Maryland Terrapins Preview: Is '09 A Rebuilding Year For The Terps?

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Maryland Terrapins Preview: Is '09 A Rebuilding Year For The Terps?
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After previewing the Boston College Eagles yesterday, we move south in the Atlantic Division to College Park, where Ralph Friedgen will guide the Maryland Terrapins in his ninth year as head coach. The Terps are coming off an 8-5 campaign and to get a better look at them, I asked the guys at Turtle Droppings for their view on 2009.

How maddening was last season? All the wins vs. ranked opponents, the losses while favored; what do you think was the cause of the inconsistency?

Don’t get me wrong, last season was maddening, yet at the same time it wasn’t all that frustrating. We were picked to come in fifth in the Atlantic Division, and we were still playing for a shot at the Conference Championship into November. It was kind of the equivalent of playing with house money.

As excited as we were, I don’t think our finish shocked any of us, really. Sure, it was disappointing, but in the end I think we all felt that we had an 8-5 team. Now going from a shot at the BCS, to the Humanitarian Bowl was quite a blow, and one that seemed to happen all too quickly, but at the same time it was cool to get to play a team like Nevada in a place like Boise.

Are you excited about the new DC Don Brown from UMass? How do you think he will fare in year one?

I am very excited about Don Brown. His defensive philosophy is a complete 180 from former DC Chris Cosh. That was truly a "bend but don't break" philosophy, where you react to the play. Brown is going to have people coming from all over the field, at any time, tp try and make the offense react to the defense.

Unfortunately, I am not sure the Terps are going to all of the sudden be a top 10 defense, but I would expect them to improve. I think they will force more turnovers, hopefully for a score. I don't know if this is 100 percent correct, but the last defensive TD that stands out in my mind is Erin Henderson's game-winning return in the big comeback at UVA in 2006.

Ralph Friedgen had a very good reputation for producing top QBs as a coordinator, but he has yet to have an All-ACC QB at Maryland. Why do you think this is?

Is “I don’t know” an acceptable answer, or are you looking for a little more? Honestly, after what he did with Joe Hamilton, I thought it was just a matter of time before we had a beast come in and take over under center, but it just hasn’t panned out yet. I think he has taken some average quarterbacks and turned them into highly productive quarterbacks (Shawn Hill, Scott McBrien, Sam Hollenbach, and even Chris Turner), but we haven’t had that one blue chip recruit.

I think when Jordan Steffy came in, we all thought he was going to be the one. He seemed to fit the mold of the quarterback that Friedgen was looking for, which was someone who could run the option. But for a combination of reasons, it didn’t work out.

Da'Rel Scott looks like he will be one of the top RBs in the conference this year. How will his 2009 numbers compare to LY with the loss of Heyward-Bey in the passing game and 116 career starts on the o-line?

You know, it pains me to say it but, with the exception of the Cal and maybe the UNC mud game, Scott didn't do a lot against some of the Terps' tougher competition. He had some games where he only had a 1.5 or so rushing average per attempt against VT, BC, and Clemson. So there is some inconsistency in his numbers.

In his defense, he was banged up a little bit, so that may be part of the problem with the numbers. I expect him to be a better, smarter back this year, but if the line doesn't make the space for you, it doesn't matter who you have back there running the ball (there is that mention of the line again).

Alex Wujciak is a great LB, but with four of the top five tacklers gone, what unit will have to step up to make this defense better?

This will be a theme for many questions about the defense, and it has to be the line. There has not been a serious pass rush threat since Merriman. The linebackers will rack up their stats, but that could be a product of a lack of production at the D-Line. With the new scheme there is going to be more pressure on the corners as well, and they are the most experienced unit on the defense. So if they do the job, it could help the entire unit.

That being said, under Friedgen, the Linebackers have been the pride of Maryland. Look for someone like Adrian Moten to really step up this year and help Wujciak. I wouldn't be surprised if we are talking about the LBs as the strength of the defense at the end of the season.

What true freshman do you expect to get significant playing time?

