Was Maryland's football season a success?

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

How should we view the 2013 season?

With the college football season coming to a close, it seems like a good time to look back and ask a seemingly simple question: Was the 2013 Maryland football season a success?

To answer this, we will look at two different criteria: one is the eye test, the other is statistical. I will take the former and Lee Sampson will breakdown what the stats say.

The Eye Test, by Andrew

The key word is "context," in other words, in what context does one judge the 2013 Terrapins football team?

If we are looking at the season in a vacuum, sevens wins seems like the lowest number acceptable for a major conference program. Acceptable, however, is different from successful. It is very difficult to call a team that just barely skirted the line between acceptable and unacceptable a success.

Now, let's add some more context, the context of injuries. At different points throughout the year Maryland played multiple games without its quarterback (C.J. Brown), two best defensive backs (Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson), two best linebackers (Matt Robinson and Cole Farrand), best pass rusher (Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil) and two best wide receivers (Stefon Diggs and Deon Long). Heading into the matchup against Clemson, Maryland listed 24 players on their injury report, nine of them out for the season. Make no mistake about it; this was one of the most injury-ridden rosters in the nation.

This is an important point to hammer home because many fans have brushed it off, saying that every team has injuries. While that's true, almost no other team had this many injuries to this many critically important players.

In the context provided, we are looking at a team that barely reached its minimum acceptable bar, but that has a legitimate excuse for some of the losses. With just two or three of the players not injured, it seems feasible that Maryland could have beaten Boston College or Marshall. On the other hand, they very well could have lost to Virginia or Virginia Tech. So, the range of achievement for this team was somewhere between 5-7 and 9-4.

Once more, let's step back for more context -- the context of Randy Edsall's tenure at Maryland.

It is inarguable that Maryland has improved each season under Edsall, both in the win column and in level of play. Just about doubling your win total every year is a good direction for a program. Not only that, but the talent level and execution of that talent has gotten better.

The best example of that is the Virginia Tech game. In past years under Edsall, there is no way Maryland wins that game. The Terps went down early, fought their way to a big lead, squandered the lead and still found a way to pull out a win against the third best defense in the country, in one of the hardest places to play in college football.

Say what you want about Edsall. He has more than his fair share of flaws, but to my eyes he has improved as a coach in the last three years. A lot of this has to do with the coordinators he's hired around him.

It is a widely held belief that transitioning from the 4-3 to the 3-4 in college football is a three- to four-year process, and this was just year two. Newly extended defensive coordinator Brian Stewart has done a very good job accelerating the learning process. The defense has not been great or even consistently very good, but there has been far more good than bad.

On offense, coordinator Mike Locksley is a more complicated case. There is the perception that local recruiting has gotten better since his arrival, but it's certainly not at the level we anticipated -- although landing Damien Prince over national champion FSU (and SEC programs South Carolina and Florida) could make much of the skepticism disappear. His play calling has been up and down at best, although still better than *shiver* Gary Crowton.

There is obviously much more to be said about the Edsall era, but it is clear that the program has improved over the last three years. Making a bowl game after winning six total games in the two seasons combined is a big step. At the very least, the train (or be-flagged plane) is moving in the right direction.

Now, let's take one last step back, because it is impossible to judge one season without looking at where it sits in the context of the program as a whole, including where it was before Edsall arrived. This is where there anti-Edsall camp gets to yell about how he took over a nine-win team and made it a two-win team, so getting better every year is nothing to be proud of. This is where you can scoff at the infamous "good to great" idea.

First of all, you are completely within your rights as a fan to think this way. It's really hard to look at a team that lost in the Military Bowl as a success when much of the point of firing Ralph Friedgen was because just winning the Military Bowl was not good enough. All of this is true and all of this is fair.

There are others, though, that will say no one said "good to great" would be a quick process. Stable, sustainable football programs are tough to build. Sure, there are teams like Auburn that can be awful under one coach, hire a new guy and the next year they are playing for the national championship, but that is not the norm.

