- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Maryland's impending move to the Big Ten in July presents an opportunity for the program to reinvent itself. Some would say it's not a bad idea after a 13-24 start to the Randy Edsall era.
But the Maryland team that makes its Big Ten debut on Sept. 27 at Indiana won't have a dramatically different design from the squad that played in the ACC last season or the season before. The Terrapins don't want to be Big Ten wannabes. They want to be themselves in 2014 -- hopefully a healthier and better version of themselves.
"We're going to be who we are," Edsall told ESPN.com. "We're not going to change and say everybody in the Big Ten does this or that. We're going to try to make people adapt to us. We're not going to adapt to them."
So who are these Terrapins?
They run a no-huddle, spread offense that boasts one of the Big Ten's best returning receiving corps. Maryland returns five players who recorded at least 450 receiving yards in 2013, including Stefon Diggs, the one-time Ohio State recruiting target, and Deon Long. Both Diggs and Long were averaging more than 15 yards per reception before both suffered broken legs in an October loss to Wake Forest.
Injuries wiped out many of Maryland's top contributors in 2013 and played a role in the Terrapins' pedestrian offensive rankings (75th in total yards, 84th in scoring). But they return almost all of their top skill players, including quarterback C.J. Brown, a sixth-year player who missed two seasons (2010 and 2012) because of injury. Four starting offensive linemen also return.
"We've got some playmakers on offense [who] can really make things happen," Edsall said. "We've got some very talented wide receivers, our quarterback is really good, a dual threat. The biggest thing is we've got to stay healthy and continue to get better."
Edsall will lean on offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, who held the same position in the Big Ten at Illinois from 2005 to 2008. The Illini led the Big Ten in rushing in both 2005 and 2007 and in passing in 2008.
Maryland will use a hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme built around pressure. Although the Big Ten long has been dominated by 4-3 defenses, Wisconsin employed the 3-4 last season and had some success. Indiana likely will use an odd-man front under new coordinator Brian Knorr.
A Terrapins defense that, like the offense, suffered more than its share of injuries in 2013 returns a nice core that includes linebackers Cole Farrand (84 tackles) and Matt Robinson (10 tackles for loss) and nose tackle Andre Monroe (9.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss).
"We've played good defense," Edsall said of a unit that ranked 44th nationally in yards allowed. "We still need to get better."
Edsall and his staff started preparing for the Big Ten move following Maryland's bowl game in December. The Terrapins will play 10 new opponents in 2014 (West Virginia and Syracuse are holdovers from 2013), including three Big Ten teams -- Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin -- that they have never faced.
Nebraska faced some challenges when it moved from the Big 12 to the Big Ten in 2011, and Huskers coach Bo Pelini acknowledged last week that the recruiting adjustments are still happening.
"You have to acquire data," Pelini said. "That happens over three years."
How quickly can Maryland settle into its new league?
"Any time you change conferences, it will be different," said Danny O'Brien, who played quarterback at Maryland from 2009 to 2011 before transferring to a Big Ten school in Wisconsin, where he played in 2012. "My experience in the Big Ten, the front sevens are really good. A lot of teams can stop the run. It's a different style, and you get some weather situations that influence things a bit.
"They're playing different teams, so the game plans will change accordingly, and on the other side, teams are playing Maryland for the first time."
O'Brien remembers Maryland being a physical team, and he doesn't think the Terrapins will be intimidated by the new environments. Maryland visits Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan this fall.
"I don't see that being a huge adjustment," O'Brien said. "There are some huge, loud stadiums in the Big Ten, but you have Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech [in the ACC]. Football is big everywhere."
How Maryland fans react to their team's new league will be a subplot of the move. Rutgers fans are overjoyed to be escaping the American, and many Nebraska fans had become annoyed with Texas' constant power plays. Terrapins fans, meanwhile, didn't want to leave the ACC, where Maryland is a charter member and has long-term rivalries.
Maryland even launched a public relations campaign that tried to boost perception about the B1G move, as the school anticipated an initial backlash.
"Just like anything, the fans and donors and alumni, any time there's change, it takes a little bit of time," Edsall said. "But since it's been announced, everybody sees the benefits to some of our athletic programs. The first day that they put tickets out, they sold 1,000 new season tickets. So when people see the schedule and the division we're in, that gets you excited."
Edsall echoes the excitement of playing in what appears to be a loaded East Division, which includes Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State.
"When they came out with the divisions, people said, 'Whoa,'" Edsall said. "I looked at it and said, 'That's great.'"
The Big Ten move will have financial benefits for an athletic program that cut seven teams in 2012, and it also should boost football. Maryland will be the only Big Ten program without an indoor practice facility, but initial plans are under way to construct one in the coming years.
"We don't have a 100,000-seat stadium," Edsall said. "We have a 54,000-seat stadium, but it gets really loud. We're never going to be Ohio State or Michigan because we don't have those same resources. But what we can do is be Maryland and do the things we need to do to make us the best we've been."
The best that they can be, in Edsall's mind, is themselves.
18hDavid M. Hale