Maryland's first year in the Big Ten has gone better than some might have expected. At 5-3, the Terps are just one win away from a bowl game, and are hanging on to the middle of the pack in a crowded east division. But unlike Rutgers, which has been just a notch worse than Maryland in their inaugural season, they've been solid quietly, and without pomposity, and so, somehow, Saturday's game already feels natural.
But we don't really know much about the Terps, so to tell us about our new conference-mate, we've enlisted Alex Kirshner, of Testudo Times. Thanks, Alex, for your enlightening answers to our queries.
On to the questions:
Black Shoe Diaries: Randy Edsall was a questionable hire, and spent his first few seasons at Maryland mired in controversy. How comfortable are Terps fans with Edsall leading the program in the long term?
Testudo Times: Ever since Edsall went 2-10 in his first year on the job and lost legions of transfers, he's had a PR problem. Edsall isn't, on the whole, a popular guy, but he doesn't get the credit he probably deserves for making incremental progress every year since his first one. Maryland's gone from two to four to seven wins under him and looks poised to get back to that total in the team's first Big Ten season. He's recruited reasonably well and put the program in roughly the middle of the Terps' new league. Fans want more – and have a right to want more – but sometimes lose sight of how far Edsall's come, especially given the cartoonish avalanche of injuries his teams have faced. You might recall Maryland was 4-3 in 2012 and finished 4-8 after starting a linebacker at quarterback for its final four games.
BSD: Ralph Friedgen's teams generally seemed to settle in the middle of the pack in the softer ACC. In a division with Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State, what's the upside for Maryland? Do you miss the ACC, from a competitive standpoint?
TT: Maryland isn't going to be a perennial Big Ten power, but the chances of making the occasional run are no worse now than they were in the ACC. Remember, Maryland shared a division in the ACC with Florida State and Clemson. If the Terps ever get to a point where they're an elite program, the conference they're in shouldn't artificially prop them up or bring them down.
BSD: James Franklin got his start at Maryland. How do Maryland fans remember his tenure as offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting?
TT: I wasn't in College Park when Franklin was, but I think people see Franklin's success at Vanderbilt and can't help but wonder what might've been if he'd gotten a similar chance in College Park. As far as his tenure as the coordinator, C.J. Brown spoke pretty highly of him this week, and Maryland obviously liked Franklin enough to bring him on for a second stint as an assistant after he left once. Maryland's best lineman, defensive end Andre Monroe, was a Franklin recruit, as was Brown.
BSD: Quarterback C.J. Brown is also Maryland's leading rusher. Can you give us a scouting report on the dual-threat QB?
TT: Calling Brown a dual threat is generous, because he's only rarely thrown and run effectively at the same time. Brown has below-average accuracy, and he's typically only effective as a passer when Maryland has him throw a ton of short balls and mixes in an effective running game to keep teams from loading up the secondary against him. When Brown's clicking, he's delivering accurate passes that don't travel more than 5 or 10 yards from the line, with some zone-read and standard option runs mixed in. That can work, but it's an uphill climb sometimes.
BSD: Maryland ranks second-to-last in the Big Ten in total defense. Why has that unit struggled, and where are they particularly vulnerable?
TT: It's hard to say.Player by player, it's a good-looking defense without any glaring weak links. The main front seven rotation is a mix of seven seniors and a really good sophomore, linebacker Yannick Ngakoue, and the secondary has a couple of experienced safeties, a one senior cornerback and another who's blossomed into one of the best playmakers in college football. The Terps have had some problems defending screens and tackling in the open field, but I'm confounded over how they've been as bad as they've been. It doesn't make much sense. They're vulnerable against the run, especially defending short-yardage situations on third downs.
BSD: Stefon Diggs is obviously one of the most exciting players in the Big Ten. What has a healthy Diggs meant to Maryland this year, and what other skill players should Penn State be on the lookout for?
TT: Diggs is a saving grace. He's a threat to score from anywhere on the field and has sure hands, which Brown really needs. Maryland's other biggest playmaker this year is actually that cornerback I alluded to earlier, sophomore Will Likely. He's got four interceptions (including two pick-sixes) and a punt return score this year – and though his 5-foot-7 stature makes him vulnerable to the occasional jump-ball completion, he's been good in coverage. He doesn't play offense, but he nonetheless plays a lot of offense for Maryland.
BSD: How do you see this one shaping up?
TT: I expect Penn State to win, probably something like 17-10. Maryland's offense didn't look good (that's a gross understatement) against a similarly tenacious defense in Wisconsin last weekend, and the Terps have had a lot of problems getting going in front of enormous crowds like the one they'll see on Saturday. If Maryland's offense turns a corner, things could certainly be different, but I think a defensively focused game ends with Penn State on top.
Thanks again, Alex, and remember to read Testudo Times all season long to stay up-to-date on the Terps. Also head over today to read my answers to Alex's questions.