COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
ACC Atlantic PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Randy Edsall, 6-18 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Locksley | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian Stewart
If the Terps don’t wind up with a freshman scout team linebacker playing quarterback again this year, the offense should be improved. Senior C.J. Brown is back from his knee injury to run the system originally designed around his running and passing skills, and he’s got a load of weapons, including sophomore sensation Stefon Diggs, promising tailback Wes Brown and incoming junior college transfer Deon Long.
Diggs racked up the second-most all-purpose yards (1,896) in school history as a true freshman, and Long had 25 TDs at Iowa Western Community College. Brown is one of three able sophomore backs, along with Brandon Ross and Albert Reid.
The ability to turn loose all those big-play threats will require some major improvement up front. There’s a little experience coming back, but the offensive line was the point of emphasis all spring, as coach Randy Edsall and veteran position coach Tom Brattan broke them down and went back to the basics. Sophomore left tackle Mike Madaras could be a future star — the sooner that happens the better in this patchwork group.
Darius Kilgo is the only starter back up front, but he was a revelation last fall and anchored a much-improved run defense. Quinton Jefferson and Keith Bowers came out of the spring as the other starters up front.
Linebackers Cole Farrand (returning team highs of 78 tackles and six tackles for a loss) and L.A. Goree return at the two middle spots, and senior Marcus Whitfield and junior Alex Twine have experience on the edges.
Cornerbacks Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson started every game last season, and there’s experience at safety, too. McDougle was third on the team with 71 tackles, and Johnson, a looming lockdown corner, led the team with eight pass break-ups.
Experienced depth, especially on that rebuilding defensive line, is an issue, as is finding a pass rush in the second year in coordinator Brian Stewart’s 3-4 scheme. Statistically, the Terps were improved but still gave up 30 or more points in five games, and each of those results was a loss.
Aussie Brad Craddock came in late last summer to win the kicking job, but he hit just 10-of-16 field goal attempts, including four misses inside 40 yards. Edsall is confident Craddock will be improved. Ditto for sophomore punter Nathan Renfro, who punted 75 times for a 39.7-yard average. The highlight of the special teams was easily Diggs, who was second in the ACC in kick returns with a 28.5-yard average and scored on returns of 100 and 99 yards.
It’s the final go-round in the ACC for Maryland, which moves to the Big Ten in 2014. The Terrapins has six victories to show for Edsall’s first two seasons and enough injuries to fill medical manuals for years. Maryland lost 10 players to season-enders last year, including four quarterbacks. Now, the Terps have some speed and some big-play potential but a lot of questions.
C.J. Brown, the first of the four quarterbacks to go down last year, is an inspirational team leader who seems to rally those around him. If he can do that — and get the ball in the hands of Diggs and Long and those running backs in space — Maryland should at least be fun to watch.
The defense looks faster, too, but that doesn’t necessarily mean improved. Special teams weren’t so special last year, either. Edsall has back-to-back top 35 recruiting classes, but he may need at least one more before the Terps can be a real threat. And then they’ll have to do it in the Big Ten.