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SportsTerps

For Maryland football, everything feels new in 2011

FootballMaryland TerrapinsAtlantic Coast ConferenceCollege SportsRandy EdsallNCAA

Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien stood on the sidelines at M&T Bank Stadium on a warm summer day, casually watching a seven-on-seven touch football tournament while flipping a ball up and down with his large right hand.

So much had happened since the 2010 regular season ended — coach Ralph Friedgen's contract was bought out and an almost entirely new staff had moved into the football complex.

It's not just the staff that changed; it was the program's look. There is a new team slogan ("No Excuses, Just Play"), splashy new uniforms, new Byrd Stadium field markings and an upgraded weight room and academic center. And, of course, there is a new offense and defense that hasn't yet been publicly unveiled — not even to the media who watched some August practices. "You guys haven't seen everything, that's for sure," new coach Randy Edsall told media members Thursday.

It's a lot of change to digest in an offseason. "We've been through a lot since January," Edsall said. But young people are resilient — O'Brien is a redshirt sophomore — and it was in the quarterback's nature to look ahead to the new season that begins Monday night at Byrd Stadium against Miami. "Can't wait," he said on that July day.

Even before Edsall was hired from Connecticut in January, O'Brien was one of the first prominent Terrapins to declare that he was committed to staying at Maryland and would embrace whatever came next. "It was a no-brainer," said Matthew O'Brien, the quarterback's father. "We committed to Maryland and they committed to us."

The elder O'Brien, a North Carolina-based architect who had a good relationship with the previous staff, said the family endured the initial surprise of the coaching transition by recalling a prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."

Even the football has changed since last year. Maryland's offense will use an Under Armour-made ball that the younger O'Brien — who spent the summer in Baltimore learning about marketing as an Under Armour intern — has been getting accustomed to.

Maryland football hasn't undergone such a transition since Friedgen, a first-time head coach, was hired before the 2001 season. Friedgen's Terps beat North Carolina, 23-7, in the opener — the last time until Monday that Maryland began a season with an Atlantic Coast Conference game.

Maryland's ticket-sales marketing campaign bills it as "a new era." This year, that doesn't feel like hyperbole.

Asked what feels most different, senior receiver Quintin McCree replied: "It's everything. It's a whole new look."

Here's a glimpse of 10 facets of the football program — from the substantial to the cosmetic — that are new:

The offense. Expect a heavy dose of senior tailback Davin Meggett, who said he has dropped about 10 pounds from his 2010 playing weight of 215. Edsall has been intentionally vague about previewing the offense, but concedes that Meggett will be a "workhorse" and an "every-down back." New offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, hired from LSU, is fond of a passing game that spreads the field with multiple sets. He also likes screen passes. But Crowton said before spring practice that he anticipates about a 50-50 run-pass ratio — much like the well-balanced BYU team he coached in 2001 that led the nation in total offense. In the mature-beyond-his-years O'Brien and the speedy C.J. Brown — both tall, athletic former high school basketball players — Crowton said he has two quarterbacks who are among the conference's best.

The defense. Kenny Tate, the all-ACC safety converted this season to a linebacker position known as "star," has repeatedly told the media that the defense will be basically the same as in 2010. There are bound to be similarities. But with former defensive coordinator Don Brown now at Connecticut, it would be hard to imagine the Terps blitzing as often as they did in last season's high-risk, high-reward schemes requiring multiple packages and substitutions. A key will be continuing last season's positive turnover trend. The Terps, who finished with a 9-4 record, were plus-15 in turnover margin, second only to Virginia Tech in the ACC. "I don't think there are any good defenses right now that are not turning the ball over," said defensive coordinator Todd Bradford, hired from Southern Mississippi. "I think it's critical."

The countdown clock. To build excitement, the football program has placed clocks around campus counting down the precise number of hours, minutes and seconds to the opening kickoff. "They've got them around the school — there's one in our dining hall," McCree said. "It was 100 [days] and something, and now it's four days and the hours are counting on down."

