The 117th season of Maryland football starts with a tuneup, but that doesn't mean Saturday's matinee against the second-division Richmond Spiders won't be somewhat valuable.
No matter what they do, the Terrapins are not going to lose Saturday. That's the reason teams like Maryland schedule teams like Richmond, or teams like Florida State schedule teams like Texas State. Maryland is writing Richmond a substantial check to stop into Byrd Stadium and roll over. What Maryland's money actually buys is a thick margin for error. The Terps can afford to make mistakes, tinker with roster pieces and learn about themselves while coasting to a 1-0 record. Richmond gets a nice payday, so everybody (except Richmond's players, really) wins in some fashion or another.
Ordinarily, half this feature will look back on the previous weekend's game, and half will look forward to the next one. Since this is a bookend game, we're only looking forward and not immediately backward.
Maryland vs. Richmond – what we're looking for
1. Quarterback clarity. The Terps' three-headed quarterback race is over earlier than expected.
Randy Edsall on starting QB timeline: "Not until, what, 12 o’clock or 12:06 on Sept. 5? We don't play until then."— Daniel Gallen (@danieljtgallen) August 22, 2015
Well, Perry Hills is your starter, and it didn't even come down to the wire. Erstwhile presumed starter Caleb Rowe is his backup, and Oklahoma State transfer Daxx Garman isn't even on the two-deep depth chart. The nature of Maryland's opponent Saturday allows the Terps to give several quarterbacks snaps if they're not wholly sure who their best option is, for the long term. If Hills plays the entire game (or exits with Maryland up by five touchdowns), take it as a hint that he's established himself, at least in the interim, as Maryland's clear-cut No. 1, not just the guy starting the first game.
2. How Maryland deploys its running backs. General sentiment is that, of Maryland's two veteran running backs who should take the bulk of the carries this year, Brandon Ross has distinguished himself ahead of Wes Brown. Ross was a better runner than Brown last year, though Brown (who caught 21 of 23 targets) was one of the better running back pass-catchers in the country. Maryland should hope not to require many obvious passing downs against the Spiders, but it'll be interesting to see if Brown spells Ross on those that do come up.
3. Defensive line dominance. It's Keith Dudzinski's first game as the Terrapins' defensive coordinator – and Randy Edsall's first time aligning Maryland in a 4-3 base defense with four down linemen. Here's one thing that should be fairly conclusive: If Maryland's defensive line doesn't dominate Richmond's, there's serious trouble on the horizon. The Terps had a troubled run defense last year, despite seven senior starters in their front. They coughed up 4.5 yards per carry and finished 72nd nationally in defensive rushing S&P+, a metric based on efficiency and explosiveness. A 4-3 alignment is explicitly meant to win in the trenches and stop the run. Last season, Richmond averaged 4.2 yards per carry, which is usually so-so, except it did so against a schedule whose best team was Virginia. The Terps had better assert themselves.