It is year one in the Big Ten, but year four in the Randy Edsall era for Maryland. An era that got off to an awful start by going 2-10 in 2011, but has underwent improvement since with 4-8 and 7-6 seasons and returning plenty of experience on both sides of the ball, that process should have reached its zenith in 2014. Unfortunately, their inaugural Big Ten schedule is unkind and Maryland will have to be at their best if they are to take another step forward. If they fail to do so, Edsall could find himself on an uncomfortably hot seat.
2013 Maryland Terrapins Season
Edsall had Maryland clicking early in 2013, as they swept the non-conference slate in impressive manner. While the opposition was not exactly top notch, the Terps handled them with ease. They were swatted aside with contemptuous ease by Florida State, then again the same thing happened to every other team that passed through Tallahassee. The season turned on the trip to Winston-Salem, not so much because they suffered a 34-10 loss against the Demon Deacons, but because star receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long were lost for the season with broken legs. Maryland had the wherewithal to pick up two more wins and go bowling for the first time under Edsall, but defeat against a fine Marshall team in the Military Bowl was a less than ideal way to sign off from the ACC.
C.J.Brown will once again be the starting quarterback, so long as he can stay fit that is. Despite entering his sixth season as a Terrapin, the oft-injured Brown has yet to play through an entire season as the starter. The silver lining to Brown's injury issues is that Maryland have experienced depth in Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe. Neither has excelled though, nor are they able to match Browns ability as a runner, and that is where he is most dangerous. Having a dangerous dual threat quarterback, such as Brown, under center is crucial to the Terps zone-read offense. In 2013, Brown was second on the team in rushing with 576 yards (736 if you ignore yards lost through sacks) and led the team in rushing touchdowns with 12. Running back Brandon Ross was second on the team with 4 touchdowns, while gaining 776 yards (4.7 average), and should once again be the team's primary back, but carries will likely be shared around. Wes Brown was suspended for the entire 2013 season, but he is the most explosive runner on the roster and will add something to the offense if he can carve out a large enough role.
While he is a dangerous runner, C.J. Brown has struggled in the passing game, throwing for 3,084 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions in his Maryland career, with a meager 55.2% completion percentage. Brown is not going to develop into a pocket passer, but it is essential that his accuracy and decision making improve, even getting his completion percentage above 60% would be progress. It would force the defense to respect the pass, opening up running lanes, and it would also make better use of the receiving talent at his disposal, which is impressive.
Stefon Diggs and Deon Long are the best wide receiver pairing in the Big Ten. Blessed with electric pace, Diggs is a dynamic playmaker on the outside, a true deep threat while Long possesses a little more polish as a route runner and a dynamic threat in his own right. Maryland are deep at the position, with numerous receivers pushing for playing time, though the Jacobs brothers, Levern and Taivon, have reportedly had the most impressive off-seasons and should be featured in 2014.
Offensive line play has been an issue for the Terps in recent times, a fact which has undermined the performances of those around them. In 2013, a frequently shuffled line was young and managed to be relatively decent. That they are returning four starters and adding two high profile recruits to the mix is cause for optimism, but they have a long way to go before the unit can be listed among the strengths of the offense.
The Terps 3-4 defense was generally solid last season, as they coped well with most opponents, but they struggled to stop Clemson and Florida State. Returning nine starters in 2014 is a positive note, but they lost a key playmaker in rush linebacker Marcus Whitfield and must replace his production. Whitfield had nine sacks and 15 tackles for a loss in 2013; he was the chief pass rushing linebacker and while Cole Farrand, L.A. Goree, and Matt Robinson are good starting linebackers, none of them will assume the lead pass rusher duties. Instead, that will likely fall to either Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, or Yannick Ngakoue, who recorded 3 and 2 sacks respectively, as backups in 2013.
Fortunately for Maryland, defensive end Andre Monroe returns to lead an experienced, but shallow defensive line. Monroe led the team with 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss in 2013, consistently making a nuisance of himself in the opponents backfield. Quinton Jefferson occupies the other end spot, while Darius Kilgo and Keith Bowers share the nose. All three are experienced, but there is little experience behind them.
The secondary is led by two improving players in safety Sean Davis and corner William Likely. Davis led the team in tackles as a sophomore in 2013, using his athleticism and instincts to speed to the ball, as he proved to be a secure tackler in the open field. Although just a sophomore, the under-sized, but athletically gifted Likely may be the team's best corner. Injuries thrust him into a starting role as a true freshman in 2013, and while he made mistakes, there were a lot of positive moments. After another off-season of training, and a strong spring, Likely is primed to breakout in 2014.
Maryland's list of experienced returners extends to the kicking team as well, with both kicker Ben Craddock and punter Nathan Renfro entering their third seasons as starters. William Likely excelled as both kick and punt returner.
2014 Season Outlook
The Terrapins open with four winnable non-conference matchups with the trip to Syracuse should be the toughest of them. The Orange beat an injury weakened Maryland in College Park last season and will field an experienced team. The Terps introduction to the Big Ten could not be worse, as they avoid most of the weaker teams and catch the two strongest possible cross-division opponents. Home games against Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan State offer little grounds for optimism, while road games against Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan, and a high octane Indiana offense, all look challenging. It is possible that Maryland will only be clear favorites for one Big Ten matchup, which is the season ender at home against Rutgers.
This looks like being the strongest Maryland team of the Randy Edsall era, but it is going to have to be if they are to emerge from a tough schedule with an improved record. If an offense featuring Brown, Diggs, and Long can gel early and stay healthy, Maryland have more than enough firepower to trouble anyone. Hosting their most difficult opponents does create the Terps the opportunity to spring a surprise and get themselves into the Big Ten title race. However, if they struggle the schedule will be unforgiving, forcing Edsall to glance over his shoulder. They may find themselves wishing the games were reversed, with the less imposing teams coming to Maryland.