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TGS 2012 COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW...MARYLAND TERRAPINS
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


That, folks, wasn’t the ways things were expected to go at Maryland.

We’re talking about the Terps’ forgettable 2-10 mark last fall in the debut campaign of HC Randy Edsall, who arrived in College Park from a remarkable run putting UConn’s program on the map and steering the Huskies to their first-ever BCS bowl appearance the previous January against Oklahoma. The trying season ended with eight straight defeats (the last seven of those by double-digit margins), and one of the measly two wins in 2011 was at the expense of nearby, lower-level Towson.

Now, we wonder if Edsall wishes he could return to Storrs. We know that Huskies fans wouldn’t mind, especially if it meant trading in Edsall’s successor Paul Pasqualoni, but that’s a story for another day.

While feeling for the classy Edsall, however, most hold no particular grief for the Maryland administrators and boosters who inadvertently authored a “how not to fire and hire a football coach” handbook after the 2010 campaign.

Rarely are we moved to comment in such a way, but the Terrapins got what they deserved last fall.

Rewind to the 2010 season, one in which long-time HC and alum Ralph Friedgen was on an acknowledged hot seat entering the campaign. The Terp program had lost momentum since peaking in the early years of the “Fridge” regime, but 2010 marked a remarkable recovery as Maryland surged to a 9-4 record and a 51-20 romp past Ruffin McNeil’s East Carolina in the nearby Eagle Bank Bowl at D.C.’s RFK Stadium. Most thought that Friedgen had done enough to save his job.

Except, that is, for the school administration and a few key boosters. Both school prexy Wallace Loh and AD Kevin Anderson were hired in 2010, and many regional insiders now believe that the pair had jointly decided to make a change in the football program before the 2010 campaign even commenced. Their decision to wait was based partially upon perceptions (always a consideration for high-level bureaucrats) as well as the idea that Friedgen would likely be making it easy for them to hit the eject button if the Terps struggled in 2010 as they did the previous 2009 season when limping home at 2-10.

Moreover, informed mid-Atlantic sources suggest that high-profile alum Kevin Plank, chairman of Under Armour athletic wear, was pushing buttons behind the scenes and influencing both Loh and Anderson in their decision making.

The awkwardness reached new levels at the end of the 2010 regular season, when despite winning ACC Coach of the Year honors, Friedgen’s contract was nonetheless bought out, though he was allowed to coach the bowl game vs. ECU. Moreover, offensive coordinator James Franklin, the designated “coach-in-waiting” at Maryland by the previous administration, took the head coaching job at Vanderbilt in mid-December 2010, just before the plug was pulled on Friedgen.

The Maryland coaching search, partially orchestrated by Under Armour’s Plank, appeared to be leaning toward ex-Texas Tech HC Mike Leach before deciding upon UConn’s Edsall.

And things have gone downhill in College Park since, exacerbated further by the unexpected success Franklin experienced at Vandy, where he reawakened that dormant program in his first season and led the Commodores to a rare bowl berth at the Liberty. A long way from last season’s Maryland fiasco.

The rapid downfall of the program a College Park has been hard for many longtime Maryland backers to swallow, for the Terps have often held their own, if not flourishing, on the gridiron. Mostly, however, the program has ridden a rollercoaster for the past 65 years, swinging wildly between great success and spectacular failure, perhaps more so than at any other college football outpost in the country. Those dark periods have been especially painful, and ones that Maryland supporters would rather not relive.

The glory days for the Terps, however, have been sweet. Oldtime Maryland backers might recall the tenure of Jim Tatum (left), who was persuaded to leave Oklahoma (where he was succeeded by one of his assistants, a guy named...Bud Wilkinson) in 1947 to take over the Maryland program. Tatum had escaped administrative crossfire in Norman and was receptive to the enhanced money offer (all of $12,000 per year, a princely sum in those days) received from the Terps and influential school president Harry “Curley” Byrd, a Maryland alum and former head football coach for whom the on-campus stadium was eventually named.

