Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
Is Randy Edsall on the hot seat?
Jeff Barker: I’m going to preface my response by saying that this is not my opinion.
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Rather, it's something I’ve spoken to the athletic department about because it’s obviously an important subject and you don’t want to just be guessing.
The best answer right now is that Maryland says he’s not on the hot seat.
Maryland is invested in him -- in more ways than one. He’s in the second year of a six-year contract and what Maryland is looking for -- and urgently hoping for -- is improvement. They want to see that Maryland football -- which went 2-10 and has lost season-ticket holders since last year -- is on an upward arc. They're looking for movement.
The bottom line is that they say they want to give him time to build his program.
Realistically, what are the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Maryland football team in terms of how many games the Terps win in Randy Edsall's second season? And what will keep Terp fans off his and Kevin Anderson's backs?
Don Markus: A lot has changed in recent weeks, given the season-ending injuries to junior quarterback C.J. Brown and defensive tackle Andre Monroe, as well as less serious injuries to several other key defensive players, including linebacker Kenny Tate (knee) and safety Matt Robinson (shoulder). While the forecast wasn't very good before the spate of injuries -- the Terps were picked to finish last in the Atlantic Division of the ACC -- the prospects now seem to range between desperate and disastrous.
I thought going into the preseason that the Terps would win between three and five games with Brown at quarterback. I thought the defense would be much improved with the experience the young players received last year and with Brian Stewart a huge upgrade at defensive coordinator over Todd Bradford. I really thought that a key to Maryland taking advantage of its infusion of young, offensive talent such as Stefon Diggs and Wes Brown was seeing whether one of the true freshmen quarterbacks, Perry Hills or Caleb Rowe, could be to this year's team what Danny O'Brien was to the 2010 team as a redshirt freshman.
I even thought there was an outside chance of Maryland winning six games -- and qualifying for a bowl -- if it could win the first three games (William & Mary on Saturday, at Temple next week and Connecticut on Sept. 15) and somehow manage to squeeze out three others (Boston College, Wake Forest, maybe an upset over North Carolina State for homecoming).
But realistically, I thought 4-8 was about as good as it was going to get. It probably wouldn't have been enough to keep the already unhappy fan base from booing Edsall at home games, deluging Anderson with nasty emails about his coach and turning Byrd Stadium into Camden Yards South in terms of attendance. But at least Edsall supporters could claim progress by doubling the win total from last year's 2-10 debacle.
I can't see any of that happening now.
The Terps had better beat William & Mary this weekend -- at least Mary, if not Wiliam -- because this has all the makings of another two-win disaster. Or worse. Given the number of freshmen on the two-deep (14 at last count and that number will likely go up, not down, as the season wears on) the expectations that the Terps will do much better than a year ago seem to be heading in the wrong direction. As solid as Hills has looked in practice, as dynamic as Diggs was in the last scrimmage, they were playing against one of the worst returning defenses in the country. The news on Tate isn't too promising given that he hurt his heretofore healthy knee. A 2-1 start prior to a trip to Morgantown to play West Virginia would at least give the quickly evaporating fan base some hope.
I also have a feeling that the Terps are not done with this recent spate of injuries on the new FieldTurf surface. There is data to show that it's better in terms of reducing concussions and worse for ankle and knee injuries, and that has certainly been the case so far. With that in mind, I think that Maryland's worst-case scenario might be in play here and there's as good a chance that the Terps finish with fewer wins this year (that means one or zero) as there is for them them to go 4-8. I know Anderson has stated that he is going to stick with Edsall regardless of what happens -- and most Maryland fans know that the $2 million a year price tag and what was a six-year contract make his declaration seem likely -- but few coaches survive that kind of start.
Mack Brown did at North Carolina years ago, and closer to home, Rob Ambrose did after going 2-9 and 1-10 his first two years at Towson before turning it around dramatically last year. But the fan base in Chapel Hill was behind Brown and there was no fan base to put any pressure on Ambrose at Towson. I think three or four wins could be called progress, particularly with the injuries. Another 2-10 season will be difficult for Anderson to overlook and only Maryland's financial situation will save Edsall as it did Ralph Friedgen when his Terps plunged to a 2-10 record in 2009. Anything less than that -- which unfortunately for the Terps seems possible -- could make for some tough decisions by the bean counters in College Park come December.
How important is a good 2012 season for Maryland football recruiting going forward?
Matt Bracken: Football programs coming off 2-10 seasons aren't supposed to land quality recruiting classes. But somehow, the Terps' coaching staff has done the improbable, heading into the 2012 season with Rivals.com's No. 25 class nationally for 2013.
It was tough keeping up this summer with the 19-man group, particularly when 10 players decided to pledge in June alone. Some programs like to save plenty of spots for the fall and winter, but this clearly wasn't Maryland's approach. The coaches wanted to load up while they could, riding the positive momentum last winter from the hiring of offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and the post-Signing Day commitment of Good Counsel five-star wide receiver Stefon Diggs. It was a strategy that has obviously paid off, especially locally with 13 recruits from Maryland or D.C.
But the question here is whether or not that positive recruiting momentum can continue when the games begin. Making a bowl game was a reasonable goal for the Terps as they entered fall camp. Without C.J. Brown and Andre Monroe for the entire season -- not to mention Kenny Tate, Matt Robinson, Isaiah Ross, Nick Ferrara, Keith Bowers and A.J. Hendy on the injury list to open the season -- expectations must be adjusted. If Randy Edsall can guide this injury-ravaged, youthful bunch to a bowl game, he would probably deserve ACC Coach of the Year consideration.
A more likely scenario is Maryland suffering through another losing season. Avoiding the general disastrousness of 2011 should be the goal. Another 2-10 season -- or worse -- would be tough for any recruit to stomach. Selling improvement -- no matter how incremental it may be -- is a proven tactic on the recruiting trail. The Terps will also be able to sell early playing time by pointing to the five true freshmen starting this year and a two-deep depth chart filled with first- and second-year players. That sales pitch won't change no matter how bad this season goes for Maryland.
The main goal for the Terps will be keeping this 2013 group intact. They'll add a few others to this class before Signing Day, while continuing to make sure the current commitments remain on board. The local recruits range from under-the-radar (Derrick Hayward, Elvis Dennah, Malik Jones, etc.) to regionally if not nationally coveted (Derwin Gray, Yannick Ngakoue, Shane Cockerille, etc.). Players in the former group aren't likely to change their minds since Maryland, for most of them, was the best offer they had. And players in the latter group showed faith in a seemingly moribund program while shunning other more established teams. Another tough year shouldn't change that, especially after witnessing so many of their young peers get time with the Terps early in their careers.
Fewer things in sports are harder to predict and follow than the recruiting of 17-year-old kids. Maryland's coaching staff has certainly weathered its fair share of surprising/puzzling recruitments over the years. But the way in which the staff put together this 2013 class without on-field success to point to leads me to believe they can keep this group intact, and add a few more solid prospects to the list. And you can be sure that Locksley and Co. have made the rounds locally for 2014, and are setting the table for a similarly Maryland-centric group. The Terps could get away with a down 2012 campaign and still bring in a promising 2013 class. But next fall, on-field results will absolutely become vital to future recruiting success.