're expecting him to be Teddy Bridgewater, only better on the ground. Maybe we need to scale these back a bit.)
Stefon Diggs' total touchdowns:
PV: 5. Two return, two receiving, one rushing (I'm feeling a reverse call).
DT: 4 on special teams, 3 as a WR for 7 total.
BG: 6! 2 punt returns, 1 kick return, three receiving.
BB: 8. Apparently I'm the optimist here. Six receiving and two returning.
Biggest win (in either importance or scoreboard):
PV: My gut is screaming 1-11 and William & Mary here, but before you all scream at me I'll say Connecticut against Don Brown and Edsall's old school.
DT: At Virginia. Diggs scores a TD on a punt return and as a WR
BG: UConn at home. A little extra motivation for Edsall and the significance of beating his old team will serve as the early highlight of an otherwise tough season.
BB: I'll take the easy way out and say William and Mary, solely for the scoreboard. It's the one they should win by double-digits. Wins over Wake Forest or UConn would be more important, but I'm not sold they win them; I am sold Maryland beats W&M by upwards of two touchdowns, though.
Biggest lost (ditto):
PV: West Virginia. By about 80.
DT: To FSU, in both points and meaning. Maryland is shown why FSU is the top dog in the conference. Maryland enters the game sitting at five wins, needing to beat either the Noles at home or Tar Heels on the road to be bowl eligible, but FSU makes sure Maryland doesn't beat them to achieve that.
BG: West Virginia. They're going to be really good, they don't like us, and it's in Morgantown. Nuff' said.
BB: I fear they'll lose to UConn and that'll be a huge dent in Edsall's armor. The local media will talk about it for days.
And now it's time to really nail your colors to the mast. What's Maryland's record this year, and what's the fallout from it - in recruiting, in the administration, and on the staff?
PV: 2-10. Wins against William & Mary and UConn. Major fallout in recruiting, with at least two bigger recruits reconsidering and no more big signings. Fans call for the ousting of Edsall, but he stays around for one more year. Next year, they make a bowl game. The year after that, double-digit wins, and all is right with the world.
DT: Maryland surprises many early in the season and jumps out to a 4-2 record, but struggles down the stretch as the o-line breaks down and a lack of depth causes Maryland to again lose some close games,dropping five of their final six to finish just short of being bowl eligible at 5-7. Edsall and his staff keep their jobs, the recruiting success continues, and the Athletic Department and Kevin Anderson pray Edsall and the Terps have a great 2013 season.
BG: I'm going to say 3-9 with wins over William & Mary, UConn and one of NC State/Boston College. The fallout from recruiting is minimal because Locksley is a GOD but the seat starts getting really hot for Randy Edsall. The Terps come into 2013 with a hardened C.J. Brown, an experienced Stefon Diggs and a major chip on their shoulder.
BB: Bless your optimistic heart, Dave. I think 3-9 is probably the most likely outcome, with wins over W&M, perhaps Temple, and one conference opponent. Maryland should get better as they go along, especially Hills, but with the back half of the schedule that may not matter. It's unfortunate, but it's where Maryland is. I'd say that keeps Edsall hanging onto his job by a thread (and Anderson right there with him), but at least one of Derwin Gray, Yannick Ngakoue, and Andrew Isaacs decommitts, with no big late recruiting push like last season. Edsall goes into his third season with huge, huge pressure on his shoulders.
That's a composite record of 4-8, by the way. Go place your bets now.
Anyway: so, what do you think? Agree with us? Disagree? The comments are there for a reason, folks.