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Terps Football ’13 Q&A w/ National Analysts

Training Camp for the University of Maryland’s Football team begins in less than two months, with the season opener at the end of August. As Baltimore Sports and Life (BSL) continues to preview the upcoming year, we’ve reached out to the following National Analysts for some of their thoughts:

Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports
Brandon Pertner, Phil Steele Publications
Tom Luginbill, ESPN
Stewart Mandell, Sports Illustrated

BSL thanks these analysts for taking the time to contribute.

(You can discuss this Q&A on the BSL Board here.)

BSL: Before Maryland can fully embrace their new life as a member of The Big Ten, the Terrapins have one more season of play in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In addition to MD, the Atlantic Division in 2013 is comprised of Wake Forest, Syracuse, NCST, Boston College, Clemson, and Florida State.  Both the Seminoles and Tigers are seen as Top 15 Pre-Season teams by most. Excluding MD, what are your general thoughts on the Division?

Lassan: I think 2013 is a year of transition for the rest of the Atlantic Division. NC State, Syracuse and Boston College have new coaches, and Wake Forest is tough to get a read on with all of the injuries this team sustained last year. Clemson is one of the top-10 teams in the nation, and Florida State could reach that level by the end of 2013. However, the Seminoles also suffered some significant personnel losses, especially on defense. There’s no doubt Florida State and Clemson are the top two teams in the division. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to me to see any of the other four teams finish third. I don’t think there is much separation between No. 3 and No. 7.

Pertner: Outside of Clemson and Florida State who are clearly the best two teams in the division, the race is wide open. This year’s Atlantic division was arguably my toughest division to forecast in all of college football this year. It wouldn’t surprise me if anyone of the the other five teams finished at No. 3. In the end, I tied three different schools there in Maryland, Wake Forest and NC State.

Luginbill: For the most part I believe this division outside of FSU and Clemson is in rebuilding mode. Wake Forest may actually have the most experience back at key positions. Chase Rettig at BC has the most experience, but has been surrounded by bad personnel that has hampered his development. NC State will have a new look, more wide open offense under Dave Doren but must find a QB. Same goes for Syracuse under center. Three teams with new coaches means overhaul in many areas including the personality of the team and coaching staff which can take time to gel.

Mandel: It would be stunning if anyone besides Clemson or FSU won the division. Despite what the numbers indicate, FSU still has an abundance of experience and Top 10 talent, and Clemson’s offense will be one of the nation’s best again with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. But it will be interesting to see who emerges as perhaps another Top 25 team in the division, whether it’s NC State, Maryland or Syracuse.

BSL: Out-of-conference MD has Florida International, and Old Dominion at home.  The Terps visit UConn to complete the home-and-home series, and hosts West Virginia at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Maryland would obviously love to be 3-0 going into the WVU game, and break through against the Mountaineers here in Baltimore. Even some down Terps teams have competed against WVU, but it seems like forever ago that Maryland trashed them in the Gator Bowl. How do you see the OOC schedule? How do the Mountaineers look as they prepare for their 2nd year in the Big 12?

Lassan: I think there is a good chance Maryland runs the table and finishes 4-0 in non-conference play. The Terrapins will be favored by a decent margin to beat FIU and Old Dominion. Connecticut will be a tougher challenge, but the Huskies still have plenty of question marks on offense. West Virginia is the swing game on Maryland’s non-conference slate. The Mountaineers have a new quarterback and virtually new receiving corps, but coach Dana Holgorsen always seems to find the right answers on offense. Despite the losses on offense, West Virginia’s biggest question mark is still a defense that allowed 38.1 points a game last year. Even though the Mountaineers have owned Maryland in this series recently, I think this is a very winnable game for the Terrapins.

Pertner: It is very manageable. FIU is rebuilding with a new head coach and have only 8 returning starters. That should be a double digit win for the Terps. Old Dominion is a transitional FBS team with a great QB in Taylor Heinicke who threw for 5,076 at the FCS level last year. However, the Terps should come away with that one by a couple of td’s as the Monarchs are adjusting to making the step up. Uconn on the road will be tough as the Huskies beat the Terps in College Park last year and this is Pasqualoni’s best team yet in Storrs. WVU is down this year as they return only 3 starters on offense and clearly underachieved last year. Overall, the Terps have two very winnable games in FIU and ODU and two games I rate as toss-ups so I think they should come out of it at 3-1.

Luginbill: It is very favorable and keep in mind, WVU is rebuilding on offense and has yet to show any signs of life on defense. They will be inexperienced at QB and other skill spots as well. This is the perfect year for Maryland to catch WVU without an experienced QB. The question will be how good is Maryland at QB to get them to and through the early portion of the schedule.

Mandel: West Virginia obviously has a ton of talent to replace on offense after losing Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Steadman Bailey, though with any Dana Holgorsen team you expect they’ll still be able to score points. Their defense was just terrible last year, and the feeling in Morgantown is they just didn’t have the right coaches. If the defense improves they can improve on last year’s 7-6 season. But it’s definitely a critical year for Holgorsen to see whether they’ll be more competitive in the Big 12.

