With the 2014 season beginning in just nine days against James Madison, we present to you the first of several roundtables that will tackle prominent issues surrounding the Maryland football team. In this installment, Ahmed Ghafir, Art Ferrer, and Steven Ulrich answers some questions about the season outlook. Enjoy!
1. What are your expectations for Maryland in their first Big Ten season?
Art: Bowl game and to be competitive should be the expectations for not just the first season but also the next couple of seasons as well. If Maryland can consistently win around 3-4 conference games a year and make bowl games then they will prove many people wrong. It is unfair and not realistic to believe that Maryland will challenge the Ohio State’s and Michigan State’s of the Big Ten, but at the same time Maryland should be able to be competitive against those teams and beat the likes of Rutgers and Indiana, and the other middle tier teams.If Maryland can put themselves in the middle of the pack, continue to recruit well, and make the right off field investments to the program, then Maryland can find themselves in a more competitive place sooner rather later. Right now, it is important for Maryland to prove the many doubters wrong, and establish themselves as a competitive team.
Ahmed: While they’re certainly talented, Maryland will face a tough schedule this year. I expect them to be competitive, but think that saying they are a sleeper to win the division is a little tough for me at this moment. Certainly, injuries like Braxton Miller increase Maryland’s chances to make some noise and finish with a plus-.500 record in the Big Ten, but there are many more talented teams in the Big Ten than there are in the ACC.
Steven: I see tons of articles where analysts and bloggers peg Maryland as a possible dark horse, and will surprise fans in their first season as a member of the Big Ten. This could be the case, but I certainly have my doubts, and here’s why: Maryland had its struggles against ACC teams like Wake Forest, Boston College, Georgia Tech, etc. And in my opinion, teams like Iowa, Penn State (and yes, even Rutgers) will be more of a challenge for the Terps. Out-of-conference schedule aside, there simply isn’t an “easy” game on the schedule
There was a lot of buzz around the program in the beginning of last season because they got off to a 4-0 start, and they’ll have to do the same this season. If the Terps want to reach last year’s win total (7) and beyond, they’ll have to be 5-0 heading into the Ohio State game on October 4th. If they can do that, Maryland will be in good shape. The biggest game of the season will be at Happy Valley against Penn State.
2. Where do the Terps fit in the East Divison?
Art: Maryland finds themselves grouped with Indiana and Rutgers in the division. These three teams are in a tough spot, where they have to compete against the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan on an annual basis. This should make the games against Rutgers and Indiana that much better, since they will mean so much more to each team. Penn State is the interesting team right now in the division. There is a lot of buzz with the hiring of James Franklin, but he is yet to coach a game and it is difficult to predict how long his stay in Happy Valley will be. Maryland’s Under Armour connections and fertile recruiting ground present a valuable opportunity for Maryland to distance themselves from Rutgers and Indiana. There is room for Maryland to put themselves in the tier below Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan and above Indiana and Rutgers.
Ahmed: I have them in their own tier, as the program that’s just not fully there yet to compete immediately. Yes, that will change with the success on the recruiting trail and more player development, but they’re behind Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan. Penn State is close, and although Penn State is recruiting better, I’m convinced that the Nittany Lions are much better than the Terrapins right now.
Steven: Man, did Maryland get screwed here! It’s unfortunate the Big Ten Conference decided to align teams based on East/West locations because Maryland will have to fight (and recruit) against elite competition. At one point last season, the Big Ten East Division had three teams in the top-10 and four in the top-25. I’ve always said that Maryland can compete in the Big Ten against schools like Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Purdue, Indiana and Northwestern. It figures that five out of those six schools are in the other division. Oh well.
3. What position are you most concerned about?
Art: Running Back. Maryland has talent at the position, but has struggled with consistency there. Wes Brown, Albert Reid, and Brandon Ross are good backs that bring different skills to the table, but they haven’t been the most consistent players. While Maryland has an incredibly talented receiving corps and a veteran quarterback, they also have a young offensive line. It is tough to expect CJ Brown to drop back 35-40 times a game even with the receivers he has. His injury history also means that the team shouldn’t be overly dependent on him to run the ball himself. Maryland is going to need the running backs to be consistent and be ale to convert in short yardage situations, redzone trips, and to keep defenses honest. Until they show that they can do those consistently then the position will be a cause for concern.
Ahmed: Offensive line. As talented as they are, the Terps’ best guys are young, inexperienced lineman. In the Big Ten, games are won in the trenches. When you watch teams like Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin, their offensive and defensive are always strong and are the backbone to the offense and defense. Guys like Derwin Gray will have flashes of greatness this year, but they’ll need to be consistent as they will face some great pass-rushers, such as Noah Spence from Ohio State.
Steven: This is a tough question. Right now I have a tie between offensive line and cornerback.
Offensive Line: yes, Maryland is having more success recruiting highly-rated prospects coming out of high school, but the lack of success recruiting this position from years prior is still evident. Hopefully sooner rather than later the Terps will have a starting offensive line that does NOT include walk-ons. Sure, they’re great success stories, but the Big Ten has a reputation for churning out the big ugly’s in the trenches. Maryland isn’t that far off with the likes of Damian Prince, Derwin Gray, Brandon Moore, etc. but these kids are the future. And at the present time, Maryland might struggle keeping CJ Brown on his feet.
Cornerback: Last year cornerback was a position of strength, but with the departures of Dexter MacDougle and Isaac Goins (along with Jeremiah Johnson’s injury history), Maryland looks to be pretty thin. If Johnson can stay healthy (pretty big if) and transfer Denzel Conyers can step up in Goins’ absence, this position will be less of a concern. But Maryland will need a big season from Alvin Hill, and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot of sophomore Jarrett Ross.
4. Predict the Terps final record.
Wins: James Madison, USF, West Virginia, Syracuse, Indiana, and Rutgers.
Losses: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan State.
Swing Games: Iowa and Penn State.
Right now, I have Maryland at 6-4, with a chance to get to seven or eight wins but still in position to make a bowl if they lose the two swing games. While Iowa is a good team, they are not world-beaters, I think playing them at home presents Maryland with a better chance of winning. Penn State is a team that I think right now is overhyped because of their coaching hire. Franklin is a good coach, but they still have scholarship limits and he doesn’t have his players yet. Maryland has some veteran players who won’t be scared of a trip to Happy Valley against an average roster. I could see the game going either way, and don’t feel comfortable making a pick right now until I see both teams play. The news about Braxton Miller could turn the Ohio State game into a swing game, depending on how the back-up quarterback transitions into his new role. There is room for Maryland to have a special season, but I think at least the Terps will find themselves in a position to go bowling even if they don’t pull an upset in year one.
Ahmed: 8-4. Maryland will ride a 5-0 hot streak heading into their Ohio State matchup, when they’ll get their first real Big Ten test (sorry Indiana). I have them upsetting Penn State and beating Iowa and Rutgers to finish 4-4 in their first year.
Steven: I have the Terps with wins against James Madison, South Florida, West Virginia, Syracuse, Indiana, Iowa, and Rutgers, which gives them a 7-5 (3-5) mark in their first Big Ten season. I’ll go ahead and predict Maryland to appear in the Pinstripe Bowl.