Maryland football has a lot to overcome in the first place. Just look at their record last year. Throw on a kicking game uncertainty and a few dozen injuries, and Ralph Friedgen's work is cut out for him as it stands right now. Throw in a few academic casualties onto the pile, and it gets pretty ugly.
Some of that stuff's not avoidable. Injuries will happen. The kicking game is a bad sign, but there's not a lot a coach can do about that. The record is a long-term problem. But academic or program casualties can usually be avoided, at least somewhat. So why haven't they been?
The departures last year were pretty minor; Dion Armstrong was the only major departure. This year, that hasn't been the case. A quick overview:
Lamar Young left the program in spring for undisclosed reasons, though academics were rumored to play a role. Caleb Porzel did the same in the fall. Ditto for Javarie Johnson.
That's two impact players and one guy that would've at least provided depth, talent, and experience for an offensive line that desperately needs one. It's kind of a big deal. Oh, and one non-academic casualty, Avery Murray, who decided to transfer back home. That's a lot of talent that Maryland really could've used this year.
There are a few more possibilities to throw on top of that pile, like Ronnie Tyler and Zach Kerr. Both Tyler and Kerr were in summer school to get their GPA up, and the results haven't come back yet. At least publicly, there's been no determination as to whether or not those two will be good to go. (There were also some rumors surrounding Kenny Tate, but I'm not sure they were ever anything more than that; cryptic tweets last night were probably a good sign).
Obviously, making any type of premature assumption regarding Tyler or Kerr would be a pretty bad idea, and the fact that both are practicing is a good sign. We'll know for sure on Sept. 6.
The bigger problem is that this is a bit of a negative trend toward academic trouble and program unhappiness, and that's something no team can afford for their program. To paraphrase Goldfinger, once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is trending (er, enemy action, but whatever). It's only one year, yes, but that many issues, with potentially one or two more on the way, is very, very troubling.
Maryland's had tough academic standards compared to all but the most rigorous schools, for which you can thank William Kirwin and, sadly, the Len Bias tragedy. And while the outcomes have been varying between good and not-quite-so-good, the Terps have managed to make it through and even find real success in almost every sport. So why would now, all of a sudden, a bunch of casualties, like Johnson and Young, hit? Coincidence, perhaps, but it's just a little surprising. And it still doesn't entirely explain away the transfers that might've been academically okay.
Maybe it's just a result of there being so much turmoil in the athletic department this year, but most of that went down after students got out anyway. Instead, I'm more likely to believe that, for the academic problems, there's a lack of adequate academic support. That theory is dominant right now, and with good reason; with average academic support, making sure students went to class and providing them above-average tutoring, you wouldn't expect so many of these situations.
I'm not absolving the students of failure, but they're not any particularly more or less motivated than the students at any other school, and you rarely see this type of mini-exodus anywhere else.
And, of course, there are personal reasons, as well, though academics are usually the main reason for the type of "transfers" we've seen lately. The attitude and lack of buzz around the program can't help any, either.
It's gotten to the point where athletes falling for academics or even their own personal reasons is a real problem, and that's something that should rarely be on the radar, if ever.
One of the biggest stories against Navy, perhaps only second to the actual result, will be whether or not Tyler and Kerr actually take the field. If they don't, this season might be much longer than we first thought, and revamping the academic support system will probably one of the top goals for any new administration.