BSL: With Maryland’s numerous injuries at QB last year, it was hard to evaluate what progress was being made with the program. As Spring Ball ended, a review of the depth chart shows a fair amount of skill position talent, along with questions (and a general lack of depth) on both lines. Is 7 wins and a bowl appearance the expectation, or the ceiling for this Terrapins team?

Lassan: I think a bowl game is a very reasonable expectation for Maryland, and the schedule is favorable enough to push for seven wins. Despite the injuries at quarterback last year, the Terrapins doubled their win total from 2011 and lost four games by a touchdown or less. With better luck in the health department, along with a favorable crossover schedule with the Coastal Division, Maryland should be able to go bowling in Randy Edsall’s third season. Assuming the Terrapins can sweep their non-conference schedule, beating Boston College, Virginia and Syracuse in College Park appears likely.

Pertner: I love the talent at the skill positions and actually rate their WR’s as my #15 set of WR’s in the entire country. Naturally, they will get much more production out of the QB spot and as long as they stay healthier, there is no doubt that the Terps will be back in a bowl this year as they make my fabled Most Improved List.

Luginbill: I think it all depends on the QB position. It was absolutely amazing that Maryland could even field a team on offense last year and compete. Stefon Diggs is going to have to become the focal point of the offense when it comes to touches. With the division being what it is and their favorable non-conference schedule there is no doubt this team could get to seven wins.

Mandel: Last year was certainly deceiving because of the QB situation but realistically the Terps were not going to dig out of the 2011 debacle overnight. Seven wins and a bowl game would be seen as a very successful season given the past two years.

BSL: Bigger picture wise, the Terps have had back-to-back Top 35 recruiting classes, and are are off to a positive start with their 2014 class. When you look at the talent within 2 hours of College Park, is there enough consistently produced talent to regularly land Top 25 classes, if the Terps keep the great majority of those players at ‘home’?  (Including Washington D.C., Southern PA, and Northern VA as home for this question.)

Lassan: I think so. Every recruiting class is always going to be a little different and there will be a down cycle or two in talent within that area. However, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. are three areas that produce plenty of talent on an annual basis. Helping Maryland’s recruiting efforts will be the switch to the Big Ten. The Terrapins will be more visible in Chicago, New Jersey and Ohio – three other fertile recruiting areas to tap into.

Pertner: I think consistent Top 25 classes may be a stretch particularly with nearly 10 SEC schools ranking in the Top 25-30 on a yearly basis. However, I definitely think consistent Top 35-40 classes for Maryland should be the expectation and the norm provided the rich area of talent surrounding them.

Luginbill: Yes, there is enough talent, the question is whether or not Maryland is perceived as a legitimate contender for the top level players when having to go up against VT, Clemson, Alabama, FSU, UNC etc. If prospects do not view Maryland as having the same clout as other programs it makes it more difficult. The way you fix that is by winning and winning big games against teams you are not expected to beat. That can change the dynamic to swing things around.

Mandel: That’s always been the big mystery about Maryland football. There is absolutely enough talent in their backyard to produce Top 25 classes, but save for a brief period under Ralph Friedgen they’ve never been able to keep most of it at home. There does seem to be an uptick now with Mike Locksley. If they can continue to recruit competitively with programs like Penn State, Virginia Tech and Rutgers then they should get their fair share of talent most years.

BSL:  In this CBS Sports article, the following was mentioned:

“In the last three recruiting classes, only the SEC has signed more prospects than the ACC in ESPN’s top 150. In the last nine NFL drafts the SEC and ACC are the only two leagues to have at least 30 players drafted. Florida State just had 11 players taken last month, a school record matching its total of the previous four drafts combined. In the 2012 Pro Bowl it wasn’t even close. The SEC (26) and ACC (20) had more players on the rosters than the other three BCS conferences (Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12) combined (44). Conclusion: The ACC is recruiting good players and producing more than its share of pros. But the mystery grows when they actually play football at ACC schools.”

With that in-mind, how much of a jump in play is it going to be for Maryland from the ACC Atlantic to the Big Ten East (Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Indiana)?

Lassan: I think it will be a much tougher road in the Big Ten East Division than in the ACC Atlantic. However, it will be difficult to gauge just how difficult over the next few years, especially since Penn State is still dealing with NCAA sanctions. In the East Division, Michigan and Ohio State should be two of the Big Ten’s best teams on an annual basis. Both programs are also likely to rank among the top 10-15 teams nationally for the foreseeable future. And Michigan State has been a program on the rise under coach Mark Dantonio, as it played in the first Big Ten Championship in 2011. Although the ACC hasn’t struggled to attract talent, the results on the field haven’t matched up, and there have been a lot of inconsistent results from programs like NC State, Boston College and now Syracuse. Maryland has the resources to compete in the Big Ten. However, traditional success tends to favor Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan as top 25 programs every season. In the ACC Atlantic, Florida State and Clemson have been the only consistent top-25 teams from that division. Winning in the Big Ten isn’t impossible for Maryland. But in the East Division, getting to a bowl game on an annual basis would be a good result.

