NCF Nation: Randy Edsall

Maryland Terrapins season preview

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
10:30
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Maryland Terrapins:

2013 overall record: 7-6 (3-5 ACC)

Key losses: De'Onte Arnett, OL; Dave Stinebaugh, TE; Dexter McDougle, DB; Marcus Whitfield, LB

[+] EnlargeC.J. Brown
G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty ImagesC.J. Brown returns to lead Maryland's prolific passing attack.
Key returnees: C.J. Brown, QB; Stefon Diggs, WR; Deon Long, WR; Sal Conaboy, OC; Andre Monroe, DE; Cole Farrand, LB; Sean Davis, S

Instant impact newcomer: OL Damian Prince. It's not often that a freshman offensive lineman enrolls over the summer and is expected to make an immediate impact. But, then again, rookies like Prince -- a 6-foot-3, 300-pound four-star prospect -- don't come around often, either. He will see time this season, and he could start as early as the opener. Newcomer OL Derwin Gray could win out the right tackle job, too.

Projected starters

Offense: QB: C.J. Brown, Sr., 6-3, 218; RB: Brandon Ross, Jr., 5-10, 210; FB: Kenneth Goins Jr., So., 5-9, 230; OT: Michael Dunn, So., 6-5, 300; OG Silvano Altamirano, Sr., 6-2, 290; OC: Sal Conaboy, Sr., 6-3, 295; OG: Andrew Zeller, Jr., 6-4, 310; OT: Ryan Doyle, Jr., 6-4, 300; TE: Andrew Isaacs, So., 6-2, 245; WR: Stefon Diggs, Jr., 6-0, 190; WR: Deon Long, Sr., 6-0, 185; WR: Marcus Leak, Jr., 6-0, 210.

Defense: DE: Quinton Jefferson, Jr., 6-3, 285; NT: Darius Kilgo, Sr., 6-3, 319; DE: Andre Monroe, Sr., 5-11, 282; OLB: Matt Robinson, Sr., 6-3, 245; ILB: Cole Farrand, Sr., 6-3, 245; ILB: L.A. Goree, Sr., 6-2, 245; OLB: Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, Sr., 6-2, 250; CB: Will Likely, So., 5-7, 175; CB: Alvin Hill, Jr., 5-11, 195; S: Sean Davis, Jr., 6-1, 200; S: Anthony Nixon, Jr., 6-1, 200.

Specialists: K: Brad Craddock, Jr., 6-0, 185; P: Nathan Renfro, Jr., 6-1, 205.

Biggest question mark: Can the running attack take off with this offensive line? The strength of this offense is obviously the passing attack, but the running game also needs to pick up some slack so the offense isn't so one-dimensional. In 2013, Maryland's line allowed an average of 7.08 tackles for loss a game -- only 14 FBS teams fared worse -- and the rushing offense ranked just 83rd nationally. The good news is Maryland boasts several options at running back and most of the line returns. The bad news? Those returnees weren't all that effective last season. If that part of the offense can even come close to matching the ability of that pass attack, the Terps could surprise a lot of people.

Most important game: Nov. 1 at Penn State. Maryland wants to earn respect in the Big Ten, and there would be no better way than upending a regional rival that's 35-1-1 all time versus the Terps. Maryland last beat PSU in 1961, and the Lions have won or tied the past 29 meetings. This is a statement game, and Maryland could show it belongs in the B1G with this.

Upset special: Nov. 1 at Penn State. That's right. It's the most important game -- and it's the upset special. The Nittany Lions still have a lot of question marks, and if Maryland's going to pounce on PSU this would be the year to do it, before the sanctions wane and the Lions return to full strength. Defensive end Andre Monroe could be in for a memorable performance, and if Penn State's secondary doesn't improve dramatically from last season, it could have its hands full against Diggs and Long. If pass-happy Indiana could take advantage last season, there's a chance Maryland could take advantage this season.

Key stat: Over the past two seasons, Diggs has averaged 156 all-purpose yards per game. Among returning players in the FBS, only one player has averaged more.

What they're wearing: With the backing of Under Armour, Maryland's a bit like the Oregon of the East when it comes to uniforms. Terrapins coach Randy Edsall said during Big Ten media days that his team would be debuting one new uniform this season -- but no date has been announced for when that might be unveiled.

In the meantime, here's a look at Maryland's jerseys with the new Big Ten patch:

Team's top Twitter follows: Head coach Randy Edsall (@RandyEdsall) is a good follow, as long as you don't mind a lot of motivational quotes. Quarterback C.J. Brown (@C_Brown16) is an active Tweeter, and wideout Stefon Diggs (@stefon_diggs) is a must-follow who says what he feels. The Maryland Athletics account (@umterps) and official football account (@MarylandPride) are also worth looking into. As far as covering the team, the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Barker (@sunjeffbarker) is on top of the news and SB Nation's Testudo Times (@testudotimes) is worth a follow for their commentary.

They said it: “We want to make noise. We want to go out there and win and compete and make Maryland even more relevant than it already is -- and show that we do belong.” -- quarterback C.J. Brown

Stats & Info projections: 6.42 wins

Wise guys over/under: 6.5 wins

Big Ten blog projection: Six wins. Maryland is a better team than last season, but its Big Ten schedule is absolutely brutal. It faces four of the five best teams in the B1G -- Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa -- so it doesn't exactly have an easy path to a bowl game. Seven or eight wins certainly isn't out of the question, but we'll first see if the Terps can make it through September unscathed.
On Thursday, the NCAA Division I board of directors is expected to pass legislation that will allow schools in the Power 5 conferences to set many of their own rules.

Autonomy, as it's being called, could bring a seismic shift in the landscape in college sports. Many Big Ten coaches are hoping it leads to changes in recruiting, as colleague Mitch Sherman details in this piece. It might or might not. But many league coaches told ESPN.com that a more streamlined governing process is what is ultimately needed.

"This gives you a lot better chance of getting things done," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "[What we have now] would be like if Microsoft had to operate under the same restrictions as the mom-and-pop store down the street. It's ridiculous, and it doesn't work."

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
Byron Hetzler/USA TODAY SportsNorthwestern's Pat Fitzgerald on college football's need for a streamlined governing process: "Right now, when we want something changed, we have to wait for a vote nine months from now because that's when the cycle says it should happen."
Here is one example: Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was one of the first to propose offering players full cost-of-attendance stipends way back in the spring of 2011. All other power conferences were on board with the idea, and NCAA president Mark Emmert championed it. Yet autonomy is now needed to actually allow schools to offer those stipends, as smaller programs eventually balked at the cost and killed it.

