Happy Christmas Eve, everyone. I'll be on the road most of the day (I scheduled this last night, so I'm talking to you from the future, or the past, or something) and I doubt much news will be coming out anyway, so if you need to stay occupied this might be your best bet of the day. Luckily, it's nearly 4000 words.
I know we're fully in the throes of basketball season, which means the vast majority of the fanbase has blocked the past few misery-filled football months out of their memory. But we haven't. In fact, we think it's worth talking about even more.
So, as usual, when there's a big event that needs discussing, we go to a roundtable. This time, we talk a basic season review, plus the Locksley hire, uniforms, the future of the program, and more. Read on post-jump for the whole thing and, as always, feel free to share your own views in the comments.
Let's start things off with a season review, by way of some superlatives. (Terperlatives?) Give me your best player, best moment, most promising freshman, biggest disappointment (other than the season itself), and lasting memory, good or bad, from the season that was. No analysis required, though you can defend your selections if you feel the need to.
I wanted to go with someone other than Vellano because everyone will pick him, but there's literally no one else to choose, so Vellano is my best player. Best moment was Danny O'Brien's 52-yard pass to Kevin Dorsey in the Miami opener; I'm pretty sure time stopped while the ball was in the air and we all just floated in a moment of happiness, expectation, and hope.
Most promising freshman for me was Andre Monroe, who is seriously underrated. He only had five sacks but they came in just five games; no freshman in the country averaged more sacks per game. If he plays another 30 games at the same sack rate, he'll be third in Maryland history in sacks. That's assuming at least one injury and no progression. And it's very good.
Biggest disappointment was the utter collapse in the second half of the N.C. State game. I'm sure it's just recency bias, but we were thisclose to getting to go through the entire off-season with a good taste in our mouths. Lasting moment is actually the the Clemson game, in particular Sammy Watkins taking the go-ahead touchdown back off the kick return. Only that moment encapsulates giving up a lead, losing when they almost won, and awful special teams play.
Best player: Joe Vellano, DT. Best moment: Beating Miami on Labor Day. Most promising freshman: Well, I had Alex Twine here, but I guess I might have to reconsider, since he decided to punch a bunch of cars.
Biggest disappointment: The Gary Crowton fast pace offense. We knew Crowton came with baggage, but his pattern has been great first year, okay second year, bad third year. I think we can say that the fast-pace experiment failed. Miserably. The system also didn't take advantage of Danny O'Brien's strengths and instead forced the reigning ACC Rookie of the year to struggle.
Lasting memory: My lasting memory of this season will be the dramatic roller coaster turnaround in emotion that Maryland fans were taken on over the season. After starting off on Labor Day by revealing the new "Pride" Under Armor unis, having the nation's attention on Maryland, and beating Miami, Maryland fans were excited about building the Maryland brand and taking over the ACC. Then the wheels fell off and we ended the season on an 8 game losing streak, with the last 7 all by double digits and culminating with the 2nd biggest comeback in ACC history, as Maryland blew a 41-14 lead in 21 MINUTES. I could write a lot here, so I'm just going to stop now.
Best Player - Joe Vellano. The guy was a beast all season. Not much else needs to be said.
Best Moment - It would have to be the Miami game. The energy in Byrd that night was unreal. The whole combination of a nationally televised game, the Maryland Pride uniforms, and the dramatic comeback led by Danny O'Brien, made it one of the best Maryland football games I've ever attended. From there, as we all know, things went downhill quickly.
Biggest Disappointment - There are a lot to choose from. I guess I'd go with the man in charge of the program. We all knew there was going to be a rough transition and that some kids wouldn't buy in. But everything from the blowouts, to the way he threw Ralph and the players under the bus, to the taking down of the weightlifting records in Gossett, just culminated in an utterly depressing and deflating season. I'd be lying if I said I watched every Maryland football game down the stretch. I consider myself a diehard and that's what this season did to me. When that happens, its more than just wins and losses.
Lasting Memory - It would have to be looking out at the student section during the Boston College game and seeing about 16 people. Yes, it was pouring outside but the entire stadium was essentially empty for an ACC game. It was embarrassing. If you wanted to capture what this season was like in one image, that was it.
