With Saturday’s season opener just days away, there will be plenty to watch for in terms of when Maryland takes the field against James Madison. Maryland returns several key players on both sides of the football, and has lofty expectations heading into 2014. Here’s five things to look for heading into Saturday’s contest at Byrd Stadium.
1.) Big Ten buzz – It seems like we’ve been talking about becoming a member of the Big Ten for years. Well, finally Maryland plays their first football game as a member of their new conference. When fans arrive at Byrd Stadium on Saturday, they will see that beautiful Big Ten logo all around the stadium, and will be able to purchase Maryland gear with the very same conference emblem on it. It marks a new era for all of us. Most Maryland fans have had their fandom passed down through several generations. Youngsters nowadays, will only know the Big Ten days, and let’s hope that the Terrapins start the new and exciting era off on the right foot.
2.) The return of Stefon Diggs & Deon Long – The Wake Forest game was one of extreme sadness for the Terps last season. In the span of minutes, Diggs and Long were lost for the season with similar leg injuries. Nearly a year later, the anticipation to see these two dynamic playmakers back on the field is through the roof. Despite not playing the second half of the season, Diggs still led Maryland in receiving yards. If these two pick up where they left off a year ago, the Terps may be able to be the surprise team in the East Division.
3.) Cornerback position – When former Terp Dexter McDougle was lost early on last season, it could almost be categorized as a blessing in disguise. Freshman Will Likely emerged as a star in Maryland’s defensive backfield. The Florida product registered 70 tackles (51 solo) and an interception in 13 games for the Terps. Likely also broke up six passes. He established himself as one of the most talented, young corners around, and also became a big factor in the return game. Jeremiah Johnson missed a large portion of the season, and he will be depended upon to help in coverage. Alvin Hill has had a strong training camp, and is currently listed as a starter against the Dukes. Jarrett Ross and JUCO transfer Denzel Conyers also should figure into the rotation, so how the snaps are doled out should be an intriguing storyline to watch.
4.) Front seven defending Vad Lee – As we’ve covered extensively over the past few days, shutting down Lee will go a long way in keep the Dukes off the scoreboard. The former Georgia Tech quarterback loves to run, and doesn’t have the greatest arm in the world. Stacking the box, and knowing defensive assignments will be extremely important for the Terps. If Lee is forced to win the game through the air, it may be a long afternoon for James Madison.
5.) Tight end position – Much like coming into the 2013 season, the tight end position is one of uncertainty. It did end up being one of stability as Dave Stinebaugh turned in a strong campaign. 2014′s tight end group is one of youth. Sophomore Andrew Issacs currently stands atop the depth chart, and is extremely athletic. Derrick Hayward also impressed in training camp, and should get plenty of looks throughout the season. Against an FCS school like James Madison, it’ll be used as a good barometer for what the position will look like as the season begins.