Pelini has proposed eliminating signing day, and says he's heard from many coaches who agree with him. He said it should be easy to just get everyone in the same room and decide on what is right. But that is not how it works.

"You have all these committees made up of people with different agendas that meet like twice a year," Pelini said. "It was broken before it ever got started."

Under the new legislation, an 80-member panel would be set up to vote on issues, with a 60-percent majority and three of the Power 5 leagues needing to agree to make changes on autonomous issues. Power leagues would also have a bigger weight in the vote on general matters.

"It's tough for an organization as large as ours to keep up with everything," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "My hopes are that maybe we can streamline some policies, re-evaulate some things and come up with a little more efficient way of operating."

Maryland coach Randy Edsall, who has proposed his own radical changes to recruiting, wants more than just a bigger say in voting. He says that for college football to really make necessary improvements, it needs true, dedicated leadership for the sport. Athletic directors and conference commissioners are pulled in too many directions, Edsall said.

"We don’t have anybody working on college football 365 days a year, seven days a week," he said. "We need a structure where people are sitting down going, 'Here’s our game, how do we make it the best?' Those people have to be working on that every day. Because if not, we get what we’ve got."

Several Big Ten coaches said they would favor a college football czar or commissioner to look out for the best interests of the game. Or at least a small group of people who would do that.

"If not [a czar], then there should be an assistant commissioner in each conference where all they do is work on football, period," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "However you want to structure it, when they wake up, all they do is work on football and when they go to bed, they dream about it.

"Right now, when we want something changed, we have to wait for a vote nine months from now because that’s when the cycle says it should happen. These people should have a much better pulse on the reality of what day-to-day life is like in college football."

Ferentz said the makeup of the College Football Playoff selection committee, which includes former coaches, athletic directors and others, could be a usable model for a leadership group.

Having a commissioner or a leadership committee would set college football apart from other sports, which is why the NCAA probably wouldn't go for the idea. But as Fitzgerald noted, "we’re not talking about this autonomy because of any other sport. We're talking about it because of football."

And autonomy gives the coaches hope that maybe things are about to change for the better.

"We've got to try to get rid of the aircraft carrier and get to a speedboat," Fitzgerald said. "Get to where we can get some real things solved, quit looking at one variable at a time and look at the big picture. Through this, hopefully we can find some solutions to make our sport the best we possibly can."
CHICAGO -- The preseason primping in college football is over. The beauty contest has been canceled. If the playoff selection committee does its job, nothing that is said, written or ranked between now and early October will matter.

And that's a very good thing, according to Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.

"You've got to go win," Fitzgerald said Tuesday. "Finally! You've got to go win. No longer can you have a traditional name behind you and four coaches with statues in front of the stadium and 90,000 people every week and you're automatically going to be ranked ... in the top 20.

"That football side now matters."

Like many college football observers, Fitzgerald is no fan of preseason polls and the influence they had on the national championship race. His favorite part of the playoff setup is that the only rankings that matter will come from the selection committee, which will release its first Top 25 list on Oct. 28.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesNorthwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is looking forward to the new College Football Playoff.
Although some question whether any poll should have bearing on the national title race, at least these rankings will be shaped by what happens on the field in the current season. While the playoff technically broadens the national championship field from two to four teams, in reality, the doors are open to dozens of others.

"If we don't get in there, it's our fault," Fitzgerald said. "We didn't win. [Athletic director] Jim Phillips and I didn't schedule the right games, and myself, the staff and the players, we didn't win. We have nobody else to blame. Because if you win our league and you play a competitive schedule, you're going to be in the final four."

Fitzgerald admits he didn't mention the national championship much in recruiting before this season. Northwestern plays in a major conference but lacks the tradition or name recognition of many frequent preseason poll participants. Fitzgerald even pointed to last year -- Northwestern was ranked before the season based on a 10-3 mark and a bowl win in 2012, but stumbled to a 5-7 season -- as evidence that preseason forecasts are often off base.

"It's no longer about your sex appeal, your preseason hype and how many of your fans click on websites for votes anymore," Fitzgerald said. "It's gone. ... If you haven't played anybody in the nonconference schedule, are you going be that impressive when the [first] vote comes out?"

Michigan State has more tradition than Northwestern, but the Spartans are viewed more as an emerging power than a traditional one, especially after a 13-1 season in 2013. MSU coach Mark Dantonio, who thinks his team would have won the national title if a playoff system had been in place last season, saw the BCS model as one that rewarded teams too much for who they were, not what they were.

"A lot of it was, early in the season, they started their polls quite early, and I think some of the points you were given were based on your past," Dantonio said. "... You were still getting points from being ranked No. 1 at the beginning of the season."

The coaches were part of the problem, too, at least those who voted in a poll that was part of the BCS selection process.

"People would favor their own conference, so they'd get voted in whether it was right, wrong or indifferent," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "It's a little more transparent now than what it was before, which is good."

Another good thing for the lower-profile Big Ten programs is the emphasis the committee will have on selecting league champions. Like their colleagues from other leagues, the Big Ten coaches expect their league champion to qualify for the playoff.

So if Maryland can navigate a division featuring Ohio State and Michigan State, among others, and win the league title, why shouldn't it make the playoff? Just because of its name?

"You're going to have a chance to be in the national championship," Edsall said. "Before, that might not be the case. At least now, people are going to see how teams are playing."
CHICAGO -- Nebraska Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini caused a stir last month when he brought up the idea of eliminating national signing day altogether.

Several coaches in the Big 12 and Pac-12 told ESPN.com last week that they liked Pelini's proposal, which would give recruits a chance to sign as soon as they were offered a scholarship. The intent would be to slow down the recruiting process and make coaches accountable for offers, which currently are extended with zero consequences.

"It makes so much sense," Pelini told ESPN.com on Monday. "People say, 'Oh, let's just have an early signing day.' Why have a signing day at all? It would solve a lot of problems. I haven't heard a lot of reaction from conference administrators and people like that, but I would love to see it, at least start talking about it."

But getting a radical recruiting idea -- or any recruiting proposal -- through the convoluted legislative process isn't easy. It's downright impossible.

"That's the frustrating thing," Pelini said. "We as coaches talk. I just think for this to move forward, you've got to get everybody in the same room. There has to be a willingness to change. Why does everything take so long? You have to go through this committee and that committee and then you get the feedback."

Several Big Ten coaches recently have made recruiting proposals to reform a process that seems to be getting increasingly flawed. The Maryland Terrapins' Randy Edsall would like to prevent scholarship offers from being extended until a prospect's senior season. The Michigan Wolverines' Brady Hoke would like official visits to be allowed at the end of a prospect's junior year to ease the financial burden on players' families.

