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The new FIU football season is right around the corner with the 2013 kickoff Saturday at Maryland. A new season also means the regular "5 Questions on . . . ." segment on The Prowl as well as "The Other Game" on opponents FIU does not regularly face.
The Terrapins are coming off a 4-8 season in 2012 where they only won two ACC games. The 2012 season was an injury-filled one for Maryland. This will be the final season in the ACC for the Terps before moving to the Big 10 Conference next season so they will be looking to get off to a fast start Saturday.
Let's learn more about Maryland with Terps beat writer Zack Kiesel of Baltimore Sports and Life. You can follow Zack on Twitter: @BSLZackKiesel.
1. What are the expectations for Maryland this season? ACC title game? BCS bowl?
ZK: The Terps' expectations have changed quite a bit over the past two years. Following a 9-4 season that saw them ranked in the Top 25 at the end of the season in 2010, the team fired fan-favorite head coach Ralph Friedgen and hired former UConn head coach Randy Edsall. As is expected after a 9-win season, the expectation was to compete for a conference title. But the team failed to compete at all in the ACC and won just 2 games. In 2012, Maryland saw the recruiting prowess that Randy Edsall is known for as he brought in playmakers like Wes Brown and Stefon Diggs. Unfortunately the team was plagued by injuries, as all of their scholarship quarterbacks suffered season-ending injuries forcing freshman linebacker Shawn Petty into quarterback duty.
The 2013 season brings new hope for a team full of talent on both sides of the ball. The general expectations for the season are at least to get to a bowl game, and perhaps to compete for an ACC title. The bottom line is that this team really needs to get to a bowl game this season to go into their first Big Ten season with some confidence in 2014. My prediction for this season's team is somewhere between 7 and 9 wins, but they certainly have the potential to be more in that 8-11 win range.
2. What do the Terps do well when they have the ball and where are they vulnerable on offense?
ZK: When you first look at the Terps offense you notice the wide receivers.Stefon Diggs is back for his sophomore season and is one of the most electrifying players in college football. There are some people who think he may compete for a Heisman Trophy before his time in College Park is over, and I can definitely see him being in that conversation very soon. Joining him is 5-star junior college transfer Deon Long, who scouts predict to be a 1st-round NFL pick in 2015. With that combination of playmaking talent at wide receiver, the Terps quarterbacks are drooling.
But wide receiver isn't the only position that stands out on this Terps offense. This Maryland team has two very talented running backs that will get a lot of carries in 2013. Brandon Ross and Albert Reid return this season after putting together good campaigns in 2012. They have both bulked up in the off-season, and each has the skills to be backs that can get 25-30 carries per game. Realistically, they will both share carries due to their tremendous talent.
The biggest weakness for this Terps' offense is the offensive line. It has been a constant revolving door over the past few seasons, and this season's group doesn't look to be one to have much confidence in. Mike Madaras returns as the starter at left tackle, but is just a sophomore after starting last season as a true freshman. De'Onte Arnett is the line's lone senior starter at left guard, and Sal Conaboy is the junior center. In a late turn of events, Randy Edsall announced that redshirt freshman Michael Dunn will start at right guard and redshirt sophomore Ryan Doyle will start at right tackle. Neither player was expected to start on the line this season, which may speak to their impressive camp but may also speak to the weakness of the other options at those positions.
3. What are the Terps strengths and weaknesses on defense?
ZK: The Terps defense was one of the best in the country last season before becoming riddled with injuries. They were ranked among the best run defenses in all of college football for the first 6-7 weeks of last season, and gave Terps fans hope for what was a disappointing defense in 2011. Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart brought back the 3-4 defense to College Park last season and had an extremely talented front seven to work with. Unfortunately, the team is losing five of their starting front seven from last season due to graduation. But thanks to those injuries last season, the replacements do have starting experience.
One area of the defense that is relatively unchanged is the defensive backfield. All three starting cornerbacks are returning in 2013, led by senior cornerback Dexter McDougle, who is a very good all-around defensive back. Jeremiah Johnson and Isaac Goins join him as lockdown corners. One player to watch at cornerback is freshman William Likely. He has made a huge impression in camp after being an early-enrollee who joined the team in January. Finding snaps for him may be tough, but he is making it very hard to redshirt him in his true freshman season.
If there is a weakness on this year's defense it would be the defensive line. The only returning starter is nose tackle Darius Kilgo, who will have to be the No. 1 lineman this season after being the No. 3 behind seniors Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis last season. The defensive ends who will replace those two are not freshmen, and luckily have some starting experience. What they will do in regular starting positions is yet unknown, but they seem to be fitting in well in camp.
The linebacker corps is still strong despite returning only one starter in Cole Farrand. Senior Matt Robinson has moved from safety to outside linebacker, and has done very well in that role in camp. Two players to watch for this season amongst the linebackers are the two Yannicks. Redshirt junior Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil is a former practice squad player who has moved up and is competing for an outside linebacker position this season. True freshman Yannick Ngakoue is a highly-touted 4-star recruit who disappointed schools like South Carolina when he committed to Maryland. He may not start immediately, but should see snaps on 3rd downs right off the bat and will likely be a starter by season's end.
4. FIU is 0-3 against Maryland with relatively competitive games in 2006 and 2010. What are the thoughts on the Panthers around College Park?
ZK: There really aren't too many thoughts on FIU around College Park. I think the people with opinions on the Panthers are mostly diehard fans and sports writers, and I do believe there is an element of respect for FIU due to those competitive games, especially the one in 2010 that took place during that 9-win season I mentioned earlier. I think the season opener this season could play a large part in Terps fans having an opinion about FIU. If the game ends in a blowout, it's likely that Terps fans won't think much of the Panthers. But if the game is competitive, FIU could be a worrisome school for Terps fans if and when they face each other again.
5. How do you see Saturday's game unfolding?
ZK: I don't really see the Terps getting any blowout wins this season. Even though they have a ton of skill position talent, Randy Edsall still wants to run the ball and play good defense to win games. I think you'll see Maryland trying to establish the read-option early and often now that they have the mobile C.J. Brown back at quarterback. I'd expect to see some quick passes to Stefon Diggs in the slot to allow him to do what he does best: make something out of nothing. If FIU covers Diggs, there are plenty of other talented weapons for Brown to turn to.
I think one of the biggest reasons why FIU has played competitive games with Maryland in the past is due to their speed. When Randy Edsall stepped foot in College Park, one of his biggest goals was to improve the Terps team speed. He has done that very well, and the Panthers may not have such an easy time exploiting the Terps lack of speed as in years past. So while I don't expect a blowout, I expect a comfortable win for the Terps heading into their second game of 2013 against FBS newcomer Old Dominion.
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