Improving Maryland footballers eager to get started in Big Ten
- Maryland head coach Randy Edsall, left, celebrates with Maryland running back Brandon Ross after a win over Virginia Tech last season. (AP file photo)
Coming off their best season under coach Randy Edsall, the Terrapins are eager to mix it up on the football field with powerhouses such as Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.
Even matchups against Iowa and Indiana present a welcome change from the familiar Atlantic Coast Conference. The fans are excited about the move and so are the Terps.
"We've accepted the challenge of playing different teams, of playing better teams," wide receiver Deon Long said.
A charter member of the ACC in 1953, Maryland committed to joining the Big Ten in November 2012 and officially became a member on July 1.
"I think everybody's really excited about joining a big conference like that, a traditional conference like that," linebacker Matt Robinson said.
Maryland is coming off its first winning season under Edsall following a shaky start.
After going 2-10 in 2011, Maryland lost four quarterbacks to injury in 2012 and finished 4-8. Last year, the Terps improved to 7-6 and earned a berth in the Military Bowl.
The hope in College Park is that the upward trend continues with a veteran squad that lost little to graduation.
Sixth-year quarterback C.J. Brown said he has seen the improvement in the Terrapins - and he has just about seen it all.
"Three offensive coordinators, two head coaches, two conferences, two ADs, two injuries," he said. "I don't think there's too much more you could throw at this team or me in terms of adversity."
Five things to watch as Maryland enters its first Big Ten season:
SHARP DIGGS: Stefon Diggs, a threat to score every time he touches the ball, returns after a broken leg ended his 2013 season after seven games. Whether the standout wide receiver is running back kicks, catching passes or carrying the ball, the junior has a knack for getting downfield. "We're going to utilize Stefon any way we can because of his ability," Edsall said. "There are a lot of different things we can do with him because he is so talented."
VETERAN DEFENSE: Nine starters return to a unit that recorded 37 sacks and held opponents to a 34.2 percent success rate on converting third downs. Senior Darius Kilgo has started 23 of Maryland's last 25 games on the line, linebacker Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil is on the Butkus Award watch list and defensive back William Likely had 70 tackles as a freshman last year. "It's a group that really understands their roles," Edsall said. "They understand what needs to be done and you can see them practice with that enthusiasm and that effort."
RUN FOR IT: Maryland returns its top five rushers from last season, including Brown, a fleet-footed quarterback who ran for 12 touchdowns and 576 yards. Brandon Ross led all runners with 776 yards, but there's no guarantee he will receive significantly more playing time than Albert Reid, Jacquille Veii or Wes Brown. "You're not going to keep four guys happy," Edsall conceded. "There's going to be primarily two guys, but if we can have one guy, that's what we want."
BYRD BUZZ: Home-field advantage might finally be a factor for the Terrapins, who expect huge crowds at Byrd Stadium for matchups against Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa. Not only that, but the players are eager to play in famed venues at Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin. "We're all looking forward to going to Byrd and going into stadiums where it's packed," defensive back Jeremiah Johnson said. "I know the atmosphere will be totally different, going to places we've never gone to before."
RIVAL NEEDED: The Terrapins never really had a football rival in the ACC. Perhaps Penn State or Rutgers could fit the bill in the Big Ten. Maryland is 1-35-1 against Penn State. The schools haven't played since PSU won 70-7 in 1993. "For that to be a rivalry we have to beat them," Edsall said. "It's on our shoulders, not anybody else's."