Most Big Ten coaches favor an earlier signing date -- Hoke wants it on Aug. 1 -- and earlier official visits, ideally during a short window in June when they're conducting high school camps. But coaches from other leagues don't want any changes to the calendar.

"I don't want to expediate recruiting any more," Auburn Tigers coach Gus Malzahn told ESPN.com last week. "It's too fast now."

Iowa Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz calls that "a laughable excuse."

"Is anybody paying attention to anything?" Ferentz said. "The facts are recruiting is accelerated, and the facts are people and families are traveling at record amounts.

"But we choose not to address it."

Ferentz and his Big Ten colleagues will continue to push for changes to the recruiting calendar. But they're not holding their breath.

"Get everybody in the same room and let's figure out what works," Pelini said. "I don't think it's that difficult."
You may have heard, Big Ten media days is right around the corner. The event runs Monday and Tuesday at the Hilton Chicago, with all 14 league coaches and 42 players set to attend.

Here are 10 storylines to watch next week:
  • Jim Delany on the state of college football. Don’t expect the Big Ten boss to drop any bombs in line with the comments made by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby this week in Dallas. But Delany speaks his mind, and he feels strongly about the need for fixes in college athletics. With the NCAA Division I Board of Directors’ vote on power-conference autonomy set for next month and the verdict due soon in the Ed O'Bannon antitrust lawsuit -- Delany was a key NCAA witness -- the commish will no doubt make news with his comments.
  • Rutgers and Maryland, you’re up. Let’s see what these Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Maryland Terrapins look like as their long wait to play Big Ten football is nearly over. It’s been nearly two years since these schools made plans to join the league. And they enter the Big Ten in different places than what may have been expected back in 2012. Maryland is trending up and Rutgers down, but things can change in a hurry. For now, it’ll be nice to hear from the Terps’ sixth-year senior QB C.J. Brown and dynamic receiver Stefon Diggs. Rutgers defensive tackle Darius Hamilton looks like one of the league’s best.
  • The Big Ten goes back on the big stage in September. Who remembers Week 3 last season? It was the Saturday that the UCLA Bruins, Arizona State Sun Devils and Washington Huskies beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Wisconsin Badgers and Illinois Fighting Illini, respectively. And for good measure, Central Florida won at the Penn State Nittany Lions. The poor Big Ten showing drew a collective eye roll from fans and media nationally and stomped out any early-season momentum for the league. Well, it’s a new year, and Michigan State’s Sept. 6 visit to Oregon might rank as the No. 1 intersectional matchup nationally. Wisconsin-LSU in Houston on Aug. 30 is almost as intriguing. Other important games for the league include Ohio State-Virginia Tech, Nebraska-Miami and the last scheduled installment of Michigan-Notre Dame.
  • Ameer Abdullah shares his message. Nebraska’s senior I-back will speak from the heart, for sure, on Tuesday at the league’s annual kickoff luncheon. Abdullah has a great story to share as the youngest of nine siblings raised as a devout Muslim in Alabama. Under-recruited out of high school, he chose Nebraska as the least heralded of three backs in his signing class. This year, he’s got the chance to become the first three-time 1,000-yard rusher at Nebraska, a program filled with tradition at his spot in the backfield.
  • Braxton Miller, the best player without any titles to show for it. Miller is 22-2 in his past 24 starts. Sure, the losses came to end last season in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State and the Orange Bowl to Clemson, but his record speaks for itself. He’s the two-time reigning offensive player of the year in the Big Ten, and with another season like the past two, he’ll race past the statistical marks of nearly every player to precede him in Columbus. But what is Miller’s legacy without a championship? He’d rather face that question in December.
  • James Franklin talks and people listen. The first-year Penn State coach ranks atop the list of must-see speakers in Chicago. Since taking the Penn State job on Jan. 11, Franklin has wowed crowds with his energy, and he’s revitalized the Nittany Lions’ profile as a recruiting power in spite of lingering NCAA sanctions. As the lone new head coach in the league -- not counting Kyle Flood and Randy Edsall -- Franklin offers a breath of fresh air. And because of his SEC background, observers outside of the conference will take note of his comments.
  • The dawn of the playoff era. Ready or not, the Big Ten is set to enter the first year of the College Football Playoff. A year ago, Michigan State likely would have earned a spot in the semifinal round. But can the Big Ten produce another team worthy of football’s final four? The Spartans remain a contender, though that trip to Oregon in Week 2 looms large. Ohio State is another team to watch and probably the most popular pick from the Big Ten to make it to a New Year’s Day semifinal in Pasadena or New Orleans. It'll be a topic at media days.
  • Michigan, now is the time to look like Michigan. The honeymoon is over for coach Brady Hoke, entering his fourth year as he tries to avoid a third consecutive season of declining win totals. The Wolverines slipped to 7-6 a year ago amid major offensive woes after a 5-0 start. Hoke’s offensive line still looks ill prepared to stop the Big Ten's top defensive fronts. The schedule is again somewhat backloaded, with Michigan State and Ohio State among the final five games, so Hoke’s hot-shot recruits may get a few more weeks to mature.
  • Jerry Kill’s health. Minnesota’s fourth-year coach, as much as he’d like to avoid the topic, will face more questions in Chicago about the epileptic seizures that forced him to coach from the press box for much of last season. The Gophers rallied behind their ailing coach. It was a feel-good story, though one that no one in the Twin Cities or elsewhere would like to relive. Kill has made excellent progress in the past several months. The coach and his players are anxious to put this issue to rest.
  • The quarterbacks. Don’t look now, but the Big Ten is turning into a league of quarterbacks. If nothing else, it appears better, for the time being, than the SEC in this category. Seven of the league’s signal-callers are scheduled to appear in Chicago, including Miller, MSU’s Connor Cook, Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Northwestern's Trevor Siemian. It would be nice, of course, to hear from Penn State sophomore Christian Hackenberg at this event and other rising field generals like Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Iowa's Jake Rudock. But hey, we’ll take what we can get.
Kyle Flood and Randy Edsall Getty ImagesRutgers' Kyle Flood and Maryland's Randy Edsall say the rewards of joining the B1G trump the risks.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall can still remember that first call.

More than a year ago, as he sat behind his desk mired in day-to-day football operations, his phone buzzed while flashing the number of athletic director Kevin Anderson. “If we have the opportunity to go to the Big Ten,” Anderson asked him, “what would you think about that?”

Edsall was well aware of the Terrapins’ history as a 1953 charter member of the ACC. Having guided UConn from the FCS to the FBS, he knew all too well the difficulty of such a transition. And in that brief pause, while Anderson waited for an answer, Edsall still wasn’t quite certain about fans’ potential reaction. But he didn’t hesitate.

