COLLEGE PARK -- There are questions about Brian Cummings' knee. There are questions about his arm. There are even questions about his mouth.
Before you get the idea that Maryland's offense will go backward with Cummings at quarterback, however, consider another question, one posed by an Atlantic Coast Conference coach.
"If Cummings isn't any good," he asked, "why did Milanovich try to get assurance he would play when he came back?"
Cummings, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound redshirt sophomore who will start the Terps' opener at Tulane on Saturday, is the newest lead performer in their soap opera at quarterback.
In July's episode, Scott Milanovich was suspended for four games for violating the NCAA rules against gambling on intercollegiate athletics. Before deciding to return for his senior season, the most prolific passer in school history sought assurances from coach Mark Duffner that he would play when his eligibility is restored.
Until Milanovich returns, it's Cummings' offense, questions and all.
"I know people are looking down on me, but let them underestimate me," Cummings said. "All they know is that I've never thrown a pass, but a lot of those people are ignorant about my background."
Fact: Cummings never has thrown a pass in a college game -- his experience last season was limited to the short-yardage offense -- but John Kaleo in 1992 and Milanovich in 1993 were rookie starters when the run-and-shoot helped them to record-setting seasons.
"People aren't expecting me to go out there and throw for 30yards," Cummings said. "In this offense, it's hard not to."
Fact: Cummings is one of the state's premier amateur pitchers. His fastball has been clocked on the fast gun at 89 miles per hour.
"I'm not worried about his arm," said Geroy Simon, who set an Atlantic Coast Conference record for receptions last year.
Fact: He tore his anterior cruciate ligament in high school, but the damage wasn't diagnosed until last August, and it doesn't
slow him. If necessary, Cummings can scramble while a green offensive line grows up.
"When I was a sophomore, if things weren't going well, I still had to stand in the pocket," Milanovich said. "With his quickness, Brian doesn't have to stand in there."
Another fact must be mentioned when the subject is Maryland quarterbacks: For all the gaudy passing numbers the Terps have put up under Duffner, they've won nine times in three years. Cummings has said that he's just keeping the seat warm, but if Maryland has a winning record when Milanovich's eligibility is restored for the Sept. 28 game at Georgia Tech, don't expect the sophomore to return quietly to the bench.
Playing time was an issue last year, when Cummings blew up at quarterback coach Rob Spence. Spence coached at Iona (N.Y.) Prep when Cummings was a local sandlot star, recruited him to come to Maryland and bore the wrath of his impatience at being a third-teamer.
"We had what I would call a heated discussion," Spence said. "I recruited him with the promise that he'd get a chance to compete, but a year ago, he didn't ever see it happening. A good kid on a struggling team thinks he should play right away, but the difference was, we were very solid at quarterback. Brian didn't understand the need to serve an apprenticeship."
Cummings, a month from his 20th birthday, didn't see himself starting until 1997, when he will be a senior, but he rapidly moved up the pecking order. First, Kevin Foley, himself unhappy about playing time, transferred to Boston University. When Milanovich got into trouble, Cummings was happy that he hadn't given up on football.
A 19th-round draft choice of the Montreal Expos out of high school, Cummings is one of Maryland's top pitchers and says he might have left the football team last year if a baseball scholarship had been available.
"I'm just glad I've had baseball to keep me busy," Cummings said. "There, I'm holding the ball, I'm the key to victory. It's a much better feeling. That's the way it's always been all my life."
NOTES: Duffner said that Russell Edwards, a redshirt freshman will punt against Tulane. . . . Senior Tim Brown, who had fallen behind Brett White on the depth chart, will start at middle linebacker. . . . Right tackle Mark Motley, who missed the first week of practice with a urinary infection, won't start but will play.
MARYLAND AT A GLANCE
Coach: Mark Duffner (three years, 9-24; nine years overall, 69-29-1)
Last year: 4-7 overall, 2-6 in ACC
Conference: Atlantic Coast
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WITH (1230 AM), WTOP (1500 AM), WASH (97.1 FM)
Stadium: Byrd (48,010)
Top returning players: QB Scott Milanovich, QB Brian Cummings, WR Geroy Simon, WR Jermaine Lewis, RB Buddy Rodgers, RB Brian Underwood, LB Ratcliff Thomas, LB Mike Settles, CB A. J. Johnson, K Joe O'Donnell
Top newcomers: CB Chad Scott (transfer from Towson State), LB Eric Barton (freshman)
Strengths: With the return of tackles Johnnie Hicks and Tim Watson, who were academically ineligible last year, the defense will be the best it has been under Duffner. O'Donnell was the most accurate kicker in the ACC, and the Terps' receivers are talented and experienced.
Weaknesses: The run-and-shoot demands timing and familiarity, but the offense will have eight new starters while Lewis and Milanovich serve gambling suspensions. The defense, which has been pushed around in recent years, remains undersized at linebacker.
Strongest opponent: Florida State
Key game: Georgia Tech. For Duffner's sake, the Terps had better not be talking about a "second season" when Milanovich returns.
rediction: If their dreams of going to a bowl game are going to be realized, the Terps had better win early. Five wins are anticipated, and six are not a stretch.
Sept. 2 .. at Tulane .....8 p.m.
Sept. 9 .. N. Carolina ...noon
Sept. 16 ..W. Virginia ..7 p.m.
Sept. 23 ..Duke .........7 p.m.
Sept. 28 ..at Ga. Tech ..7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 ..at W. Forest ...6:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 ..Clemson .......1:30 p.m.
Oct. 28 ..at Louisville ..4 p.m.
Nov. 4 ..at N.C. State ...1 p.m.
Nov. 11 ..Virginia .......1:30 p.m.
Nov. 18 ..at Florida St.... noon