I asked the same question last year when a certain newspaper columnist who goes by Mr. College Football, Tony Barnhart, predicted Maryland as the worst team in the Atlantic. Well, he came out with this year's predictions, and guess what: Maryland's last...again.
What we learned: The offense is going to be just fine. Quarterback Chris Turner (30 career starts) is gone but Friedgen was encouraged this spring about the progress of Jamarr Robinson, who got significant experience in the final four games of the 2009 season. Friedgen also feels better about his offensive line, which was all but depleted due to injuries last season. ...
What we still don't know: Can Maryland find a way to win the close ones? The Terps lost 10 games last season but rarely did they get blown out. They lost to Middle Tennessee by one (32-31), to Boston College by two (19-17), to Florida State by three (29-26), to Duke by four (17-13), and to N.C. State by seven (38-31). It would help matters if Maryland could take it up a notch or two on defense. The Terps were last in the ACC in scoring defense, allowing 31.25 points per game.
Even without the preseason magazines backing him up, I learned my lesson about doubting too much. Would I be surprised if Maryland came in last place for their second year in a row? Not particularly. Would I be satisfied? Of course not, and it would probably (nay, should certainly) mark the end of Ralph Friedgen's tenure at Maryland, his assistants' recruiting successes disregarded. But no, I wouldn't find it to be shocking.
At the same time, it would be at least somewhat unexpected, which is to say I don't expect Maryland to finish last. At least this time I have someone to agree with me: Heather Dinich has Maryland at #8 in the ACC, ahead of two other Atlantic teams, which is good for #4 in the division. Not exactly bowl material, but the difference between #4 and last place is enormous.
While I tried to play "actual fan smarter than big-time, far-off columnist" last time and utterly failed, I might give it another shot: I'm worried about nothing less on this team than the defense. Perhaps it's just because the offense was so colossally bad that it overshadowed the defensive struggles, but they were still better last year, they bring more to the table this year, and they return almost every major piece from last season. Alex Wujciak, Adrian Moten, Cameron Chism, Kenny Tate, and Demetrius Hartsfield are back, while Javarie Johnson, Dexter McDougle, and Dexter McDougle enter the fold. That should be enough to overcome the departures of Jamari McCollough and Travis Ivey.
Where the season will likely revolve is on the other side of the ball: calling the offense "fine" is a gross overestimation of what spring ball can tell a coach. Last year it told us that the defense Maryland was forming was legendary. Obviously, that wasn't the case. What's more, I haven't found one quote that definitively says "the offense was better than the defense" at any point.
If you watched at least one game last year, it was easy to see that the offensive line was the worst part of the team; it limited the Terps when they tried to pass, or even run for that matter. If there were any shreds of greatness on the offense, they were stifled by the offensive line. Even if they did okay against a likely vanilla defense, there's no indication that they'll be better in a real game. If they aren't, last place should surprise no one.
The other thing that needs to improve - or, in this case, be proven - is quarterback play. We still don't know for sure who will be taking the field against Navy, whether it'll be Jamarr Robinson or Danny O'Brien, and we still don't know for sure if either of those two can actually win a real game. Phooey with winning close games; holding Boston College to 19 and Duke to 17 weren't the killers. It was the inability to score 20 that did the Terps in during those games. I'm not saying the defense was great, but the offense was worse, and likely will be again.
That said, let's not overestimate Maryland's competition. Wake Forest is losing Riley Skinner and looking at an unproven QB in Skylar Jones, and will also be lacking the three best defensive players from last year: Brandon Ghee, John Russell, and Boo Robinson. North Carolina State might not have starting QB Russell Wilson and lost four veterans to drug charges, including their star tight end George Bryan. Let's not act like Maryland is up against Florida and Texas to stay out of the cellar.
Ultimately, I'd be disappointed if Barnhart's predictions came true, particularly because Wake Forest and N.C. State are having struggles of their own. And ultimately, I don't expect Barnhart's predictions to come true. While the offensive line is a huge question mark, if it can find moderate improvement there's enough offensive talent to be just fine.