“I told him if we had the opportunity, we should jump at it,” Edsall told ESPN.com, before letting out a laugh. “And if we don’t -- then I told him they ought to fire him.”

Nearly 200 miles away, in Piscataway, New Jersey, Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood felt similarly. There was no need to weigh the pros and cons of moving up to the Big Ten. The answer was simple: If they invite us, accept the invitation.

“With all the movement that was going on in the world of college football, it was kind of like musical chairs -- and you knew there weren’t enough chairs for everyone,” Flood said. “We were excited because the Big Ten was our first choice; it was our destination conference.”

Neither head coach was particularly forthcoming about when that first call came in, but they both said there was no hesitation on their part. The Big Ten offered more national exposure, increased finances and more prestige. It was a no-brainer.

So on Tuesday, 19 months after officially accepting their invitations, Edsall and Flood have seen those phone calls come full circle. Rutgers and Maryland are now officially members of the Big Ten. And both coaches are hoping to carry this change -- and the accompanying excitement -- and parlay it into a renaissance for their respective programs.

Maryland already watched its ticket sales climb 35 percent. Rutgers sold nearly 1,900 more season tickets by May, and it’s already planning to set up an auxiliary press box for its conference opener against Penn State. Neither team has played a conference game -- they technically haven’t even been members for 12 hours -- but both coaches have already experienced a positive recruiting impact.

Even the schools’ most recent recruiting classes admitted as much, days before reporting to their respective programs.

“I don’t want to say it sold me on Maryland, but it was something that was critical to have in the back of my mind during the decision-making process,” Maryland freshman defensive end Jesse Aniebonam said. “It definitely motivated me to be more excited and more pumped to be joining Maryland’s team.”

Added Rutgers tailback Rob Martin: “Most definitely, being in the Big Ten helped a lot.”

That’s not to say the moves are without risks. Sure, there are plenty of positives -- but there is no guarantee of success. Will Rutgers become the whipping boy of the East? Can Maryland hold its own in a division with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State?

Edsall and Flood know those questions are out there. They know this season will set the tone for the futures of their programs, that they are transitioning to a conference with a reputation for physical teams and hard-nosed running games. They know they will have to prove they belong.

“We’re the new kid on the block, and you got to go out and earn your stripes,” Edsall said. “We do know that. And we’ve been working very, very hard to make sure we put forth our best effort when we line up this fall.”

In the meantime, before that first game, both football staffs will spend an inordinate number of hours in the film room and with cut-ups downloaded to their laptops. Edsall said his staff is doing everything they can to prepare for 10 new opponents on this season’s schedule. Flood said his staff took laptops on the road in May, a month before they usually break down opponents, so they could get a jump-start.

But, to both coaches, the thought of spending twice as much time on preparation this season -- after all, those schedules are entirely different -- is worth the work.

“What this [conference move] does is it gives you a pathway to the national championship,” Flood said. “It’s hard to foresee an undefeated or one-loss Big Ten champion not in the final four. So now you’re in one of the five power conferences and you have the opportunity, in the right kind of season, to play for it all.

“Everyone wants that kind of opportunity.”
Maryland and Rutgers officially made the leap on Tuesday. In less than two months, they'll be playing football as members of the Big Ten.

We've been talking about this moment since November 2012. Rarely, have the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights been mentioned as contenders in their new league. But change comes fast in college football.

It could happen here, too. On this historic day as the Big Ten goes from 12 to 14, here are six reasons to believe that Maryland and Rutgers, as a pair and individually, can experience success in the Big Ten:
  • The Big Ten just isn't that good. You've heard about this, right? The league last played for a national championship seven years ago and hasn't won a title since January 2003. It has performed poorly of late against the major-conference competition and went 2-5 in bowls last season, though Michigan State did win the Rose Bowl – the Big Ten's second triumph in Pasadena since New Year's Day 2000. How does any of this impact Maryland and Rutgers, expected by many to finish 6-7 in the Big Ten East Division? It means no conference foe is unbeatable. It means there's hope.
  • For a while, at least, they're going to get noticed. Rutgers has long operated in the shadow of pro sports in its region, while Maryland football played second fiddle amid the ACC basketball buzz. The Big Ten figures to change some of that. The Terps have already benefited in recruiting from the move. Rutgers needs to capitalize on the attention to make a dent in a deep pool of New Jersey prep talent. You want excitement? Check out Rutgers' Big Ten opener, Sept. 13, when Penn State visits for the first meeting in the series since 1995. Expect Maryland's first Big Ten home game, three weeks later against Ohio State, to equally move the needle.
  • The Terps are trending up. Coach Randy Edsall took Maryland from a two-win team in 2011 to six in 2012 and seven last year. The Terrapins remained an average program in the ACC, but Edsall and his staff have begun to stack the pieces in place, notably on offense, to make a move in the Big Ten. For quarterback C.J. Brown, the time is now to make a mark in the new league. Brown, from Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, is a dual threat who knows the Big Ten style. He works well with coordinator Mike Locksley, an innovative offensive mind. Meanwhile, Maryland's incoming class, bolstered by the impending move, ranked 50th nationally, featuring home grown star Damian Prince at offensive tackle.
  • Deon Long and Stefon Diggs are healthy. Diggs, a junior, and the senior Long form perhaps the best receiving duo in the Big Ten. Both wideouts suffered leg fractures on Oct. 19 in the Terps' 34-10 loss at Wake Forest. Long broke the fibula and tibia in his right leg; Diggs broke the fibula in his right leg, triggering a stretch of four Maryland losses in five games before a regular season-ending win at North Carolina State. Long and Diggs returned for spring practice and appear on track to torment even the best of secondaries in the Big Ten this fall.
  • Gary Nova is back at the helm. This could go either way, depending on whom you ask at Rutgers. But we say it's good for the Scarlet Knights to go through a transformation such as this in with a steady hand at quarterback. Nova has started 28 games and ranks third in school history with 51 touchdown throws. He was benched in favor of Chas Dodd after winning five of 10 starts in 2013, but Nova has won consistently, dating to his unbeaten days as a starter at Don Bosco Prep. To help his cause, Rutgers returns five starters on the offensive line and its top four rushers.
  • There's new energy on the Rutgers defense and strength up the middle. Joe Rossi, the 35-year Rutgers defensive coordinator promoted this offseason from special teams coach, offers a new start for a unit that endured struggles last season. Its strength comes against the run, which figures to suit Rutgers better in the Big Ten than it did in the AAC. And through the core of its defense, tackle Darius Hamilton, middle linebacker Kevin Snyder -- who switched spots with linebacker Steve Longa -- and safety Lorenzo Waters form a backbone of veteran leadership.
Maryland becomes an official Big Ten member Tuesday. It marks a new chapter in Terrapins history, and a chance to build rivalries.