A bit of a fun question before we get too serious: one of the biggest storylines of the season, thanks to the awful year, was probably the uniforms. What's your verdict: good-looking, silly, hideous, or irrelevant?
Of course I love them. I made my opinion on this well-known. Aesthetically I'm not blown away - gradients are grade-school and there's way too much piping - but there's a lot of identity that is Maryland-specific, and I love it. In future iterations, they need to get the gradients off the numbers (and everywhere else) and remove most of the piping; leave the Terrafont on the numbers and Terraprint on the shoulders with the awesome helmets, and we're good.
And there's always the fact that it helps in recruiting. It's not going to land recruits on their own and critics need to stop painting proponents' arguments that way, but it does help with brand recognition nationally and the all-elusive Cool Factor.
I love them. I love the Maryland Pride unis. I do think they either need to be worn all the time or on very rare occasions (bowl game, ACC Championship game, Thursday night game, etc). I like most of the other combinations too. I, however don't like the new "Maryland" font they've used on everything. Why did we have to change the "Maryland" they used on everything prior? The new Maryland font looks like a logo for a D-II program. I get wanting to brand "Maryland" but you didn't need to start over from scratch. And why are you seemingly abandoning "Terps"? That. Is. Unique! No one else in collegiate athletics are Terps! But I digress.
I've got mixed feelings. The Maryland Pride jerseys? Loved them. A couple of the other combinations were pretty sweet as well. Stylistically, I still think Oregon's unis were more impressive. Overall, the uniforms were a positive, but they would have been much better if the team actually won.
Alright, down to business. Everyone recognizes that the 2011 campaign was far below expectation, but a variety of factors have been blamed. Randy Edsall and his coaching staff have certainly caught the brunt of it, but injury problems, Ralph Friedgen's recruiting, NCAA sanctions, and inflated fan expectations have all been cited, too. What do you attribute the problems to? All things considered, were Maryland fans expecting too much?
Well, to the second question, no, not really. I'm sure some were, just because you can never account for every fan - Maryland was never going to be a national title contender, say, and the Orange Bowl or anything like that was always going to be out of reach. But I think everyone did expect them to be in the ACC Atlantic race, as did a good number (far from all, but a solid amount) of the national media types. Any time a 9-4 team returns their starting quarterback, leading rusher, three offensive linemen, two defensive linemen, every cornerback, and their superstar safety, yeah, I think it's rational to expect a solid season.
(And that's not meant to be incendiary. It only serves to show the thought process most people, me included, took into this year. I don't believe it was irrational.)
The first question is more complex. There are the changes in the staff and philosophy on both sides, which made things tough. And there's the regression of Danny O'Brien, which was pretty drastic and unexpected, though might've been a matter brought about by the aforementioned philosophy.
It's tough to assess how much things like injuries and suspensions factored in against something like coaching ineptitude. For our purposes, in fact, it's almost impossible. Instead, I think it's enough to know that they both factored in; Maryland's rough year wasn't all Edsall and his coaching staff, but it was certainly some of it.
Edsall & Co. are still around, and it doesn't look like they're going anywhere anytime soon. All we can do is hope that the injuries improve, and that the coaching staff makes enough changes and can institute its philosophy in the coming years.
I think there is a lot of blame go around. Most people often forget the large number of guys Maryland lost to injury this year, especially on defense. And when you think about several of the games Maryland lost this year, a lot of it fell on the defense which had next to no depth. That brings me to my second place for blame - Crowton's fast pace offense. It never really meshed, it gassed the defense because when they went three and out (which was far too often), that forced the defense right back onto the field. Plus, it didn't really fit the skill sets of Danny O'Brien.
Did other things play into these problems? Sure. I think a lot played into the 2-10 record. You're going to have problems anytime you have a coaching change. The biggest problem with that, in my opinion, is that Randy Edsall tried to pass the blame of this season onto others. He was a text book case of how to mishandle what you say in the media. He made it seem like not wearing earrings in Gossett Team House was more important than winning. I think had he handled everything better this year from a PR standpoint, he wouldn't have nearly the backlash he's facing from Maryland fans right now.
