Maryland season preview

Today we’re taking a look at Maryland as the Terps enter their final season in the ACC:

Maryland Terrapins

Coach: Randy Edsall (80-88 overall, 6-18 at Maryland)

2012 record: 4-8, 2-6 in ACC

Key losses: WR Kevin Dorsey, TE Matt Furstenburg, G Bennett Fulper, DE Joe Vellano, DE A.J. Francis, LB Demetrius Hartsfield, LB Kenny Tate, S Eric Franklin, LB Darin Drakeford

Key returnees: QB C.J. Brown, WR Stefon Diggs, TB Brandon Ross, CB Dexter McDougle, LB Cole Farrand

Newcomer to watch: WR Deon Long. Expectations are high for the transfer after a record-setting season at Iowa Western Community College, where he became the first player in NJCAA history to catch 100 passes in a season. Long finished his sophomore season with 100 receptions for 1,625 yards and 25 touchdowns, leading the NJCAA in all three categories. He earned first team All-America honors, while leading Iowa Western to a national championship. If he’s as good as advertised, Long should help take some defensive pressure off teammate Stefon Diggs.

Biggest games in 2013: Oct. 5 at Florida State, Oct. 26 vs. Clemson, Oct. 12 vs. Virginia.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: How the defense will replace seven starters. Not only did Maryland’s defense feature some of its best athletes last fall, but many of those players were the team’s most outspoken leaders, too. The Terps are rebuilding their defense after losing six starters from last season’s roster, including mainstays on the defensive line Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis, and all three starting linebackers. Offensively, the Terps finally seem to have more pieces in place to succeed. This season, it could be the defense that has to catch up.

Forecast: Edsall said he expects some heckling this fall as he takes his team on its final tour of the ACC before joining the Big Ten. The question is whether the Terps can get the last word by becoming a factor in the Atlantic Division race. Maryland, like everyone else in the division, is looking up at FSU and Clemson. But with a favorable nonconference schedule, it’s very possible the Terps head to Tallahassee on Oct. 5 with a respectable 3-1 record and some momentum from nonconference play. With winnable games against FIU, Old Dominion and Connecticut, Maryland could be halfway back to bowl eligibility before the start of conference play. It will certainly help to have a few healthy quarterbacks this year, but the Terps will also benefit from a stronger supporting cast of playmakers. Maryland has more options at receiver, and an improved offensive line returns three starters. And don’t forget that Maryland has one of the ACC’s most explosive receivers and kick returners in Diggs, who ranked eighth nationally last year with 172.36 all-purpose yards. With the exception of the first two games of the season and back-to-back home games against Clemson and Syracuse, Maryland will play every other game on the road this fall. The key to bowl eligibility will actually be winning at home: against FIU, Old Dominion, Virginia, Syracuse and Boston College. The Terps have to protect their turf, because stealing more than one on the road is going to be difficult.