One new/old rivalry already exists for Maryland, at least on the recruiting trail. For that, Terrapins can thank their former assistant and coach-in-waiting, James Franklin.

Since the January day he stepped to the podium as Penn State's new head coach, Franklin has excelled on the recruiting trail and let everyone know about it. From his "dominate the state, dominate the region" claim at his introductory news conference to a more recent statement about treating Maryland, Washington D.C., northern Virginia and other areas as "in-state areas" underscore his confidence as a recruiter.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty ImagesFormer Maryland assistant coach James Franklin has made some bold predictions about how well he'll recruit while at Penn State.
Asked recently about Franklin's comments, Maryland coach Randy Edsall told the York Dispatch, "We're not gonna boast and brag. We're more about substance at Maryland. ... We're gonna worry about ourselves and not worry about anything else. Talk is cheap."

The truth is Franklin should concern Edsall. His recruiting background and ties to the Maryland/D.C. area make him a direct threat to pry prospects from the Terrapins' backyard, which suddenly becomes one of the Big Ten's more fertile recruiting areas. Of all the coaches Penn State could have hired, Franklin, because of his recruiting background and Beltway roots, might be the most detrimental for Maryland, which finds itself in a division filled with big stadiums and big tradition.

Penn State's 2015 recruiting class, rated fourth nationally by ESPN Recruiting Nation, includes three commits from Maryland and one from Washington D.C., including ESPN 300 prospects Adam McLean and Jonathan Holland. Maryland, which is completing an excellent recruiting month, has one player from Pennsylvania (linebacker Brett Zanotto).

But the belief is if Franklin remains at Penn State and continues to excel on the trail, the Lions soon will be among the Big Ten's elite from a talent and depth standpoint. Penn State isn't there now, still reeling from the unprecedented NCAA sanctions handed down in July 2011. If Franklin pulls in several top-10 classes, however, things will change in a hurry.

And that is why Maryland needs a quick strike against its new/old rival. Edsall is right: talk is cheap. Results matter, certainly on the recruiting trail but more importantly on the field.

Maryland travels to Happy Valley on Nov. 1, its first trip to Beaver Stadium since 1992. Penn State and Maryland have history, but it's not good history for the Terrapins, who are 1-35-1 all-time against the Nittany Lions, their lone win coming in 1961.

What better way for the Terrapins to show that they'll be no pushover -- on the field or in recruiting -- by beating Penn State in the teams' first league contest?

The Terps have several we-belong opportunities in their inaugural Big Ten season, as they host both Ohio State (Oct. 4) and defending league champion Michigan State (Nov. 15), and visit both Wisconsin (Oct. 25) and Michigan (Nov. 22). Wins in any of those games -- Maryland should be an underdog in each -- likely would make a skeptical league take notice.

But no game means more to Edsall's squad in Year 1 of Big Ten play than the Penn State clash. Because most likely, it's only going to get tougher.
Maryland and Rutgers officially join the Big Ten on July 1, less than two weeks from now. The reaction from most Big Ten fans, of course, can be summed up in two words: Ho hum.

But what could quickly change the reaction is a new rivalry being created by the two expansion members. On that front, there is some promising potential.

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Which of these new Big Ten potential rivalries will be the best?

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Eleven Warriors had a good look earlier today at the Maryland-Penn State rivalry, such as it is. The on-field history says, "nothing to see here, move along," as Penn State has gone 35-1-1 all time versus the Terrapins. But first-year Nittany Lions coach James Franklin seems to have a way of getting under opponents' skin, which opens up a realm of possibilities for this feud going forward.

Franklin spoke openly about "dominating the region" in recruiting upon taking the Penn State job. During a speech last month to boosters in Baltimore -- right in the Terps' backyard, Franklin said he viewed Maryland and New Jersey an in-state recruiting territory for his team. As far as other schools in the area? "They might as well shut them down, because they don't have a chance," he told the boosters.

Franklin would later say his words were taken out of context, but the implication was pretty clear nonetheless.

Well, Maryland coach Randy Edsall was in Pennsylvania for a golf outing earlier this week and fired back at Franklin's comments.

"Talk is cheap,” Edsall told the York (Pa.) Dispatch. "We're not gonna boast and brag. We're more about substance at Maryland. We're gonna find guys that fit the profile we're looking for. We're gonna worry about ourselves and not worry about anything else.”

I love it. Sure, coaches often spout off in the summertime, especially when rabble-rousing for their own boosters. Remember Brady Hoke's comments about Notre Dame "chickening out" of the Michigan series last year around this time? It's not so much a war of words as it is something to talk about.

But there's no doubt that these types of things add to the rivalry. Michigan did, after all, play the "Chicken Dance" song after beating the Irish at home last September. Wolverines fans ate it up.

The Maryland-Penn State series already has a little bit of juice, thanks both to the geography and the fact that Franklin used to be the Terrapins' head-coach-in-waiting. There is little doubt the two schools will butt heads on the recruiting trail, as Penn State already has four players from Maryland and the Washington D.C. area committed for the 2015 class.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/PennLive.com/Joe HermittSoon-to-be Big Ten members Maryland and Rutgers will hear plenty from Penn State coach James Franklin.
All of this makes the Nov. 1 game between the Lions and Terps at Beaver Stadium much more interesting. Provided, of course, that Maryland can field a competitive team in its new league. When the on-field results don't ignite a rivalry, the quickest way to add some flames is through a coaching conflict.

"Maryland has not had a lot of success against Penn State," Edsall told the Dispatch. "I think it's something that can be a good rivalry. We have to do something about that on our end."

Then there's Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have been just as futile over the years against the Nittany Lions as Maryland, going 2-22 all time. Still, the two schools aren't that far apart and share some commonality as northeastern state flagship institutions. Penn State has had lots of success recruiting New Jersey over the years, and Franklin's former boss -- ex-Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen -- is now the offensive coordinator at Rutgers.

The Scarlet Knights will host the Nittany Lions on Sept. 13 in their first conference game as a Big Ten member; the game was scheduled before the league invited the Rutgers to join.

Rutgers fans have been looking forward to that game for many months and would love nothing more than to score the upset.

"There is a buzz from the fans,” coach Kyle Flood told reporters last month. “College football is at its best when its regional. They are our neighbor to the west, and they are the Big Ten school in Pennsylvania. Our fans are excited about it. I think they should be excited about it. We’ve got a lot of work to do for the season before that. We’ve got some really challenging games before that, but it’s probably fitting that that’s the Big Ten opener.”

Franklin likely won't be a popular figure in either Piscataway or College Park in the foreseeable future. And that's a good thing, because what the league needs with these two new East Coast additions are some buzz-worthy rivalries.

