With its dizzying number of storylines, Monday night's Maryland-Miami game hardly feels like a season opener.
How can an early-September game — with the weather still warm and humid and students having barely arrived on campus — produce drama so rich?
It's the regular-season debut not only of Maryland coach Randy Edsall but of Miami coach Al Golden.
It's Miami's first game since eight players were suspended by the NCAA for accepting impermissible benefits from now-jailed former booster Nevin Shapiro. Fans are eager to see how the Hurricanes will cope with so much media scrutiny and with playing shorthanded, particularly on defense. Among the missing are safety Ray-Ray Armstrong and linebacker Sean Spence — both named preseason All-Atlantic Coast Conference by media members in July.
Also suspended is wide receiver Travis Benjamin (43 catches last season) and Jacory Harris, who had been locked in a quarterback competition with sophomore Stephen Morris, now the starter. Morris beat Maryland, 26-20, last season with a 35-yard touchdown pass with 37 seconds left. Morris was impressive in spots as a freshman but had more interceptions (nine) than touchdown passes (seven).
Monday night's game is not only on national television, but in a prime-time Labor Day slot that has traditionally attracted steep ratings for ESPN.
It's also an ACC game — marking the first time since 2001 that the Terps have opened with a league contest. And it's the debut of new Maryland uniforms — Edsall won't disclose which color scheme has been selected — and new field markings in front of a Byrd Stadium crowd expected to be a sellout, or close to it. As of Saturday afternoon, a few hundred tickets remained.
"The game is going to be huge," senior cornerback Cameron Chism said. For weeks, Chism said, he tried "not to think about the game because I get too tight."
There is likely to be, particularly for Golden, a sense of relief that game day has arrived. The field is a sanctuary of sorts for a coach who has been overwhelmed with questions about the scandal. Golden has told Miami reporters he appreciates getting back to what he does best — coach.
Golden was hired from Temple in December after head coach Randy Shannon was dismissed. According to multiple sources, Shannon spoke with Maryland about its defensive coordinator position during the offseason. Maryland hired Todd Bradford from Southern Mississippi instead. Shannon stood to lose Miami buyout money if he had signed on with the Terps.
Edsall, whose mother, brother and sister will attend Monday's game, was hired in January after 12 seasons at Connecticut.
"It seems like a long nine months basically. So yes, it is a relief [to play a game]," Edsall said Saturday.
Maryland is trying invigorate its fan base and revive season ticket sales, which have slumped in recent years. The Miami game is also important to recruiting. A number of recruits will be on hand. "We've got a big group coming and we want to put on a good show," Edsall said.
Maryland returns 12 offensive and defensive starters from a team that was 9-4 in 2010 — including the last-minute loss to the Hurricanes.
Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien appeared distraught after that game, arguably the season's most difficult loss because the Terps were so close in a contest that could have changed the bowl picture.
O'Brien is Maryland's key player. The redshirt sophomore, who shares his coaches' disgust of turnovers, threw 22 touchdowns and only eight picks last year. He said he was proudest at not throwing a single interception in the team's five conference wins.
O'Brien, who did throw an end-zone interception and was just 9-for-28 against Miami, remembers the game well and is eager for redemption. If anything, he and the Terps need to avoid getting too excited.
"I think you can get too fired up," O'Brien said. "But I feel like the vibe on this team is good. We have a lot of new personalities. But a lot of the different-ness of everything has faded. It's kind of settled down."
Miami (0-0, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) vs. Maryland (0-0, 0-0 ACC)
Time: 8 p.m.
Site: Byrd Stadium
Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM
Maryland offense vs. Miami defense: Maryland lost 16 seniors but retains key performers Danny O'Brien at QB, Davin Meggett at RB and three OL starters. The Terps will try to exploit a Miami defense without suspended top performers Ray-Ray Armstrong (S), Sean Spence (LB) and Marcus Forston (DT). First-year Terps running backs Tyler Cierski (FB), Justus Pickett (TB) and Jeremiah Wilson (TB) may all figure in the mix. TB D.J. Adams (11 TDs last season) is out for unspecified violation of team rules.
Maryland defense vs. Miami offense: Maryland will look to pressure sophomore QB Stephen Morris (82-153 last season, 7 TD, 9 INT) particularly with LB Kenny Tate, DE David Mackall and DT Joe Vellano. Hurricanes, minus suspended WR Travis Benjamin, feature sophomore Lamar Miller (646 yards last season, 6.0 avg.) and junior Mike James (398 yds, 5.7 avg.). The Hurricanes rushed for the third-most yards in program history last season. Morris' interceptions were a concern.