Byrd was a strong-willed sort who eventually would run for the Governorship of Maryland as well as seats in the US House and Senate. Moreover, he was not afraid of his coaches. While school prexy, he had hired from Stanford the highly-successful Clark Shaughnessy, who fashioned a 7-2 mark with the 1942 Terps before being lured away from College Park to Pitt. Byrd also gave the Paul “Bear” Bryant his first college head coaching job in 1945. The Bear and Byrd were incompatible, however, and when Byrd reinstated a player that Bryant had suspended, the Bear walked at the end of his only season at Maryland, enlisting at Kentucky.

After Shaughnessy returned in 1946 for one year before moving to the NFL and the Los Angeles Rams, Tatum was summoned from Norman and subsequently authored the most glorious era in College Park gridiron annals.

Over nine seasons, “Big Jim’s” teams sported a 73-15-4 mark and claimed the 1953 national title. Tatum’s Terps employed the Split-T with great success and featured the 1952 Outland Trophy winner in lineman Dick Modzelweski, as well as a pair of near-Heisman winners in QBs Jack Scarbath (runner-up to Oklahoma’s Billy Vessels in 1952) and Bernie Faloney (who was third in the voting in 1953, behind the eventual winner, Notre Dame’s Johnny Lattner).

But when Maryland hired a new school president, Wilson Elkins, in 1954, a decision was made to de-emphasize football, which paved the way for “Big Jim” to return to alma mater North Carolina after the 1955 season. Tatum would coach the Tar Heels until his untimely death in 1959, the result of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, at the young age of 46.

A dark era ensued after Tatum’s departure (including one season coached by none other than Lou Saban, off a pair of AFL titles with the Buffalo Bills, in 1966 before taking the AFL Denver Broncos’ job!), and the clouds would not lift for well over a decade until former Virginia Tech HC Jerry Claiborne (right) was hired in 1972 to rebuild a program that had won just nine games the previous five years.

Undeterred, Claiborne had the Terps “bowling” by his second season in 1973, the first of six straight postseason trips for Maryland that included bowl wins over Georgia, Florida, and Minnesota. As well as a 1976 team that finished the regular season 11-0 and ranked fifth in the polls before losing to Bill Yeoman’s Houston in the Cotton Bowl. Along the way, Claiborne’s teams won three straight ACC titles between 1974-76 and featured future NFL Hall of Fame DT Randy White (left) and various other pros including QB Bob Avellini and RB Louis Carter.

After Claiborne moved to Kentucky in 1982, another brief glory era ensured under Bobby Ross, who took the Terps to four straight bowls and won three straight ACC titles between 1983-85 featuring high-powered offensive teams led by QBs Boomer Esiason & Frank Reich. But the fallout from the Len Bias tragedy knocked the entire Maryland sports program for a loop later in the decade and prompted Ross’ jump to Georgia Tech in 1987 and the dawn of another dark era for Terp football that endured until Friedgen arrived to save the day in 2001, winning the ACC and qualifying for the BCS Orange Bowl in his first season.

What worries Maryland backers is that karma, which has often both blessed and also cursed the Terps, is swinging back toward the latter. The optimism surrounding the Edsall hire was short-lived, and the decibel level of the criticism the Maryland brass has endured over the past twelve months has only increased. At this point, many in the region are unsure if Edsall will be able to right the ship in time to save his job, which regional onlookers believe could be in jeopardy as soon as this season if fortunes don’t turn for the better, and soon.

Edsall hardly encouraged Terp backers with a couple of offseason coaching moves, including the hire of Mike Locksley (right) to replace Gary Crowton as offensive coordinator. This is the same Locksley who single-handedly destroyed the New Mexico program as its head coach from 2009 until early last season (the Lobos were 2-26 in is tenure, with only a pair of three-point wins preventing an 0-28 record), when he was dismissed, and whatever acumen he supposedly possessed as an offensive whiz was certainly not on display in Albuquerque, when Locksley’s lame version of the spread posted some of the worst “O” numbers in the country.

Locksley’s reputation was mostly forged in a prior stint as o.c. at Illinois, and one season in particular when the Illini clicked behind elusive QB Juice Williams when qualifying for the Rose Bowl in the 2007 season. Locksley, however was still in Champaign-Urbana when Williams and the Illinois offense regressed in 2008.

