You might recall the Big Ten Conference's Realignment dance in 2012, where they simultaneously and unexpectedly added Maryland from the ACC and Rutgers from the Big East. Those teams are set to officially join the Big Ten Conference in June of this year, so I thought it might be fun or at least interesting to get to know our new neighbors.
We'll start with Maryland -- if for no other reason than Testudo Times blogger Pete Volk was kind enough to respond to my email first. If you're not familiar with Maryland football, fear not, since Pete is here to answer our questions about who exactly the Maryland Terrapins (nicknamed the "Terps") are. If you'd like a more extensive summary, you can always check out Maryland football's wikipedia page.
First, what did you think about the Big Ten Conference before it was announced that Maryland would be joining? What was your initial reaction when you learned that Maryland would be moving from the ACC to the Big Ten?
I have always loved the Big Ten, and I haven't the slightest clue why -- I grew up in California and went to school on the East Coast, so there's no geographical connection (although my family had friends in Minnesota and I always loved it there...). But in general, Maryland fans really respect the Big Ten as a football conference, and hope that the growth the conference has seen on the basketball side of things sustains itself. It's an exciting time.
Can you take us through the moment when you first heard Maryland was leaving the ACC? What was the consensus over at Testudo Times?
The general reaction was negative, as people generally do not embrace change so well. Maryland is a basketball school, and the rivalries with Duke, North Carolina and the other teams in the conference are hard for a lot of the fans to give up. Me? I'm a football person who doesn't have quite as long of a history with the ACC as a lot of the other fans. So adding that together with the financial reality of Maryland's athletic department (which is dire, to say the least), and I'm a huge fan of the move.
Most Michigan fans (and Big Ten teams) are likely not too familiar with Maryland football. Tell us a little bit about your program and why you're a fan of the "Terps."
Well, for my background, I went to high school in Maryland and went to college at Maryland, so that's how I ended up affiliated with the team. The Terrapins actually have quite the storied football program -- they won the 1953 national title, have won 11 conference titles [9 in the ACC, 2 in the old Southern Conference], and despite falling on some hard times recently they were quite the force from the early 1970s to the mid 1980s. There was a brief stretch of success at the beginning of Ralph Friedgen's tenure in the early 2000s, and Randy Edsall is trying to build it back up to that level. All of this pales in comparison to the storied history Michigan has to offer, but there's some success in Maryland's history.
The Big Ten Conference is all about academics and tradition. What does Maryland bring to the Big Ten in this respect?
Maryland is one of the top public universities in the country, and specifically has very strong programs in engineering, business and journalism, among others. One of the biggest draws for the conference move for the school was the academic standing of the Big Ten, and Maryland should fit right in in that respect. The tradition is a bit more of a question mark, on the football side of things. Once the program starts winning again, fan support will go back up, but while the team saw nearly a 20% increase in attendance this season, it's still a long way from acceptable.
Maryland's most "tradition-y" thing is the players rubbing the nose of Testudo (Maryland's bronze Terrapin mascot) on their way out to the field. There's not much fan-related tradition on the football side of things, that's all on the basketball side.
Although sometimes known for "old school" football, the truth is that the Big Ten Conference features all types of offenses from the run-first pro-style to the spread option to the air raid. What type of offense does Maryland run and how do you think it'll work against the tough defenses in this conference?
Maryland runs a zone-read attack (you may remember offensive coordinator Mike Locksley from his time with Illinois), generally with two men in the backfield (a quarterback and tailback) and four wide receivers, although sometimes a tight end, fullback or an extra tailback may replace one of the receivers. If the team can stay healthy (and that's been the biggest obstacle over the past two seasons), there's no reason why the offense shouldn't succeed -- they have a sixth-year quarterback returning in C.J. Brown, one of the deepest wide receiver units in the country (led by former blue-chip recruits Stefon Diggs and Deon Long) and if the offensive line (bolstered by a group of promising incoming recruits) can hold up, the Terps could do some damage.
Conversely, what type of defensive scheme does Maryland run, and what can we expect to see from a Maryland defense?
