Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Getting the lowdown on Maryland
By Brian Bennett and Heather Dinich
So just what should we expect from Maryland as the Terrapins enter the Big Ten? To get some answers, I turned to our in-house expert, Heather Dinich. She covered the program for the Baltimore Sun before joining ESPN.com's ACC blog. And Heather still lives in Maryland.
As we take the Terps off Heather's hands, she was kind enough to answer a few of our pressing questions about the Big Ten newbie-to-be:
Heather, how competitive should Big Ten fans expect to the Terrapins to be when they enter the Big Ten?
Randy Edsall and the Terps will face a brutal schedule in their first foray into the Big Ten.
HD: Think Hoosiers. Somewhere around not quite as good as Penn State and not as bad as Purdue. And nowhere near the likes of Ohio State. Average at best. The schedule is brutal, with Ohio State and back-to-back road trips to Wisconsin and Penn State, plus a trip to Michigan. The travel and stadiums alone are going to be a culture shock for the Terps. It’s a good thing Rutgers joined the Big Ten so the Terps have somebody they can match up against. (Though former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen is going to be a wee bit motivated for that one as the Scarlet Knights’ new OC.) I think it’s going to be a long season for Randy Edsall, and it’s going to be a dose of reality for athletic director Kevin Anderson. Then again, ADs are paid to see the big picture and follow the money. I have football tunnel vision and it looks like a huge train coming at the Terps through this one.
How solid is Randy Edsall's standing as head coach, especially now that he'll have to compete against Friedgen and former Maryland coach-in-waiting James Franklin (the new head coach at Penn State)?
HD: I think it’s tenuous at best. Look, considering all of the injuries they’ve had, Edsall gets a bit of a pass. Two seasons ago his quarterback position was completely decimated by injuries, to the point where he had a backup linebacker throwing the ball. Last season he lost his top two receivers to injuries, including Stefon Diggs, one of the most exciting playmakers in the country. But he lost the bowl game to Marshall last year -- in Annapolis. That’s unacceptable if you’re the top team in the state. The Terps lost five of their last seven games. They lost to Wake Forest and Syracuse, you think they’re gonna beat Wisconsin and Penn State? On the road? Maryland is going to be haunted by its past, with those games against Franklin and Friedgen, and losses against those two programs will further fuel the fire for Edsall’s critics. Playing the first season in the Big Ten could buy him some time, but it shouldn’t buy him much.
As you mentioned, injuries have been a big problem for the Terps lately. How good can they be if everyone stays healthy?
HD: Even at full strength, I still don’t think they can match up with the best of the Big Ten, but Maryland should look like a better team than what fans saw in 2013. They should be expected to beat Indiana, Iowa and Rutgers and be able to steal one or two they’re “not supposed to win.” The question is if they can handle winning on the road in a new conference. This could actually be a pretty decent team with Diggs and WR Deon Long healthy for the season, and a veteran quarterback in C.J. Brown. Overall, they lose only four starters, and last year was a very young team. The whole defensive line returns and the entire defense should be an experienced group. They should pick up at least two more wins in the nonconference schedule, but they’ve got to win at Syracuse, a team they lost to last year. So while it might be a better team overall, it might not necessarily be reflected in the win column. Still, if everyone stays healthy, fans should expect a bowl game.
Have Maryland fans come around to the idea of leaving the ACC, or does it still seem weird to think of Maryland in the Big Ten?
HD: Weird. Very weird. I live in Maryland and can’t get used to it, and a lot of fans, of course, are focused on the impact it has on the hoops season. Many fans are indifferent, and even more are still trying to understand it.
Finally, what are some must-see attractions/traditions for visiting Big Ten fans who come to College Park?
HD: I cannot tell a lie: Gameday traffic will be created by Ohio State fans. I recommend checking out Cole Field House, which is right behind Byrd Stadium, for some historic hoops scenery, and Comcast Center, for the modern version. On the field, the statue of Testudo is said to bring some good luck, and of course, the pride this state takes in its flag is, well, dizzying. As for places to eat and consume adult beverages downtown, sources say R.J. Bentley’s and the Cornerstone Grill & Loft are the local institutions.