On the positive side, he knows his way around the Beltway, and likely the location of Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street in nearby D.C (time for another chili half-smoke), after working under previous Terp regimes of Ron Vanderlinden and the Fridge between 1997-2002. We would bet that Locksley was also probably saddened by the recent passing of D.C. music legend Chuck Brown. At least Mike is in familiar territory, unlike his stint at remote and unfamiliar Albuquerque after spending his previous caoching career east of the Mississippi River.

A bit more accomplished is new defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, who replaces to deposed Todd Bradford. The Terp “D was even worse than the offense last season, but at least Stewart’s credentials seem better than Locksley’s on the other side. Stewart has spent the last two years coordinating the Houston Cougar "D" after spending nine years in the NFL, including two as Wade Phillips’ d.c. for the Dallas Cowboys. A devotee of the 3-4, Stewart is expected to employ similar alignments in College Park, which will be a departure from Bradford’s ineffective 4-3 looks. Specifically, Stewart likely utilizes a “one-gap” 3-4 with the Terps that will, in theory at least, emphasize speed over size.

Edsall’s myriad problems overseeing the program, however, run deeper than his selection of coordinators. Manpower issues are now a major concern in College Park after no fewer than 25 Terps have left the program, for a variety of reasons (including reported friction between Edsall and many Friedgen recruits, which ACC scouts report bordered upon open hostility at times last season), since Edsall’s hire. Included in those is QB Danny O’Brien, who flourished in Friedgen’s offense but was so uncomfy in the Edsall version in 2011 that he left College Park in the offseason. With two seasons of eligibility remaining, but already having already earned his degree, O’Brien pulled off a Russell Wilson-like move to Wisconsin (where Danny will be immediately eligible), leaving Edsall with jr. C.J. Brown as the only experienced QB on the roster.

Locksley at least has something to work with in the exciting Brown (right), who flashed upside in five starts last season and ten games overall when running for 573 yards. Considering Brown’s strengths, Locksley installed a new design for the “O” in spring, not the more-basic spread he used at New Mexico but rather one with a spread-option emphasis, not too dissimilar in design from the West Virginia offense. Brown will also be barking signals in a hurry-up, no-huddle scheme, but his passing accuracy was a problem last season when completing only 49% of his throws. Whether Locksley and the staff can fine-tune those throwing mechanics, and school Brown to stay in the pocket a tick longer before consistently abandoning ship, remains to be seen.

A couple of well-regarded frosh recruits, Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe, offer other alternatives, although at least one would figure to redshirt this fall.

Update August 14: QB C.J. Brown injures knee in preseason camp, likely sidelined for remainder of 2012 campaign...

Edsall’s slew of departures has also impacted available options at RB, where the transfers of D.J. Adams (to Portland State) and Jeremiah Wilson (to James Madison) have left soph Justus Pickett (left), who gained 274 YR as a frosh last fall, as the only semi-experienced back after the graduation of do-everything Davin Meggett. A punishing RS frosh from nearby Newark (that’s New-ARK), Delaware, Brandon Ross, will also compete for carries, as will touted frosh runners Wes Brown and Albert Reid, both ranked among the top 25 RBs in the coutnry by Scout .com.

Indeed, Edsall’s recent recruiting class was better than many expected and includes another potential immediate-impact sort in WR Stefon Diggs, who picked the Terps over the likes of Auburn and Floirda State and is reportedly so versatile that Edsall would consider employing him both ways (likely as a DB) as well as a kick return threat. The top three receivers from last season (WR Kevin Dorsey, shown at right; slot-back Kerry Boykins, and TE Matt Furstenberg, who caught 113 passes between them in 2011), also return.

Locksley’s OL was also depleted by transfers (starting tackles R.J. Dill and Max Garcia both skipping town), and depth is now a major concern as most of Edsall’s line recruits are likely to be redshirted. Now minus Dill and Garcia, only two starters return to the OL fold.

Meanwhile, Stewart has his work cut out with a stop unit that was bad across the board in 2011, equal-opportunity awful vs. both the run (ranking 11th nationally) and pass (93rd nationally), contributing to a poor 108th ranking in total “D” (457 ypg allowed) and 102nd in scoring defense (a hefty 34.25 ppg conceded).

