Big Ten Team Preview: Maryland Terrapins

WNUR’s Axel Boada (@axelboada) previews the upcoming football season for the Maryland Terrapins. Will the program find success in its inaugural season as a member of the Big Ten? Our staff says they’ll sweep their non-conference schedule, but they drop to a fifth place finish in the Big Ten East by the end of the season.

WNUR’s Prediction: 6-6 overall, 2-6 in conference, finishing fifth in the Big Ten East Division.

With conference realignment changing the college football landscape, the Big Ten is no exception, as Maryland becomes one of the already-bloated conference’s 14 members this season. While the Big Ten’s misleading moniker points to a struggle with basic addition, the numbers behind Maryland’s 2013 campaign add up to an accurate depiction. The Terrapins were just an okay team last season, going 7-6 (3-5) and finishing fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Atlantic division. Though Maryland had no standout wins last season, they certainly had a standout 63-0 loss at Florida State in week 5. However, the Terrapins were still able to make a bowl game — which they lost, 31-20, to Marshall. But what does that mean for the team this season? Well, the increased competition in the Big Ten and a very tough schedule means that Maryland may take a step backwards.

Offense: Quarterback C.J. Brown returns for his sixth season. Yes, sixth. The 23-year-old has had two season-ending injuries. But despite that, he is one of the most versatile players on the team’s offense. As a senior, Brown became the first Terrapin to ever pass for over 2,000 years and rush for over 500 years in a single season. His 138 rushing yards against NC State on Nov. 30 was the third-highest QB rushing total in program history, and his seven 100-yard rushing games was the most by an active ACC quarterback before the team made the switch to the Big Ten. In 11 games played, Brown scored 25 touchdowns (13 passing, 12 rushing). Interestingly, his 140 carries were only 26 behind starting running back Brandon Moss, and he scored twice as many rushing touchdowns as all of the team’s running backs combined. However, Brown has room for improvement as a passer. 13 passing touchdowns seem kind of thin, and his 58.9 completion percentage could be higher.

Junior wide receiver Stefon Diggs highlights one of the Big Ten’s best receiving cores.

Junior wide receiver Stefon Diggs highlights one of the Big Ten’s best receiving cores.

Fortunately for Brown, the team’s receiving core may be the best in the conference, with five players who recorded at least 450 yards returning this season. After losing wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long to season-ending injuries on Oct. 19 against Wake Forest, both are back healthy and are on watch lists for numerous awards. The return of Diggs is especially exciting, since the junior has been hailed as “one of the best players in the country” by Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. In seven games last season, Diggs had 34 catches for 587 yards and three touchdowns — good enough for second on the team in all three categories, despite barely playing half the season. Statistically speaking, Maryland was a middle-of-the-pack team in total offense. But with key players returning from injury and Brown improving as a passer, the Terrapins should be a legitimate threat to opposing defenses.

Defense: Maryland’s defense, however, does not look like much of a threat to opposing offenses. The Terrapins gave up 25.3 points per game last season, allowing about 4,900 total yards. However, the defense is returning nine starters from last year’s team. The group’s chemistry and experience may prove beneficial in the team’s first year in a new conference. Defensive back Sean Davis, and inside linebackers Cole Farrand and L.A. Goree were certainly bright spots for the Terrapins. Davis’ 102 tackles ranked ninth in the ACC, while Farrand’s 84 and Goree’s 76 were not too far behind. Maryland’s 37 total sacks were also just two behind league-leader Virginia Tech’s 39. Defensive lineman Andre Monroe and linebacker Marcus Whitfield accounted for half of those sacks. However, Whitfield is one of the Terrapin defenders who have graduated from the program.

Special Teams: Australian kicker Brad Craddock remains at the helm for Maryland, which is good news for the Terrapins because he is now arguably the best kicker in the Big Ten. The Lou Groza semifinalist was tied for the ACC lead with 21 field goals and led the conference with 25 attempts. He converted 20-of-22 field goals from 49 yards or less and had a long of 50 yards. If Maryland played in the Big Ten last season, he would have been second to just Northwestern’s Jeff Budzien in field goals made and total points per game as a kicker. Punter Nathan Renfro is also returning. His respectable 40.8 yards per punt was good for 10th in the ACC last season. Adjusted to the Big Ten’s punters’ stats, that would have put him 8th in the conference. Overall, Renfro is a serviceable punter who should do just fine in the new conference. Return man William Likely had a pretty good freshman season returning kicks and punts, ranking third and fourth in average yards, respectively. Likely, a multi-faceted defensive back, also tacked on 70 tackles. Before falling to injury, Diggs also proved to be formidable kick returner, returning 12 for 281 yards total.

Prediction: It is obvious Maryland has many talented players, especially on offense, but there is no compelling reason to believe the team’s average defense will be any better compared to other teams in the conference. Also, the Terrapins will not be receiving a warm welcome to the Big Ten. Five of their eight conference games are against the teams many see as the conference’s very best — Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Michigan. And their non-conference opponents do not look like guaranteed wins, other than perhaps James Madison. Couple their schedule with potential difficulties from transitioning to a new conference, and Maryland looks headed for a four-win season, maybe five at most, and a fifth-place finish in the East division.

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