The field. Last season, "Terps" appeared in script at the middle of the Byrd Stadium field. This year, the Maryland logo will take its place. It's part of a push — also reflected in the new uniforms — to highlight the school and state name and invigorate state pride. At the end of the home season, there are plans to replace the grass field itself. "After the Virginia game, we're going to rip the field up and put turf down," Edsall said this summer. "We could have all-star games on our campus."

The marketing. Beginning in August, Maryland made a limited number of luxury suites available to be leased for single games. The suites had once been available only for longer-term rentals. But the school — which must pay debt service on the modernized Tyser Tower — is eager to avoid having suites that aren't producing revenue. Maryland says season-ticket sales, which have slumped the past five years, have increased enough to push the number back over 20,000. Edsall's contract contains a provision granting him a $100,000 bonus if season-ticket sales increase 25 percent or more in a year. The coach said about 1,000 tickets remain for the Miami game.

The uniforms. Maryland's new, lightweight uniforms, unveiled last month, will give the team 32 possible combinations of jerseys and pants (red, white, black or gold) and helmets (black or white). Fans on message boards and Twitter hotly debated the merits of the uniforms, which the players have embraced. One fan said the uniforms were reminiscent of those in "Any Given Sunday," the Oliver Stone-directed football film. "A little too Steeler for me," another fan wrote. Edsall, who has models of the new helmets in his office, said the uniforms will catch recruits' attention. "That's kind of who we're appealing to. Young kids like to see that newness, that uniqueness," the coach said.

The football complex. There is new equipment and flooring in the weight room. A "hall of fame" corridor in the Gossett Football Team House has been redecorated to include, among other things, a photograph of the new coach.

The academic center. There are new computers in the program's center devoted to classwork. The athletic department said there are more resources this year for academics. The Sun reported in April that the NCAA is stripping Maryland of three football scholarships because of poor academic progress report scores recent years — particularly the 2-10 season of 2009. It marked the first time Maryland has been docked scholarships in any sport since the NCAA began collecting such academic data in 2003-04.

The rules. Edsall doesn't permit players to wear ball caps, do-rags or earrings during meetings. "It's a different style," said punt returner Tony Logan, who sometimes wore earrings last season. "He demands respect, but he also gives out a lot of respect."

The slogan. "No Excuses, Just Play" was printed on T-shirts. "The captains came up with that slogan," said offensive lineman Andrew Gonnella, one of four captains. The others are Meggett, Tate and defensive lineman Joe Vellano. With so much offseason change, "we wanted to bring that [slogan] upon the team so we knew to stay focused," Gonnella said.

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Maryland at a glance

COACH: Randy Edsall (first season)

CONFERENCE: Atlantic Coast Conference

LAST YEAR: 9-4

RADIO: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM

STADIUM: Byrd Stadium

TICKETS: $27-$55 (depends on game) for single-game seats, $25 per person for groups. Season tickets are available.

PARKING: Various options available (umterps.com)

OFFENSE: Multiple sets expected. New coordinator Gary Crowton has used variations of a spread offense in the past.

DEFENSE: To be determined.

OUTLOOK: Maryland finished well last season, toppling a ranked North Carolina State team and routing East Carolina in the Military Bowl to end at 9-4. Maryland, which has just 10 seniors, returns a dozen starters. Given the team's strong 2010 showing, coaches may have been surprised when the Terps were picked fifth in the Atlantic Division by ACC media. "It'll just give us a little more incentive, a little more sense of urgency to prove people wrong," Edsall said. Edsall's offense will rely heavily on ACC rookie of the year Danny O'Brien. The redshirt sophomore quarterback threw 22 touchdown passes last season and has three returning linemen to protect him. Senior Davin Meggett (720 rushing yards) is expected to be a workhorse in the backfield. On defense, the Terps will count on pressure from two players who switched positions. Kenny Tate is an all-ACC safety-turned linebacker who excels at blitzes and at dropping back into coverage. David Mackall (Edmondson) switched from linebacker to defensive end. The Terps have two big safeties in 6-3 Matt Robinson (Atholton) and 6-2 Eric Franklin (Archbishop Curley). Maryland is opening the season with a conference game (Miami) for the first time since 2001.

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