Monday, August 18, 2014
Best case/Worst case: Maryland
By Austin Ward
Our best- and worst-case series continues to snake its way through the Big Ten.
As always, don't view these as straight-up predictions. We're taking a broad look at the potential highs and lows for each team's season, while having a little bit (sometimes a large amount) of fun along the way.
Next in the spotlight: The Maryland Terrapins.
After proving definitively it belonged in the Big Ten, a smiling Randy Edsall walked to one final postgame news conference and finally revealed his secret.
It was no mystery that vastly improved health was the biggest factor as the Terps went toe-to-toe with the best in their new conference and beat everybody else the league tossed their way. But the Maryland coach finally was letting the world know what had been up his sleeve all year -- or, rather, in his pocket.
Edsall pulled out a small piece of wood with the program's familiar "M" logo etched on one side and Testudo on the other. Throughout the season, any time he addressed a player by name, he'd privately knock on his good-luck charm behind the podium, leaving nothing to chance after injuries had decimated his roster over the last couple of seasons.
A fantastic outing by quarterback C.J. Brown on the road in the Big Ten opener at Indiana? Knock on wood.
What about Stefon Diggs exploding for 235 yards and three touchdowns in a home win over Iowa? Knock, knock.
Another critical road victory to stamp itself as a legitimate threat to Penn State's recruiting thanks to pick-sixes from Will Likely and Alvin Hill? Another tap on the pocket.
The wood wasn't a miracle worker in terms of results. Maryland wasn't quite deep enough to knock off Ohio State or Michigan State in the rough-and-tumble East Division. But it was the Terps who helped make that side of the conference look even more fearsome moving into the future as it finished third in the standings. Maryland added a third victory in the league away from College Park when it knocked off Michigan to set up a nine-win campaign that was clinched with a rout over fellow newcomer Rutgers to cap the regular season.
It was after that victory that Edsall winked and pulled the curtain back on his secret, giving Maryland and Under Armour a whole month to start making and selling copies to fans ahead of the trip to the Outback Bowl. And with a new tradition established, the Terps knocked down the door to a double-digit win season and made it clear they weren't backing down in the Big Ten.
The feeling of déjà vu was unmistakable.
Maryland had such high hopes, and all it needed to do was stay healthy to prove it belonged in a new league. But now down to their eighth starting quarterback of the season and with only 28 scholarship players still available, all the Terps could do was hope to survive one final week before starting the offseason rehabilitation process all over again.
If Edsall had thought his luck had been bad over the previous couple of seasons, he couldn't have imagined how low it would sink as the program acclimated to the Big Ten. Before the Terps have even played a conference game, Edsall is scouting the intramural flag football playoffs and offering walk-on spots to a handful of members of the undefeated "Testudinal Fortitude" squad.
By the time the battered roster limped home to take on Ohio State on the first Saturday in October, the University of Maryland Medical Center had started holding multiple rooms open every Saturday to accommodate the latest wave of injuries. Rather than full-contact hitting in practice, the Terps instead bring out yoga mats and go through multiple periods of relaxation and triple the amount of mental reps for every player.
Edsall did everything he could to keep the ship afloat, again converting a freshmen defender into a quarterback and riding a healthy backfield led by Brandon Ross to a win over Indiana and trotting out his flag-football receivers in an upset over Iowa that qualified as nothing short of brilliant given the limitations of the roster.
But with morale in the state at an all-time low after crab cakes were deemed by the FDA to be a public health risk, Rutgers put an end to the suffering and a 5-7 season for the Terps. The final loss might have kept them from earning a stunning bowl bid, but on the bright side, nobody else was injured -- until Edsall broke his arm adjusting a microphone at his end-of-season press conference.