Maryland's defensive coordinator is Brian Stewart (formerly of the DeMarcus Ware-led Cowboys and the Houston Cougars), and he runs a 3-4 scheme. Like the offense, Maryland returns a lot of parts on defense, especially in the front seven. Cole Farrand, Alex Twine, Matt Robinson, Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil and L.A. Goree are all extremely talented linebackers who rotate in and out of that unit, and defensive end Andre Monroe did a great job pressuring the quarterback. The concern is in the secondary -- two cornerbacks graduated from last year's team, and Maryland missed out on blue-chip recruit Jalen Tabor to help fill that void. Will Likely and Jeremiah Johnson are both extremely talented at the cornerback position, but there's not much in terms of depth behind them.
Let's talk about head coach Randy Edsall. How's he doing?
Depends on who you ask. At large, I would say Maryland fans are between "nonplussed" and "extremely displeased" with how Edsall has done with the program. He finally delivered a bowl game three years into his tenure (after taking over a nine-win team), and while recruiting has improved, it certainly hasn't lived up to the level many fans were hoping for (see: missing out on [five-star cornerback] Jalen Tabor). This could very well be the make-or-break year for the coach, and he'll certainly have to make another bowl game if he has any hope of fan support.
We clearly need to catch up on the drama. What have been the ups and downs since Edsall was hired in 2011? Would you say he's an upgrade or a downgrade after Maryland fired Ralph Friedgen?
When Edsall was hired, reaction was mostly bland. I don't think many considered it an awful hire, but after being teased with the strong possibility of [former Texas Tech head coach] Mike Leach, it seemed fairly boring in comparison (especially considering he never reached the 10-win plateau at Connecticut). On the field, the ups have been a win over Virginia Tech this season, and the downs have been losses to literally every other winning team they have faced. Off the field, Edsall has been able to grab some very good recruiting classes, but there were a nearly unprecedented amount of transfers from the program when he took over. I wouldn't feel comfortable calling him either an upgrade from Ralph Friedgen or a downgrade, because A) it's still early in his tenure and B) what we've seen doesn't look all that different in the long-term. That makes it similarly hard to guess where he'll be in five years, as there has been real progress with the program, but I'm not sure if Edsall is the man to take them where they want to go. As a result, I'll guess he's the head coach of a non-power Northeast or Midwest school.
Maryland is joining a tough East Division with teams like Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Penn State as annual opponents. How do you expect Maryland to perform against the teams in this division, both during this upcoming season and down the road?
It's certainly going to be a very tough task, and it's hard to see Maryland achieving long-term double-digit win success, which is what the goal of the program seems to be -- but crazier things have happened. If the Terps truly can lock down Maryland and D.C. in the recruiting game -- the true goal of the program -- there's no reason they shouldn't be able to compete with the big boys yearly, but it's hard to imagine them being a consistent presence at the top. In terms of a peak, think Wisconsin.
Along those same lines, what are your expectations for Maryland football in 2014?
Somewhere between seven and nine wins -- the schedule is tough, but Maryland has a ton of experienced talent returning to the point where the question is "If not now, when?"
If there was one thing you could improve about the program, what would it be?
It has to be better recruiting of their home state (and D.C.). There's a whole lot of talent that comes out of that region, and despite the hire of Mike Locksley, the Terps have been unable to lock it down. Five-star offensive tackle Damian Prince and four-star defensive end Jesse Aniebonam both signed, giving the Terps the top two players in the state, but they missed out on the rest of the top 20 players in Maryland. A reminder: the only other FBS school in the Maryland/D.C. area is Navy, who is not really allowed to recruit (and whose brand is national, rather than local).
Lastly, Maryland is somewhat known for their crazy uniforms. What's the deal? Are they trying to become the Oregon of the East or something?
I don't have so much of a fashion opinion on the uniforms, although there are some that I like more than others. In terms of the larger picture, it's been great for the program, increasing national awareness and scoring big with recruits. Of course, no kid is going to commit to Maryland because of the uniforms, but they speak highly of them and it helps get the Terps' on their radar. The fan base is happy about them when Maryland is winning, angry about them when Maryland is losing -- much like anything else. The program is certainly trying to become the Oregon of the East, both with the uniforms and the connection to Under Armour. They're currently in the process of getting together a new indoor practice facility on campus, which would go a long way towards making those dreams come true.
Special Thanks to Pete Volk to answering our questions! And remember to check out Testudo Times for all things related to Maryland football!