Finally, I think fan expectations were high, but I think they were rightfully high. This team was coming off of a 9-4 season, had the ACC rookie of the year in QB Danny O'Brien, had the nation talking about them and the new Under Armor uniforms and then a few months later, we're looking at a 2-10 season in which each game seemed to show up the next in terms of it's epic fail-ness.
I'm not sure that Maryland fans were "expecting too much." In fact, I don't even really have a great sense of what Maryland fans were expecting. I think anytime you bring in a new coach with a new system and philosophy there's going to be an adjustment period. I think most Maryland fans understood that, although some (foolishly, in hindsight) thought this team was winning the ACC.
If we're playing the blame game, I think the brunt of it has to go to Edsall. Yes, making the transition is hard, and yes, it's hard to get guys to buy into a totally different system but that's his job. His job as a coach is to rally his guys and get them to play hard. At least in my eyes, that should be the coach's number one responsibility. He failed miserably in that respect. I think some blame also should be placed on the players. Veteran receivers who were expected to be leaders got suspended and then dropped passes when they returned. Even more problematic is that a large portion of the players certainly didn't buy in. Part of that is obviously Edsall's fault, but sometimes in life you've got to do stuff you don't want because it's the best option. Bare with me on this analogy for a second: I've got a teacher I absolutely hate. My options are tune her out and stop coming to class. Or suck it up, deal with her, and keep tuning in because it's my best shot to get an "A." The only shot this team had of accomplishing its goals was buying into Edsall. Instead they tuned out, and a 2-10 season ensued. The blame for this season goes both ways: Edsall and the players.
So there's a new offensive coordinator in town, and his name is Mike Locksley. The hire isn't without some controversy, but is expected to pay big dividends in recruiting. Is Locksley worth the risk, and how does this change your view of Edsall?
I've made my view on this pretty clear: I like the hire. I don't back it unequivocally and do have some misgivings, particularly about Locksley and Edsall coexisting on a long-term scale. It's certainly a risk, but this is the type of hire that needed to happen. Maryland's most pressing concern right now is a lack of talent and depth, and that's the sort of thing that Locksley will fix almost immediately.
As for Edsall, it's a somewhat positive change change, for two reasons. It shows he's willing to make a substantial change, or at the very least have a substantial change forced upon him with walking. And given that I consider him a program CEO more than a Holgorsen- or Leach-type schemer, his fate is 100% tied to the performance of his assistants. I like Locksley more than I like Crowton; ergo, I like Edsall right now more than I liked him a few days ago.
He's definitely worth the risk and I'd argue that, prior to this failure of a season he was worth the risk. Maryland isn't pulling in the big name local recruits. We get pushed aside and the big boys come in and take them away. One of Edsall's goals was to lock down the state and build pride statewide in the Maryland program. I think you need someone like Locksley to do that and prior to his hire I don't think anyone on the current staff had that ability.
In terms of how the hire impacts my view of Edsall, I think it does change it. Edsall has done a poor job of handling a lot of the aspects of this program, especially in the communications arena. But rather than continue to make those mistakes, I think he saw that there was a problem and he's working to fix it. Remember, Edsall rarely fired coordinators, especially after just one season, so dismissing Crowton (who might have been kind of forced on him in the first place) and possibly getting rid of Bradford are signs that Edsall knows this season was a failure and things needed to change. Had the status-qua remained the same heading into 2012, I would have been angry and disappointed.
Locksley is probably one of the best "splash" hires Maryland could make at offensive coordinator. Anyone who knows about his impact in recruiting the DC/MD/VA area should be excited about this and hopefully that pulls back in a lot of people who were already about to jump ship. Landing a local high 4 or 5 star guy would help a lot too.
I also hope part of this was motivated by the fact that Crowton's spread/fast paced offense did not fit the talent Maryland has, specifically at QB. Having Locksley run a pro-style offense with occasional spread formations/wrinkles seems like something that would be far better suited to Danny O'Brien next season.
Yes, yes and yes. No one recruits this area better and no hire outside of a new HC would have me as excited as I am right now. As for how it changes my view of Edsall, I'm not sure it does. Mostly because I don't know if hiring Locksley was an Edsall decision or a Kevin Anderson decision. Either way, I think it'll do Edsall a ton of good. Locksley will bring in talent, which will give the fans something to be excited about. Additionally, Locksley could serve as a barrier between Edsall and the players: something that seems sorely needed after this past season. A+ on the Locksley hire. Now let's go get us an A+ defensive coordinator (we're sticking with the school/grades theme for this roundtable).