Momentum seems to be building for creating an early signing period in college football. The Conference Commissioners Association will discuss the idea as part of its agenda at a meeting later this month.

As with many things in life, the devil is in the details. The ACC recommended an early signing date of Aug. 1. The SEC at its meetings last month came out against changing the recruiting calendar, but would like to use the Monday after Thanksgiving if an early signing period does happen.

The Big Ten has not endorsed a specific stance on an early signing date as a conference. Based on interviews given to ESPN.com and other media outlets, most league coaches are in favor of it. Again, though, preferences on the when and the how differ.

Several coaches support the junior college signing period of mid-December as the right time to allow high school prospects who don't want to wait until February to sign their national letters of intent.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsIowa's Kirk Ferentz is among the Big Ten coaches who favor an early signing period after the regular season.
"To me, that would be the perfect time," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said last summer. "I still don't understand the resistance. All it is is an opportunity to sign. They don't have to sign. I don't think anyone is going to lose a scholarship. It just gives everyone a chance to lay their cards on the table and say, 'I'm 100 percent sure now' or, 'Still not quite there.' That would be great for both parties, I think."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio are among others who back an early signing period in December.

"It sure would clear up recruiting for a lot of us," Andersen told ESPN.com. "In my opinion, if a kid's committed, let's have him go to the school where he wants to go, and we'll move on in recruiting and get the guys we want. I think it's the most logical answer."

A possible downside of having the early signing period in December would be that it puts more pressure on coaches to concentrate on recruiting late in the season, when championships could be on the line, or during bowl preparation. In-season recruiting pressures would grow even higher with the SEC's post-Thanksgiving recommendation.

Most who favor an early signing period say their schools and coaching staffs are spending too much valuable time, money and energy trying to re-recruit players who might have signed earlier. That's why some coaches, such as Indiana's Kevin Wilson, support a signing date before or right at the beginning of the season.

"I had guys who were committed in the summer who in the last weekend [before the February signing date] changed their minds," Wilson told ESPN.com. "It would be nice if there was an early signing period on the first of September. I don't know if we've got to move the calendar up, but we waste a lot of time and a lot of money babysitting kids who have made their decisions."

Michigan is one school that could have benefited in recent seasons from an early signing period. The Wolverines have sewn up the majority of their classes under Brady Hoke in the summer before the prospects' senior year of high school. Hoke's staff could have locked up those commitments and focused on filling out the final few spots or moving on to the following year's class.

Hoke would like to see an early signing date, but with a caveat.

"If there's an early signing period, there probably needs to be an early visitation period for those kids," he told ESPN.com. "Maybe the first two weeks in June to get on your campus."

That's a big deal for Big Ten coaches, who would love to see prospects be able to take official visits before the start of their senior year. An early signing date without an earlier visit calendar could put the league at a disadvantage against schools in more talent-rich areas. (We'll look more closely at this issue on Thursday in the blog.)

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesNebraska's Bo Pelini says allowing earlier official visits must be a part of any move toward an early signing period.
Nebraska's Bo Pelini has said he would not support an earlier signing date without those earlier visits (and even then, he said he would need more time to study the issue). Schools such as Nebraska and Minnesota, which are farther away from talent-rich hubs, simply wouldn't see many benefits to an early signing day if the rest of the recruiting calendar remained the same. Players in blue chip-heavy areas -- such as the South, Texas and California -- would be more apt to take unofficial visits at schools closer to home and then could get pressured into signing before they ever made a trip up north.

Ohio State under Urban Meyer has thrived during the final weeks of recruiting before the February signing day, as his staff has built a reputation of being great "closers." So it's no surprise that Meyer was one of three SEC coaches to vote against a proposal to support an early signing date in 2008, when he was still at Florida. Meyer said at the time that "recruiting should be done in December, January and February. I think [an early date] speeds up 17- and 18-year-olds to make a decision that affects the rest of their lives."

Maryland's Randy Edsall has proposed that schools shouldn't even send out any type of scholarship offer until Sept. 1 of a high school prospect's senior year in high school, and then those offers would come from the university's admissions office, not the coaches. That would slow things way down and make sure prospects have achieved the necessary test scores and admission standards. Yet Edsall also said this spring that if recruiting continues at its current accelerated pace, that "there definitely has to be an early signing period."

There are other issues with the early signing date, including what protection the players would have if the coach left for another job after they signed. Plus plans change in recruiting all the time.

"I see the pluses and the minuses with it," Dantonio told ESPN.com. "If you have a committed guy and he signs with you, he truly is committed. That’s a positive. I also think if you take one quarterback and he thinks he’s the only one, and all of a sudden you take two, how does that all play out?

"I do think it keeps people from poaching off you, whether it be us poaching off somebody or somebody else [poaching]. It makes people hold to their word. If they don't want to sign then, they’re still open, and you know they’re open. But I would make it a mid-December type deal. I’m not in favor of August; I'm not in favor of September. I'm in favor of, ‘They've had a chance to at least visit and be on campus a couple places, so they have a feel.’”

College football does appear headed for an early signing date soon, if only the details can get ironed out.

"We get into these discussions, and everybody kind of has their own agenda of what's in the best interests for their school," Penn State coach James Franklin told ESPN.com. "But for a lot of different reasons, an early signing period makes sense for everybody."
C.J. Brown turns 23 on June 27. He's a graduate student preparing for his sixth year at Maryland. He has played for two head coaches and three offensive coordinators and suffered two season-ending injuries. He's the most accomplished rushing quarterback in team history, owning five of the top 10 single-game totals, including the top performance (162 yards against Clemson in 2011).

He has experienced two 10-loss seasons (2009 and 2011) and two postseason games (the 2010 and 2013 Military Bowls).

[+] EnlargeBrown
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyMaryland hopes QB C.J. Brown (1,162 career rushing yards) won't have to carry the ball as much this fall.
Now Brown prepares to play in his second league, the Big Ten, which Maryland joins this fall. The Big Ten move could widen some eyes when the Terrapins enter venues like Michigan Stadium, Beaver Stadium and Camp Randall Stadium.

Brown won't flinch.

"Just thinking about all the things, from defensive schemes to overtimes to weird calls to different situations, the momentum shifts and swings," Brown said. "You've been through it all when you've been around for five, going on six, years now."

Maryland should be optimistic about its offense entering the 2014 season. Explosive receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long return from leg injuries. Wide receiver Marcus Leak and running back Wes Brown both are back after spending a year away from the team. The Terps return five players with at least 450 receiving yards and all of their top ball carriers from 2013.

Perhaps most important is the calming veteran presence Brown provides at the quarterback spot.

