COLLEGE PARK -- Ohio University was the season-opening "cupcake" that got away last season.
The Maryland football team never recovered from that upset and fell to a 2-9 record in coach Ron Vanderlinden's disastrous first year.
That is why the Terps want to Mastrole devour Division I-AA James Madison in tonight's 6 p.m. season opener at Byrd Stadium and put a new spin on the 1998 season.
The most watched player on the field for Maryland will be junior quarterback Ken Mastrole, who has to prove he is ready to replace Brian Cummings.
Mastrole has a strong arm but has to overcome concerns about a lack of quickness and his ability to make decisions under fire.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Mastrole locked up the starting spot 12 days ago when junior backup Trey Evans went down in practice with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
But Mastrole has been somewhat overshadowed in the preseason by two promising freshman quarterbacks, Randall Jones and Calvin McCall, who have climbed the depth chart with their speed, quickness and ability to run the option.
Jones, a product of Thomas Johnson High in Frederick, and McCall, out of Orlando, Fla., battled most of the preseason before Jones won the No. 2 spot.
Vanderlinden said Jones had an edge because he spent the 1997 football season at Naval Academy Prep School after graduating from Thomas Johnson.
"I'm encouraged by Randall and Calvin," said Vanderlinden. "I think if both of them get in the game, they'll do some good things and some young things. Randall is quick and good when he has the ball in his hands. He'll be exciting in a different way."
Vanderlinden said Jones and McCall are both capable of making something out of nothing.
"They both have some elusiveness," he said. "I like that quality in a quarterback. I like having a Jim Harbaugh-type back there who is going to find a way to make plays."
Although Vanderlinden loves the speed Jones and McCall could give the offense in the speed-oriented Atlantic Coast Conference, he can't ignore the edge in experience Mastrole has.
Mastrole started three games as a redshirt freshman in 1996 in place of the injured Cummings and has completed 43 of 108 passes for one touchdown and four interceptions in two seasons.
Vanderlinden has praised Mastrole throughout the preseason for his "improved foot speed and accurate throws" and is ready to turn him loose tonight.
"Anytime you're starting for the first time in two years, it's an important game," Vanderlinden said. "He'll make some mistakes, but we'll just have to work through them and do whatever we can to win the game."
An obvious key to how well Mastrole plays will be the performance by a revamped offensive line, which has redshirt freshman Melvin Fowler starting at center just one week after he was moved from nose tackle.
Mastrole will not have the luxury of having outstanding sophomore tailback LaMont Jordan, the team's leading rusher last season, in the starting lineup. Jordan has been slowed all week by a foot injury, giving 5-foot-7, 178-pound junior Harold Westley a chance to take over the starting spot for the opener.
"LaMont will be ready by game time," said Vanderlinden. "But Harold will start."
On defense, the secondary has been hurt by the absence of senior free safety Paul Jackson for most of the preseason. Jackson is Maryland's most experienced defensive back and entered the preseason as a starter.
But he has a pulled groin muscle and has been replaced by sophomore Tony Jackson (Wilde Lake) in the starting lineup.
Paul Jackson's injury forced Vanderlinden to move junior Renard Cox from backup cornerback to free safety last week.
In spite of all the injuries and shuffling of personnel, Vanderlinden's face lit up as he talked about playing James Madison in football for the first time in school history .
"We're focused, we're mentally charged up and we're ready to hit somebody else besides ourselves," said Vanderlinden.
Pub Date: 9/05/98