New conference or not, the Maryland Terrapins football program will surprise a lot of folks in 2014.
In fact, the team just might be the surprise of the entire Big Ten.
When it was announced that Maryland would make the move to the conference back in 2012, nobody thought much of it. If anything, the school was expected to just be feeder fish to the sharks of the Big Ten.
Being grouped in the East Division with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State certainly didn’t help matters much.
I mean, have you looked at the Terrapins' 2014 conference schedule?
|5||at Indiana||Memorial Stadium|
|6||Ohio State||Bryd Stadium|
|9||at Wisconsin||Camp Randall Stadium|
|10||at Penn State||Beaver Stadium|
|12||Michigan State||Byrd Stadium|
|13||at Michigan||Michigan Stadium|
Still, don’t expect head coach Randy Edsall to back away from the challenge.
“When they came out with the divisions, people said, ‘Whoa,’” he said, per ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg. “I looked at it and said, ‘That’s great.’”
Edsall has good reason to be optimistic after Maryland escaped yet another injury-riddled season on a positive note.
Forget that the team lost five of its last seven games. Instead, focus on how the Terrapins finished 7-6—eclipsing its win total from the previous two years (six)—and reached a bowl game without several key contributors on offense.
Two of those contributors were leading receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, who both missed the team’s final six games after combining for 1,076 yards and four touchdowns on 66 catches.
“We’ve got some playmakers on offense [who] can really make things happen,” Edsall said. “We’ve got some very talented wide receivers, our quarterback is really good, a dual threat. The biggest thing is we’ve got to stay healthy and continue to get better.”
Aside from Diggs and Long, Maryland will also return wide receivers Levern Jacobs (640 YDS, 3 TD), Amba Etta-Tawo (500 YDS, 2 TD) and Nigel King (450 YDS, 4 TD). In total, the team will bring back eight starters on offense.
That should only serve as music to the ears of quarterback C.J. Brown.
Entering his sixth season with the Terrapins, Brown missed two seasons due to injury (2010 and 2012), as well as some time last season while recovering from a concussion. When healthy, the Cranberry Township, Penn., native is an exciting quarterback to watch.
How will the Terps finish in the B1G in 2014?
In 11 games in 2013, Brown threw for 2,242 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions on 58.9 percent passing. He also added another 576 yards on 140 carries, finding the end zone 12 times.
There’s a good chance that Maryland’s rankings of No. 83 in scoring (26.2 PPG) and No. 77 in total offense (396.5 YPG) will be a thing of the past.
But the team’s biggest strength will most likely be its defense.
With nine defensive starters returning, the Terrapins will look to improve on a unit that was already pretty good. One that finished 2013 with rankings of No. 44 in total defense (375.2 YPG), No. 19 in sacks (35.0) and No. 29 in yards per play allowed (5.1).
Defensive lineman Andre Monroe—17.0 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks—headlines the list of returners.
“We’ve played good defense,” Edsall said. “We still need to get better.”
He received that help, on both sides of the ball, from a very solid 2014 recruiting class.
Maryland got a surprise commitment from 5-star offensive tackle Damian Prince, who turned down offers from college football giants such as Florida State, Alabama and Ohio State. The 6’5”, 295-pounder displays quickness and athleticism that will add great depth to an experienced offensive line.
The Terrapins also boosted its defensive front by landing the No. 8-ranked defensive end in the nation in 4-star Jesse Aniebonam.
All in all, Edsall couldn’t have asked for a better offseason for his team heading into its first season in a new conference.
“We’re going to be who we are,” he said of his mindset amid the transition. “We’re not going to change and say everybody in the Big Ten does this or that. We’re going to try to make people adapt to us. We’re not going to adapt to them.”
That mentality may not be enough to overcome all the hurdles that playing in a new conference will bring. But it will be exactly what is needed to ensure that his squad can remain competitive against adversity.
That alone would be accomplishing more than anyone expects.
Anything beyond that is just an added bonus.