"You know he's not going to get rattled," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "He's going to be the mature guy and go up to guys and talk to them and get them going [to do] the right thing. It's very comforting for me to know we have that kind of guy with that kind of experience and that kind of makeup being the leader of our team."

Brown's extended stay in college football has reached many junctions. He came to Maryland to play for coach Ralph Friedgen and offensive coordinator James Franklin. When a broken collarbone ended his 2010 season in the opener, he watched as Danny O'Brien went on to ACC Rookie of the Year honors.

Then came Friedgen's surprise firing after an 8-4 regular season -- on the heels of Franklin's departure to Vanderbilt. Edsall arrived and Maryland went through a disastrous 2011 season, although Brown replaced the struggling O'Brien toward the end.

With what he's had to go through with all the injuries, that stuff makes you a lot more mature and makes you see and understand the big picture a little bit more.

-- Maryland coach Randy Edsall on C.J. Brown
Brown entered 2012 as the starting quarterback and a co-captain, but an ACL tear in August ended his season before it started. He made it through the 2013 season mostly in one piece -- he missed two games with a concussion suffered on a brutal hit against Florida State -- and recorded 2,242 passing yards, 576 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns (13 pass, 12 rush).

"With what he’s had to go through with all the injuries, that stuff makes you a lot more mature and makes you see and understand the big picture a little bit more," Edsall said.

Added Brown: "It's been good to grow, to be able to put all that in the past and take a step forward."

Brown benefits from a resource few major-college quarterbacks enjoy: a dad who did the exact same thing. Clark Brown played quarterback at Michigan State in 1983-84.

C.J. was born in Michigan, and though the family moved to Cranberry Township, Pa., just north of Pittsburgh, C.J. remembers attending Michigan State games every few years.

"He's been a huge resource," C.J. said of his father. "He understood that I had coaches for a reason, and if they wanted his advice or I wanted his advice, I could go to him. He's been an open book, a great support system I could go to when I had questions or I was having a tough time.

"He's been through it, and he can definitely relate."

The scouting report on most college quarterbacks is set by Year 4 or Year 5, much less Year 6. But Brown could be a different player, leading a different Maryland offense this fall, if the injuries that have haunted the unit simply stay away.

Although Maryland flexed its muscles early last season, eclipsing 30 points in each of its first four games, the offense, in Brown's view, hasn't shown its full potential. Despite 1,162 career rush yards, Brown might not have to carry the ball as much this fall. Edsall, pleased with Brown's understated but effective leadership style, wants his quarterback to simply fine tune his game this spring.

"I see how much he's progressing with each practice we have," Edsall said. "He's doing things so much better now than even what he was doing last fall.

"That natural progression, I think he's going to be an outstanding quarterback in 2014."
I caught up earlier today with Maryland coach Randy Edsall, who has some very interesting thoughts on recruiting reform as well as how to better assist athletes during their playing careers.

[+] EnlargeRandy Edsall
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyRandy Edsall would like an overhaul of how scholarships are offered by programs.
Edsall's biggest initiative is to slow down the scholarship offer process. He wants to see no offers, written or verbal, extended to recruits before Sept. 1 of their senior year in high school. He also wants all offers of scholarships or financial aid to come from the institutions, not from football coaches. Written offers currently can't be sent out until Aug. 1 before a prospect's senior year, but there are no regulations on verbal offers.

The setup, in which Edsall admits he participates, but hates, has coaches extending verbal scholarship offers to prospects in eighth or ninth grade. They're doing so primarily because others already have. There are major questions about academic development, athletic development and where they fit in on rosters, questions that can't be answered when prospects are barely in high school or, in some cases, still in middle school.

"I have my iPad right here and this is crazy: I’ve got a board of 2015, 2016 and 2017, guys that we’ve offered in 2017," Edsall said. "I don't even know what my own roster will be like in 2017. The day and age of developing players is going by the wayside. Because now a kid comes in and if he isn't what somebody thinks they are in a year or two, 'You've got to transfer. Time for you to get out of here.'

"The number of decommitments, the number of transfers we have, that have skyrocketed in the last five to eight years. We have an issue, so let’s sit down and take care of the issue."

Edsall recently discussed his ideas with NCAA president Mark Emmert, specifically the need to have full-time national oversight devoted to football issues like this one.

"You can't let the institutions try to decide this," he said. "You've got to have people talking about these issues and make sure you get out ahead of these things. What's happened is you didn’t have anybody and that's why we're where we're at today."

Edsall also weighed in on the athlete experience, in light of the Northwestern unionization ruling earlier this week.

"Look what’s happening with Northwestern," Edsall said. "The kid [former quarterback Kain Colter] said they wanted to bring me here for athletic reasons, not academic reasons. Well, yeah, there's validity to that when we’re out here offering kids when they’re eighth, ninth and 10th graders. It's based on their athletic ability. It's not based on who they are as students because you don't have enough information."

The basic parameters of an athletic scholarship haven't changed since Edsall played quarterback at Syracuse in 1976. But back then, seasons were 10 games and players went home in the summer.

"It's still room, board, books, tuition and fees," he said "We've increased the games, we've increased their time commitment, all those things, but we have not done anything for the student-athlete. I can see how they ruled in the student-athlete's favor to unionize."

Edsall would like to see money going toward player personnel departments, of which more college teams are establishing, instead go toward increasing the value of athletic scholarships.

"You have a pro model at the college level," he said. "Eliminate that stuff and put the money back into your student-athletes you have on campus. Make the scholarship cost of attendance with all the extra things that have been added to their plate."

Edsall makes a lot sense here. What do you think? Let me know.
Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the new Big Ten East this spring.

Indiana

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: TBA

What to watch
  • Getting defensive: The Hoosiers have had no trouble scoring since Kevin Wilson took over the program, but opponents have made it look even easier. New defensive coordinator Brian Knorr might have his hands full turning around the Big Ten’s worst unit, but Indiana could be dangerous if he can.
  • Quarterback derby: The offense operated just fine with Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld taking turns leading the attack, so Wilson might not even need to settle on just one quarterback. Typically it does help to have a pecking order behind center, though, and the Hoosiers will be watching these guys closely to see if one can gain some separation.
  • Next in line: There is a ready-made candidate to take over as the team’s most productive receiver, but Shane Wynn is going to need some help. For all his speed and elusiveness, Wynn is still undersized and doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional receiver, which will make it necessary for somebody like Nick Stoner to step up to help replace Cody Latimer.
Maryland