Stewart would prefer to constantly change fronts and blitz from all angles in his version of the 3-4. Can he do it with what is available? There are 17 returnees with starting experience on the stop unit, including nine of last year’s top eleven tacklers, and Stewart spent spring fitting the pieces into his new puzzle. The new alignment will move the best defensive lineman, all-ACC DT Joe Vellano (left), to a DE spot in the 3-4, where he will likely be facing a lot of double teams. A 305-lb. sr., A.J. Francis, is expected to plug the middle on the DL; Francis was once a frosh All-American for Friedgen back in 2009 and has 23 career starts, although his effectiveness waned the past two seasons. Soph DE Keith Bowers demonstrated an ability to get into the backfield last season and could prove a surprise.

Many of Edsall’s best defensive recruits are at the LB positions, which could use help that might also come in the form of sr. OLB Kenny Tate, one of several Terps (and several LBs) to go down with injury last fall. In Tate’s case, it was a knee after he had seemingly adjusted well from the move to OLB from strong safety in the first weeks of 2011. One of the incoming frosh, Massachusetts product Abner Logan, is expected to immediately contend for playing time at OLB, perhaps on the other side from Tate.

But whatever the alignment of Stewart’s front seven it must slow the run better than year ago when permitting almost 5 ypc and 31 rush TDs.

Stewart’s concerns in the secondary are on the corners, where jr. Dexter McDougle is the only candidate with game experience. Strong safety Eric Franklin (right, vs. Florida State last year) blossomed as a junior when finishing second on the team with 106 tackles, although that also speaks to the inadequacies of the front seven to have a DB finish so high in tackle stats.

Edsall is also hoping that relieving sr. PK Nick Ferrara of punting duties will improve his place-kicking; Ferrara, a frosh All-American in 2009 when hitting 7 of 9 field goals beyond 40 yards, converted only 1 of 4 such tries in 2011.

A highlight of the schedule this fall will be a visit by Edsall’s former UConn team to Byrd Stadium on September 15. Interestingly, the Terps play every other game at home this season. Meanwhile, lurking deep in the background is occasional chatter about Maryland, with its Washington-Baltimore I-95 corridor location, as a potential target of an expansion-minded Big Ten, which is reportedly also curious about perhaps adding Rutgers (and its proximity to New York). Should the ACC lose gridiron influence in a new hierarchy of college conferences, don’t be surprised of the Terps push that envelope.

We would also be remiss if not mentioning the Terps’ wild new uniforms last season, provided by Plank’s Under Armour. With various combinations of black, red, yellow, and white, and a myriad of helmet designs that included a Terrapin (or turtle) shell and the funky Maryland flag design, Maryland had uniform combos to match Oregon’s. Luckily the black, red, and yellow lend themselves to some attractive combos, but not all of the Terps’ looks worked last season. We can’t wait to see what combinations are used this fall, although we could do without the turtle shell and flag helmets.

Saving the best (or worst) for last, we are compelled to report the awful pointspread performance by last year’s Terps, which ran counter to Edsall’s mostly-positive marks vs. the number at UConn. Nothing was further from the truth last season, however, as Maryland dropped its last seven vs. the number and matched its poor SU record with an identical 2-10 spread mark. Along the way the Terps blew leads of 35-17 (vs. Clemson) and 41-14 vs. NC State, not only eventually losing those games, but blowing poitnspread covers as well.

Can it get any worse this season?

Summary...Experience tells us that teams are rarely as bad two years in a row, straight up or vs. the number, as were the Terps in 2011. But what is worrisome for Edsall is that the strange confluence of factors that contributed to last season’s collapse have continued in the offseason with more defections from the program, which in some cases (such as the OL) could impact depth and have serious negative consequences. QB C.J. Brown's August injury casts further doubts around an offense already adjusting to new o.c. Mike Locksley. Don’t be surprised if several frosh emerge as key contributors (especially at RB & WR), and they may hold the key to Edsall at least staying airborne and not losing any more elevation this fall. Another collapse similar to 2011 is unlikely, but a return to the bowl mix appears remote, too. And anything resembling last year’s fiasco puts Edsall’s job in jeopardy.


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