When just about anything positive is mentioned about Maryland's upcoming season - the return of the option, Da'Rel Scott, the potential season of Torrey Smith - there's unfailingly a qualifier along with it: "so long as the offensive line can hold up."
Maryland wasn't a great team last year, but if the offensive line was a tad better, just average, they're threatening for a bowl. But it wasn't "just average"; it was pretty awful. Last year, there were only two established starters going into the season, one of which (Bruce Campbell) missed a lot of the season thanks to injury.
The results were pretty ugly, but you probably already know that story. The Terps were 110th in sacks allowed, 102nd in tackles for loss allowed, and 105th in rushing offense, the three most OL-intensive stats. Only two teams ranked lower than Maryland in any one of those categories saw a bowl game, and both of those were thanks to the strength of their top 25 defenses, which Maryland (83rd) didn't exactly have.
The good news is that, over the past year, Maryland was able to get in 12 more starts per position and saw what guys like Bennett Fulper, Justin Lewis, and R.J. Dill have to offer. Plus, if the cavalry ain't here yet, it's getting close: Pete DeSouza, Peter White, Max Garcia, and Sal Conaboy are all redshirt or true freshmen that could see playing time. If nothing else, the Terps have significantly better depth than last year.
So with both of those aforementioned "experienced" starters gone, but a few different bonuses, how good (or bad) will Maryland's offensive line be?
Short answer: we don't really know, nor can we (at least not definitively). Long answer: we don't know, but we can at least try to find out. Generally speaking, success is formed from talent and experience. For the first part, let's add up the ol' Rivals rankings for each position in the two-deep (or, in the applicable cases, three-deep (averaged)):
(An unproven walk-on was given a 1 star ranking; a proven walk-on (like Pinegar) was given a two-star. There are a ton of flaws here, namely that the ranking systems aren't perfect and do, at their best, a guesstimation of talent. That said, it's the best way to have to measure talent outside of pure speculation, and least there's some information here.)
Last year's team had more pure talent going into the season, but almost solely thanks to the LT spot (that is, Bruce Campbell's 5-star ranking). With Campbell out but Garcia and Conaboy in, there's a slight drop, but the room for error with rankings is probably around +/- .3, so there's no real reason for worry yet.
In fact, what should be encouraging is the next metric: experience. In fact, number of starts. Last year, not only did Maryland only have to entrenched starters, they only had two players on the line that have ever received a start. This year, that's not the case.
It gets even better if "starts" is changed to "experience"; for instance, R.J. Dill and Justin Lewis saw major playing time in about four games that they don't get credit for starting in; that wasn't the case last year for any player. Though Maryland does have a big hole at LT, all four other positions have at least some starting experience across the board, and the line as a whole boasts eleven more starts than last year.
What does that translate to in the real world? I'm not entirely sure. One thing's obvious: this line won't be some work of art by week 3, but nor should it be as bad as last year's outing. With a little more luck, a lot more depth, and some newfound experience, the OL should see a boost this year to at least keep them out of the gutter.
Then again, the slight talent drop is a little concerning, as is the fact that, across five positions, an 11 start difference isn't a big change. (Then again, the real bonus is that the starts are more spread out, but it still works). Also, if this didn't really scare you about Maryland's left tackle slot, nothing will. Ralph Friedgen is banking on Justin Gilbert, a two star left tackle that's never started a game before, in the place of Bruce Campbell, also known as the most talented offensive lineman at Maryland since Jared Gaither...and maybe a little longer.
In fact, if it wasn't for LT, this year's version of the line would be markedly improved, at least on paper. Maryland's hopes, at least for the moment, of an entirely cohesive, competent unit will be pinned upon Gilbert holding up the left edge. If he does, Maryland's offensive line might actually be respectable this season.
Even if he can't, Maryland's offensive line should be better than it was last year. The talent level is about the same, and the experience is significantly upgraded. Sadly, paper doesn't always translate to field. It did last year, though, so maybe not all is lost. If it does this year, maybe Maryland's offense will be a little better than we all thought.