Looking back over the last 27 years of Maryland football, since the end of the Bobby Ross era, there have been seven 7-win seasons and nine bowl games. Friedgen was the head coach for seven of those bowls, which is remarkable, but the program was anything but stable. In the years after the three straight 10-win seasons, the Terps had 5, 5, 9, 6, 8, 2 and 9 wins.

It remains to be seen if Edsall is actually building a stable program. This season could have been the start of something great, or it could be a high point in an otherwise disastrous era of Maryland football. This has never been some powerhouse that Edsall completely destroyed, nor was it a perennial doormat. The program, over it's history, has been fairly mediocre, averaging about 5 wins per season in the last 27 years. This is to say, we are in no position to turn our noses up at a winning season.

For my money, I always defer to what I see with my own eyes, and I see an improving football team. Many wrote them off for dead because all of the injuries, but they won some impressive games, lost some embarrassing ones, and ended up with a winning record. After the last two seasons I will take that winning record and count it as a success.

A statistical analysis, by Lee

The Maryland football team's 2013 season showed promise for the future. The Terps excelled in some areas and struggled in others. Areas of strength included tackles for loss, sacks, and opponent's third down conversion rates. Certain other categories, namely scoring offense, turnover margin, and Maryland's third down conversion rates, need to be improved as the team transitions to the Big Ten. The good news is that areas of strength will probably continue into next year. Maryland returns all but three seniors on the defensive two-deep, in addition to numerous players returning from injury.

Comparing this season's statistics to the previous four years of Maryland football, the season should be viewed as a success. Despite injuries to key players, the offense averaged more total yards this year than any of the previous four seasons. Additionally, the defense recorded more sacks, more tackles for loss and opponents had a lower third down conversion percentage in 2013 than in any of the previous four seasons.

In fact, the key difference between the 2013 team and the 2010 bowl team is turnover margin. The 2010 Military Bowl champs were +1.36 turnovers per game, compared with -.54 for the 2013 team. Compared to recent history, the 2013 team's statistics are trending in the right direction, and therefore the season can be viewed as successful.

Many members of the Maryland fan base believe the football team will struggle after moving to the Big Ten in 2014. The table below presents the team rank for a selection of important categories. I then compared the figures in each category to Big Ten statistics from 2013. The results are interesting.

Category ACC Rank Mythical B1G Rank
Scoring offense 9th T10th 26.2
Total offense 8th 8th 396.5
Turnover margin 14th 11th -0.54
3rd down conversion 14th 12th 31.75%
Scoring defense 7th 7th 25.3
Total defense 8th 7th 375.2
Sacks 3rd 3rd 35
Opponent 3rd downs 6th 4th 34.16%
Tackles for loss 2nd 1st (!) 100
Time of possession 9th 8th 29:33:00

These category ranks are fairly consistent, and actually trend in favor of the Terps. The only category that the Terps would drop in would have been scoring offense. The Maryland defense looks better when compared to the Big Ten than to the ACC.

Further, based on conference rankings, the ACC and Big Ten appear to be on equal footing. ESPN ranks the Big Ten as the fourth best conference, and the ACC as the fifth best conference, but only 4.4 points separate the two conferences (the narrowest margin among the top seven conferences). Additionally, Jeff Sagarin's rankings have the respective Big Ten and ACC divisions clustered between fifth and ninth overall (the Legends division is ranked No. 5, ACC Coastal 7, Big Ten Leaders 8, and ACC Atlantic 9). Perhaps the Big Ten was down this year, but Maryland fans should take solace in the numbers. The 2014 team should be competitive in its inaugural Big Ten season. A train wreck season is highly unlikely

***

So there you have it. Both Lee and I classify the 2014 season as a successful one, but with some trepidation, while both of us are relatively optimistic about the future. What do you think?

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