Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and producer-editor Jonas Shaffer weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
Will the Maryland football team become bowl-eligible for the first time under Randy Edsall?
Don Markus: A little over a month ago, it seemed a lock. The Terps were coming off a 37-0 shutout of West Virginia, which a week later beat a ranked Oklahoma State team in Morgantown. They were 4-0 for the first time since 2002 and were ranked in the regular season for the first time since 2008.
It seems such a long time ago, and while Maryland is on the cusp of being eligible to play in a postseason game,reaching the required six games might be elusive.
As the Terps get ready to take on Clemson in College Park on Saturday and prepare to face a bunch of angry Tigers after their embarrassing loss in Death Valley last week to Florida State, Edsall is not looking any further than his team’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
That’s the nature of football coaches, but fans (and media types) are pointing to the team’s last two home games as possible breakthroughs: Nov. 9 against Syracuse and Nov. 23 against Boston College. Winning on the road has been difficult for the Terps since Edsall took over, with only one win in 10 ACC road games.
If I’m Edsall, I’m getting senior quarterback C.J. Brown as healthy as possible to play the Orange. That might be a tall task, given all the injuries Brown has suffered this season after missing last season with a knee injury. If there’s a body part that doesn’t make Brown feel old these days, I’d like to know.
That’s not to say that sophomore Caleb Rowe isn’t good enough to help Maryland win another game. He made a few clutch throws down the stretch to help the Terps sneak by Virginia two weeks ago, but on one of them, junior wideout Deon Long was on the receiving end.
You need playmakers to win in college football, and Maryland is quickly running out of them on both sides of the ball.
The Terps lost cornerback Dexter McDougle in the win over Connecticut, in which which McDougle had been the star. They have since lost linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil (Towson High) against Virginia, then Long and sophomore wide receiver Stefon Diggs — the team’s top playmaker — last Saturday at Wake Forest.
A year ago, Maryland adjusted after Brown tore up his knee in preseason practice. The Terps went 4-2 with freshman Perry Hills — remember him? — and then should have won their fifth game against North Carolina State until Brad Craddock’s chip-shot field goal caromed off an upright.
Maryland got close only once more, losing the next week by three at Boston College.
Except for the quarterback position, that team had far fewer devastating injuries than this year’s team. Diggs was one of the most dynamic players in the country, and that was with a converted linebacker trying to play quarterback the last four games.
Given how the injuries seem to be piling up, it’s hard to imagine that the Terps will get through their game against Clemson without suffering more casualties. Maybe the football gods will smile on Edsall. Or maybe not.
I know the folks who run the Military Bowl, which will be played in Annapolis for the first time this year, are privately pulling for the Terps to become bowl-eligible. Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium can hold around 38,000, tops, so getting close to a sellout won’t be hard if Maryland is playing there.
But getting there — as in, becoming bowl-eligible — could be harder than you think.
What do you think of Scott Van Pelt’s criticism directed at fans who left the student section early during the Virginia game?
Jeff Barker: I saw them leaving, too. It really bothered Van Pelt, the ESPN commentator and former Maryland student, that fans would leave a close game against a rival before the finish, even on an intermittently rainy day.
They’ll be out in force on Saturday, of course, but it’s a homecoming game against a nationally ranked opponent in Clemson. That's an easy sell.
Van Pelt has noted that Terps fans can be supportive and loud. He wanted that point made right along with his criticism.
But I’ve long thought that if you want to see real passion in a lively college atmosphere in the D.C. area, come to a Terps hoops game.
I love the Turgeonites (some call them Turgeonistas), the group that dresses to resemble Terps coach Mark Turgeon. I loved the Harlem Shake during last season’s Duke game. Old traditions are great, but I’d like to see a little more creativity from the students. Creating the Turgeonites, who put baby powder in their hair to more closely resemble the coach, was truly inspired.
Is running back Johnathan Thomas' decommitment and switch to Penn State a sign of things to come for Maryland's recruiting class?
Jonas Shaffer: When Maryland lost to Wake Forest on Saturday and then lost Thomas to Penn State on Sunday, it was easy enough to draw a cause-and-effect line from Event A to Event B.
But like your old statistics teacher probably told you, it's important not to conflate causation and correlation. Yes, the Terps' pair of stinkers against Florida State and Wake Forest probably did not buy them any plaudits up in Thomas' Massachusetts home.
It's also possible, however, that maybe Thomas' change of heart was isolated, and that it will remain so. Maybe this was always going to happen once Penn State offered, whether Randy Edsall was back on the hot seat or finally headed to a warm-weather bowl.
Like Thomas, Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien attended St. John's Prep, in 1988. And the following quote about the recruiting process, via ESPN Boston, shows Thomas may have been uncertain about his pledge to the Terps since the very beginning:
"Sometimes, it can be overwhelming, because they really pressure you to commit right away, and if you're not ready to commit ... it's still early. I do want to commit before the season, but if I’m not positive about something, I don’t want to commit because once you commit at the Prep, it’s a done deal. There’s no de-committing."
That wasn't the case for Thomas and Penn State, a school he has called his "dream school." Are the Terps in for another recruiting nightmare? I wouldn't count on it. Much of Maryland's current recruiting class was put in place before this regular season, which, injuries and all, still has been something of a step forward for Edsall and Co.
It's not the Tyler Burkes and Jesse Aniebonams you have to worry about. For now, it's the Damian Princes and Jalen Tabors.