Randy Edsall's difficult first year has revived an old debate about Maryland's ceiling and potential on the gridiron. What should be the goal for Maryland as a program? What would be a good decade for Terps football?
In the traditional definition of "ceiling," I think it's as good as any non-blueblood in the country. Teams like Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Michigan, and USC will always be at another level. But there's no reason whatsoever Maryland football can't be Oregon, Oklahoma St., or Arkansas, at least in due time. (All of which, by the way, are historical basketball schools. So put that argument away.) Facilities need to be upgraded and it looks like that's happening slowly, but between Under Armour, Kevin Plank money, academics, location (right near D.C.), recruiting base, and a large state-school fanbase, there's a base for success with the right people.
Until then, I still don't think Maryland football should be missing more than three bowls a decade, with a swath of 6-6 type seasons and an occasional ACC Atlantic challenging 9-4 type season. Once they get to that elite level, I'd obviously be ecstatic with usually challenging for the Atlantic title and winning every once in awhile. It's a broad question with a bevy of possible answers, but that's a long-term possibility for sure.
For Maryland, until they can build a program that wins consistently and locks down the talent in the state, 6 to 8 win seasons should be what this team can achieve, with the occasional 9 to 10+ win season and ACC title. There is no reason they can't be a consistent bowl-eligible team that every five or so years wins an ACC title.
Maryland football seems to go in a cycle of a decade of good and then follows it up with a decade of suck. If they can get someone who can lock down the local talent, of which there is a lot, Maryland can then build into a program that can achieve more than that. If they do that, they'll build a less fickle fan base and expand the program further. I think they have the potential and local talent to build a program like Oregon - a nice stadium, maybe eventually holding 65-70,000 fans, who could contend for both the ACC title on a regular basis and potentially the national title. I just think it would be hard for Maryland to build into a power like Ohio State, Michigan, LSU, Oklahoma, etc, unless they win multiple national titles.
I've never liked these ceiling/floor questions because you never really know. Butler has certainly smashed any arbitrary ceiling by making the national championship game the past two seasons.
But I digress. I think the goal for Maryland football should be the success of the early 2000s. We should be locking down in-state talent and contending for ACC championships. We should be bowling every year and have a shot at a BSC bowl maybe every 5-6 years. Maybe those goals are a bit high, but I don't think they're unattainable. I'll say a good decade would be 8 bowl games and 2 ACC championships.
Let's end things with a look forward to next year. Two things: your prediction for next season's record, and what it'd take next year to satisfy you.
Things have to get better, simply because the team will be healthier and used to the staff. But I don't know about a complete turnaround. My prediction is probably somewhere around 4-8 or 5-7, though it'd take at least 6-6 to truly make me satisfied.
Next year's schedule isn't going to be easy. I think how many wins this team has depends on 1). who else transfers and 2). who the new offensive coordinator is. If it does end up being Locksley, will he run a pro-style offense that would benefit DOB? I think this team could again struggle, but I think their defense will be much improved and have much more depth, especially with players like Tate back. I think if you get a system in place that allows DOB to utilize all of his abilities, they could win 6-8 games next year. But I also fear another poor season could potentially be on the horizon.
Gary Crowton needed to be fired. Something had to be done to show 2011 was a complete and utter failure. Edsall seems to have realize he did a poor job handling some things this year and is improving on that. I'd like him to tell fans that he made mistakes and that he's sorry. Hiring Locksley would go a long way to getting back on the Edsall bandwagon, as would landing some of the great local talent out there. But I think for many, winning is going to be the only way to win people back.
I think the Terps will be improved next year. Let's list the reasons:
1. They should be healthier.
2. They've got a new offensive coordinator who won't try to turn Danny O'Brien into someone he's not.
3. The Terps will have a year of Edsall under their belt, meaning less of a culture shock, less locker room divisions, and more buying in.
4. Todd Bradford will be nowhere near the defense. (Kidding...sorta)
I'll say 5-7. That doesn't sound particularly satisfying, but if Locksley is cleaning up in recruiting like we think he will, I could probably stomach it.