Pertner: I am not sure it will be that big of a jump for them. The issue will be how the Terps handle the longer road trips and adjust to a more physical style of play. Talent was never the issue in the ACC, however, the culture of Big Ten football is arguably second only to the SEC in terms of money and financial support, which the Terps will have to step their game up.

Luginbill: I think it is an equal trade between Maryland’s talent level and the current state of the Big Ten. Aside from OSU, Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin right now Maryland is competitive with the rest of league. Maryland hasn’t had the sheer numbers of drafted prospects as other programs in the ACC so to make the claim that Maryland goes into the Big Ten with a talent edge because of the drafted ACC players over the last nine drafts probably isn’t overly accurate.

Mandel: Going by that metric, perhaps it seems like it wouldn’t be much. But just the fact they’re going into a division with Ohio State and Michigan — when both have tremendous head coaches and are recruiting like mad — makes it more challenging in my mind. Penn State is going to struggle with the sanctions in the next few years but in normal times those are possibly three Top 15 teams in the same division.

BSL: Located between two cities which house numerous professional teams, Maryland Football is never going to be the only game in-town. Due to that, the Terps are never going to illicit the same passion as say Bret Bielema is now experiencing at Arkansas. However, the Terps do have a partnership with Under Armour. Can sell some recruits on playing in a large metropolitan area, and on playing in one of the premier Football conferences. MD does have decent facilities, and a growing recruiting base. If the leadership of the University of Maryland tasked you with growing the program, what would be your leading priorities? If they asked you what the MD program was capable of being, how would you reply?

Lassan: I think the biggest factor working with Maryland is the affiliation with the Big Ten in 2014. The conference has more history, tradition and prestige than the ACC. Sure, the Terrapins are giving up some rivalries with the ACC, but the money and television deal should be better in the Big Ten.

Now that the move is getting closer, the school needs to sell it’s fan-base on the conference move and showcase what the Big Ten will offer academically and athletically. Also, Maryland should consider expanding it’s presence in the Midwest, especially in Chicago and Ohio. Whether that’s through advertising or some other form of communication, the school needs to get the word out on what it can offer.

There’s no question that any school in a pro town has an uphill battle to dominate the news cycle. However, winning cures a lot of things. And Maryland has to put a good product on the field and consistently make bowl games, along with pushing for a division title every couple of years. The school needs to decide if Randy Edsall is the right coach. If he’s not the right answer, don’t wait until the program has slumped too far to quickly right the ship.

Even though playing in a pro market isn’t easy, it also presents a lot of opportunities. Considering the prime location, it’s a great opportunity for students in the academic field, and the athletic programs should work closely with the pro trams to establish a relationship. Sure, it’s a lot easier to build a program at a place like Alabama or Tennessee when you are the only game in town. However, programs like Pittsburgh and Washington (in certain periods) have proven it is possible to win in a pro town.

Pertner: Number one priority would be to get some consistency. The Edsall hire was not viewed well at the start and last year’s improving efforts was negated by all the injuries. Getting to a bowl in their last season of ACC play would be a great step in the right direction heading into Big Ten play in 2014. With so much uncertainty in college football, it’s tough for me to forecast what is going to happen 3-5 years from now and which of the team’s in conference realignment will be winners/losers. The Terps are never going to be a Ohio St and/or Michigan in the Big Ten but they should be a regular bowl contender, with a shot of making a New Year’s Day Bowl every 3-4 years.

Luginbill: Stadium upgrades and enhancements would be a priority as would upgrading any academic/athletic support facilities to match the top teams in the conference. Expanded recruiting budget would also be a priority. Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program and should be given top priority. From a stadium standpoint Maryland is currently in the bottom 3-4 in the Big Ten. Maryland has shown it is capable of being a 10 win program per year, but hasn’t shown it can sustain it. The question is the level of support from boosters, alumni, corporate entities etc that truly care about taking the program to the next level. The fan base is always going to be inconsistent until consistent winning becomes the norm.

Mandel: People like to cite factors like facilities and location, but ultimately it’s about hiring the right coach and giving hin the proper resources. Time will tell if Randy Edsall is the right coach. Whether he is or not, to be nationally competitive you  have to be willing to spend money to hire the best assistants, support staff, academic services, etc. Alabama has the most passionate fans in the country and unbelievable tradition, but they were pretty mediocre with lousy coaches for 15 years pre-Saban. Stanford has seemingly every natural disadvantage imaginable and has been to three straight BCS bowls. It’s all about the coach. With the right coach, Maryland should be a regular Top 25 team and occasional ACC title contender.

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Written by Chris Stoner
2 years ago
Q&As / Podcasts, Terps Football,

Chris Stoner

Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director. You can reach him via email at Chris.Stoner@baltimoresportsandlife.com.

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