COLLEGE PARK — Maryland found out last year what it means to be a Big Ten football team — and the Terps delivered a solid first season in their new conference — but that doesn't mean that they have graduated.
It actually gets tougher from here as the rebuilt program tries to move forward without a number of key players from last year and works hard to develop into the kind of team that can compete at college football's highest level.
There undoubtedly will be some growing pains as Maryland navigates Year Two, which begins in little more than three weeks, but the Terps didn't make the jump from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten Conference because they thought it was going to be easy. Quite the contrary.
Everyone knows what they are up against and no one really knows yet where this team will fit into the competitive landscape of the conference's East Division. They figure to take some big lumps against several potential Top 10 teams on their schedule (including top-ranked Ohio State on the road), but no one at the Gossett Team House for Monday's football media day was complaining about the imposing level of competition.
"We came to the Big Ten to play against the best teams in the country and we're excited for it,'' said junior offensive lineman Michael Dunn. "We've got a very good schedule this year. We're playing in some great stadiums and [have] some great teams coming to us. It's got the makings of a great season. That's why we came to the Big Ten, for seasons like this."
Of course, it isn't about just this season. It can't be.
The Maryland program is just starting to reap the fruits of the enhanced recruiting potential of the Big Ten. The Terps are still — in a sense — making the transition from the ACC to a burlier conference that has long emphasized stout line play on both sides of the ball and, because of that, drawn the best and biggest lineman to the traditional Big Ten powers.
Coach Randy Edsall knew that coming in, but facing those big offensive and defensive lines on a weekly basis last season just reinforced his belief that his team had to get bigger and stronger up front to be a viable Big Ten team this year and an elite one in the future.
"That was one of the things that I thought that we needed to improve upon — that we had to get a little bit bigger so we could run the ball better and stop the run better,'' he said. "That's something that we started addressing a year ago with this past class that we brought in. Moving forward, that's what we have to [do] because that's what I saw was the difference going from the ACC to the Big Ten."
The Terps offense will have a more traditional Big Ten look this year for another reason. Explosive running quarterback C.J. Brown is gone and all three candidates to take his place are more suited to a conventional dropback passing scheme.
The added emphasis on the running game and the fact that quarterback candidates Caleb Rowe, Daxx Garman and Perry Hills will stay in the pocket a lot more than Brown might make it appear that Maryland's offensive system has changed, but offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said it has not.
"The system hasn't changed,'' he said. "It's the same offense we have called with Perry Hills in 2012. It's the same system we called for Boston College and North Carolina State and some of our other games with Caleb Rowe. Our offense isn't changing as to who we are. We've always been a diverse multiple system, but we will gear toward the strengths of what the quarterback does and what his skill set is."
That system carried the Terps to uplifting victories over Iowa, Penn State and Michigan last season. How it manifests itself this year against improved versions of some of those same teams will depend on whether Edsall's confidence in the team's improved offensive line is justified.
"My whole philosophy is, you've got to win up front,'' Edsall said. "You have to win on the offensive line and you've got to win on the defensive line. That's something I've been trying to do since I've been here is to get at that. I think the better you are on the offensive line, the better you are going to be able to run the ball, the better you're going to be able to protect the passer."
The Terps appear better prepared to do that this year, but it remains to be seen whether they are strong enough at the skill positions to produce a suitable encore to last year's debut season in the Big Ten.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here."