I've been a sports game fiend for about as long as I remember. When I was a kid, I played endless hours of Ken Griffey Jr. Slugfest (Jeffrey Hammonds ended up hitting .480 for me), and baseball was long the video game sport for me. In high school, after the destruction of the excellent MVP Baseball series, I discovered the NCAA Football series, and every year since that's been the release I've most looked forward to.
Naturally, the goal was always to bring a national championship to Maryland, but as the game got more complex and the Terrapins got more, well, bad, that was a harder and harder task to complete. Today, we're going to keep it real and look more in-depth at Maryland's offensive and defensive ratings in the game, and see what the Terrapins would have to achieve to live up to them.
In taking on this task, it would seem to make sense to compare Maryland's rating with some other schools. Alabama, for instance, has a 99 in all three categories, and I think it's safe to say that the Terps should not be in Alabama territory. Here are the other teams with an 86 in offense - Arizona, Arizona State, Ball State, Boston College, Cal, Houston, Illinois, Northwestern, Oregon State, Penn State, Rutgers, TCU, UCF and Virginia. All things considered, that seems like a pretty accurate group for Maryland to be placed in, with a few exceptions (looking at you, BC). On Maryland's own schedule, only Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech have higher-rated offenses.
With Maryland's offense, there are obviously some key concerns - health and consistency and quarterback, and the giant question mark that is the offensive line. Every early report has suggested C.J. Brown's arm has improved quite a bit since last we saw him - but early reports are exactly that, and come from both biased sources and practice play. In terms of the O-Line, Sal Conaboy is a solid anchor to hold it all together, but there just isn't a whole ton of depth behind the inexperienced starters. Those guys will have to come up big and give Brown time to throw (not to mention pave the way for the trio of running backs).
That brings us to Maryland's strengths - the skill players, of which they have some of the best in the country. Brandon Ross, Wes Brown and Albert Reid are all good enough to start, and Randy Edsall showed last year that he will make his decision on who gets carries based on how they match up against the opposing defenses. Add in Joe Riddle as a pass-catching back and you have one of the strongest backfields in the conference.
Most important, obviously, is the receiving corps. Stefon Diggs showed last year that he is one of the best players in the nation, and one of the best talents to come through Maryland in years, and with a real quarterback throwing him the ball this season he might just improve on last year's near-sorcery at wide receiver. Add in a little Deon Long, who broke nearly every JuCo receiving record last year, and Nigel King, who has long been a site favorite as the future at wide receiver, and Brown suddenly has a variety of options with which he can make plays.
86 isn't cool. You know what's cool? 90. 90 is where Maryland should be by the end of the year (through roster updates and the like), as Stefon Diggs tears through the ACC, C.J. Brown doesn't turn the ball over, and the Terrapins show they have seven different players capable of getting a first down at any time.
This is the first time in quite a while that we've seen Maryland's offense with a higher rating (and more hype) than its defense coming into a season, but it makes sense. The Terps lost A.J. Francis, Joe Vellano, Demetrius Hartsfield, Darin Drakeford and Kenny Tate to graduation last year - all fantastic Terps who helped anchor defenses under three different coordinators. Now, with Brian Stewart's 3-4 system returning, Maryland is going to have rely on an improved and experienced secondary and some young and talented front seven players.
Boston College, Mississippi State, North Carolina State, Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue, TCU and Washington are the other programs with an 85 ranking on defense, and again, that seems like a good group to be in. In terms of Maryland's own schedule, West Virginia (?), Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech have higher-ranked defenses.
The safety duo of Sean Davis (or A.J. Hendy) and Anthony Nixon were thrust into early action as true freshmen last season, and while there were some major miscues, they acquitted themselves well - well enough, at least, to have the starting jobs (and in the case of Nixon, force his competition to change positions). The cornerbacks are the strength of the defense, as Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson have seemingly been with the program for ages. Johnson has been more consistent in his Terrapin career, but McDougle is a dynamite playmaker on defense who can force a turnover at any time.
At linebacker, Maryland has a fierce group of six players who should see the boatload of the playing time - starters Matt Robinson, Cole Farrand, L.A. Goree and Marcus Whitfield as well as reserves Alex Twine and Abner Logan. With the exception of Logan, a redshirt freshman and former four-star prospect all have had extremely productive careers with the Terps, and four of them have held full-time starting positions with the Terps already.
The line is Maryland's greatest concern, as Francis and Vellano were the heart of the program for so long. Darius Kilgo will take over for Francis in the middle, and we saw him get significant playing time last year as Francis was moved to the edge or taking some well-deserved rest. On the ends, Keith Bowers and Quinton Jefferson are listed as the starters, but don't be surprised if Andre Monroe makes some serious waves. The former Freshman All-American is recovering from injury, but he's extraordinarily quick and is quite adept at getting stops behind the line.
The Big Picture
Looking at both rankings, and being the eternal optimist that I only sometimes am, I think Maryland has the opportunity to outperform both ratings given to them by NCAA Football '14. With the talent at the skill positions at offense, and the mixture of talent and experience on defense, the Terps could have quite the surprising year, if things decide to finally go their way. C.J. Brown, the offensive line, and the secondary will go a long way to determining the success of the Maryland football program this season, but after all the bad luck in recent seasons, maybe one will finally go the Terps' way.
Alright you guys, time for you to "keep it real" in the comments. Do you feel 86 and 85 are appropriate ratings for Maryland this season? What do they have to do to live up to those? What do they have to do to impress you? At least one commenter will be selected to join us for an additional post on the game, so crack your writing knuckles and type.