Spring start: March 1

Spring game: April 11

What to watch
  • Get healthy: The Terrapins have one of the most talented groups of wide receivers in the country when they’re completely healthy, but that was an issue last season with both Stefon Diggs and Deon Long suffering broken legs -- just for starters. Neither of those game-breakers is expected to be on the field this spring, but their respective rehabs are critical moving forward.
  • Give and take: An emphasis on protecting the football on offense and creating more turnovers defensively is nothing new in spring practice, but Randy Edsall might just double down on that message this year. The Terrapins finished last in the ACC in turnover margin last season and were ranked No. 102 in the nation with seven more giveaways than takeaways, which isn’t a recipe for success in any league.
  • Coaching chemistry: The deck wasn’t completely reshuffled, but the Terrapins will have three new assistants in charge and could use a seamless transition as they prepare to move to a new league. Keenan McCardell (wide receivers), Chad Wilt (defensive line) and Greg Studrawa (offensive line) will help deliver Edsall’s message moving forward, and it’s as crucial for a coaching staff to jell and find common ground as it is for players on the field.
Michigan

Spring start: Feb. 25

Spring game: April 5

What to watch
  • Go pro: If it was the coordinator keeping Brady Hoke from putting the offense he wanted on the field, that won’t be an issue anymore with Al Borges out of the picture. Snapping up Doug Nussmeier from Alabama should put the Wolverines on the path for a more traditional pro-style attack, and establishing that playbook starts on the practice field in spring.
  • Quarterback quandary: The competition to lead the new-look offense is open between Devin Gardner and Shane Morris, and how that battle shakes out will obviously have a lasting impact and shape the season for the Wolverines. Gardner has the edge in experience and turned in a gritty, wildly productive outing against Ohio State while injured to end the season, but he certainly has lacked consistency. Morris filled in during the postseason with mixed results, but one of those guys will need to emerge.
  • On the line: The Wolverines were in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in sacks, and only Purdue was worse in the league at protecting the quarterback. Both sides of the line have plenty of room to develop, and those daily battles against each other this spring will need to sharpen both the pass-rushers and the blockers if Michigan is going to be able to win games up front.
Michigan State

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 26

What to watch
  • Something cooking: The finishing flourish in the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl showed how far Connor Cook had come from the start of the season to the end, but there’s still more room to grow. His numbers are slightly skewed thanks to the way Michigan State handled the job early in the season, but overall he averaged fewer than 200 yards per game passing. With such a great defense, that was enough -- but boosting that total would be better for the Spartans.
  • Reload defensively: The seemingly impenetrable defense might have been more than sum of its parts, but the individual pieces Michigan State had on hand weren’t too shabby, either. With Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough and Denicos Allen all gone, the Spartans will need to identify some replacements for the stars of that elite unit from a year ago.
  • Plug some holes: Both starting offensive guards have to be replaced, and given the perhaps overlooked significance of the work the line did for the Spartans last season, that shouldn’t be dismissed as a meaningful item on the checklist. Cook has to be protected in the pocket, for starters, but with the way the Spartans traditionally pound the football on the ground, they’ll need some road-pavers to step up during spring practice to keep the offense on the upswing.
Ohio State

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch
  • Backs to the wall: There weren’t many deficiencies to be found on a team that again went through the regular season unbeaten, but Ohio State’s glaring weakness caught up with it late in the year. The Buckeyes looked helpless at times against the pass, and new co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chris Ash was brought in to make sure that unit is dramatically improved.
  • Hold the line: The Buckeyes held on to Braxton Miller for another year, but they lost four seniors who had protected the quarterback for the past couple of seasons. That might be a worthwhile trade, but finding replacements up front will be imperative for a team that has leaned heavily on that veteran presence in the trenches since Urban Meyer took over the program. Taylor Decker is the lone holdover in the starting lineup, and he’ll need to assert himself as the leader of the unit.
  • Air it out: Miller had some shaky performances throwing the ball down the stretch, but taking the passing game to a higher level is not solely his responsibility. The Buckeyes also need improved play and more reliable options at wide receiver, and they’ve recruited to address that issue over the past couple of years. Michael Thomas, who redshirted during his second year on campus, might be leading the charge for a new batch of playmakers on the perimeter.
Penn State

Spring start: March 17

Spring game: April 12

What to watch
  • Starting fresh: There are new playbooks to learn again for the Nittany Lions, and spring practice will be the first chance for James Franklin to start shaping his team in his image. That process doesn’t just include memorizing schemes and assignments for the players, since every coach has a different way of structuring practices and meetings. The sooner the Nittany Lions adjust the better off they’ll be in the fall.
  • Next step: As debut seasons go, it’s hard to find much fault in the work Christian Hackenberg did after being tossed into the fire as a true freshman. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards with 20 touchdowns, completing 59 percent and setting the bar pretty high for himself down the road. As part of his encore, Franklin would probably like to see the young quarterback cut down on his 10 interceptions as a sophomore.
  • Tighten up the defense: There were pass defenses with more holes than Penn State’s a year ago, but that will be little consolation for a program that has traditionally been so stout on that side of the ball. Adrian Amos and Jordan Lucas can get the job done at cornerback, but the Nittany Lions need to get stronger at safety -- and also need to fill notable spots in front of them with linebacker Glenn Carson and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones now gone.
Rutgers

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 26

What to watch
  • Toughen up: The Scarlet Knights have seen hard-hitting competition and proven they aren’t afraid of a challenge, but the Big East and American conferences don’t provide nearly the weekly physical test that playing in the Big Ten does. There’s no reason to think Kyle Flood won’t have his team ready for the transition and a new league, but developing both strong bodies and minds starts in spring practice.
  • Settle on a quarterback: There’s a veteran signal-caller on hand with 28 career starts to his credit, but Flood made it no secret as far back as January that he would hold an open competition during camp to lead the offense. Gary Nova has the edge in experience, but he also has more interceptions in his career than games started. That could open the door for one of three younger guys to step in, though Mike Bimonte, Blake Rankin and Chris Laviano have combined to take a grand total of zero snaps.
  • Star turn: There’s nothing wrong with spreading the wealth, and the Scarlet Knights certainly did that in the passing game last season. Having five targets with at least 28 receptions can keep a defense off-balance, which is a good thing. But ending the season with none of those guys topping 573 yards might not be quite as encouraging, and establishing a consistent, go-to, big-play threat in the spring could prove useful for a team that finished No. 62 in the nation in passing yardage.
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?

[+] EnlargeRandy Edsall
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyRandy 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.

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.

[+] EnlargeRandy Edsall
Doug Kapustin/MCT/Getty ImagesRandy Edsall's Terps will play in the B1G's East Division with Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State.
"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.

[+] EnlargeBrown
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyMaryland returns almost all of its top skill players in 2014, including quarterback C.J. Brown.
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.

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