This is always tough because I don't think Friedgen likes to burn the redshirt, but he will put the best guy out there. Right now, I could see De'onte Arnett getting some playing time, if he is half the pass rusher everyone says he is. Also, Darin Drakeford started school in January and was part of spring practices.

Lots of good news about his play, and he is second-team on the depth chart, as of now. Those are two guys who stand out for me, but with injuries and lack of proven depth on the lines, someone might surprise us there.

Who are the redshirt freshman we may have forgotten about that could have a big impact?

This is a great question, and it is true. Sometimes you tend to forget about the guys that redshirted and focus on the incoming class a little more. I think you have to look at both lines. With the opportunities for playing time at offensive line, guys like R.J. Dill and Justin Lewis are going to play.

How big of an impact they have remains to be seen, and if one of them takes the next step, it may just save Chris Turner's life. In a two TE set, there will almost certainly be one of two redshirt Freshman getting playing time in Matt Furstenburg and/or Devonte Campbell.

On the defensive line, the big question looms around the academic standing for Dion Armstrong. He sat out the spring to focus on classwork. A.J. Francis took his spot with the first team. Obviously Armstrong is the guy Maryland needs out there, but his status may not be known until late August (he needs to pass a summer session two class). So I would expect Francis is going to play early, even if Armstrong gets in under the buzzer.

Maryland does not have any "natural rivals," but does have some big games against Virginia and NC State. Who do Maryland fans want to beat the most year in and year out?

As a Maryland fan, that is one thing we miss out on each year. Everyone we play has that big rivalry game, but we don't have that marquee game. You can run down the Maryland schedule each year, and think you are a rival to a certain team, but instantly, some other team hops into your mind as that opponents' rival.

That being said—and they are not even on our schedule this year—my answer is West Virginia. Nothing like beating the "Hoopies." The series is virtually a tie, and there is hatred between both fanbases. Geographically, it is a perfect distance for a road trip.

If you have to pick one on our schedule this year, I really, really want to beat Rutgers again. That was a great road trip. And to walk out of that stadium two years ago with a win, when they thought they were a national title contender, was great.

What do you think Maryland's record will be?

My prediction for the season is a 7-5 record overall, and 4-4 in the ACC. As for a bowl prediction, I think that gets you a lower tier bowl, and I know the Eagle Bank Bowl is licking its chops to get Maryland in. So I would expect to see the Terps playing nine miles away from Byrd Stadium for the Bowl game this year. Keep in mind this prediction is based on my belief that the offensive line is going to be serviceable. If they are awful, a four or five win season is not out of the question.

My thoughts on Maryland...
The Terps have the lowest number of starters returning in the ACC and just 38 lettermen returning. The offensive line was hit especially hard, and I am a big fan of continuity and experience up front. Da'Rel Scott may not have seen any improvement on his rushing numbers from a year ago due to the o-line situation. Also, on the defensive line, just one starter returns and only two of the front seven come back. Chris Turner returns at QB, but he has yet to really turn the corner and become a bonafide star in the ACC.

Maryland did not do themselves a bunch of favors with a pretty tough non-conference schedule—at Cal in week one and then home against Rutgers. Also, Middle Tennessee State, who beat Maryland last year, comes to College Park. From the ACC, they get home vs UVA and Va Tech, and road vs Duke from the Coastal. They have a very tough stretch run at NC State, vs VT, at FSU, and vs BC.

Maryland has some very talented players, but they have to improve on their -8 turnover margin to equal last season results. I think the Terps get to 6-6 by the skin of their teeth (and Friedgen's coaching) and get one of the last bowl slots for the ACC.

My Prediction...
6-6, 3-5 ACC, Bowl Game (barely)


Vegas Odds:
Win Total - 6
ACC Championship 30/1 (tied for 8th)
BCS Championship 150/1

Thanks again to the guys at Turtle Droppings for their insight.

What are your thoughts on Maryland in 2009? Can they surprise and win the Atlantic Division, or are they doomed for a losing season?

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