Who: Terps (0-0) vs. Florida International (0-0).
When: 12:30 p.m.
Where: Byrd Stadium.
TV: Comcast SportsNet locally.
DMV radio: WTEM (980 AM), WJZ (105.7 FM).
Satellite radio: XM Channel 194, Sirius Channel 134.
Coaches: Terps – Randy Edsall (third season, 6-18); Panthers – Ron Turner (First season, 0-0).
Series: Maryland leads 3-0. Average margin of victory is 14.7 points per game.
It’s a new season for Coach Randy Edsall, his third in College Park, this time with more stability than ever before. His entire coaching staff returns, as does a bevy of playmakers on offense in quarterback C.J. Brown, running back Brandon Ross and, of course, preseason all-ACC selection Stefon Diggs. Diggs will garner the headlines this season, and rightfully so. He set the conference freshman all-purpose yardage record last year, despite receiving passes from two true-freshman quarterbacks, one wide receiver-turned-quarterback and one linebacker-turned-quarterback. But those days of injury-riddled signal-callers are over, the Terps hope. Brown returns as a fifth-year junior, looking to bring much-needed stability to a Maryland program craving an upward boost. In comes Florida International for the season opener, a team starting over with a new coach, new system, new offensive line and new backfield. The Terps’ schedule grows harder in the later months, but Saturday should provide a nice metric for all the offseason progress the coaching staff has raved about.
1) Can Maryland get off on the right foot? The Terps struggled against their sub-par season-opening opponent last season, barely squeaking by William & Mary, 7-6, thanks only to a late touchdown run by Justus Pickett. This year, they get a young and inexperienced FIU squad that experienced a total systematic overhaul this offseason, installing a pro-style system on offense. Maryland has high expectations this season, including a strong ACC Atlantic Division finish and a bowl game appearance. The Panthers, while certainly not a marquee opponent by any measure, could provide the Terps fits if taken lightly. On the other hand, if Maryland comes out swinging, it can score an early knockout and begin looking ahead.
2) How will C.J. Brown look? It’s been almost two years since Brown received a college snap, or was hit by a college tackler, or even played in a college game. He enters this season expecting to lead Maryland into more promising territory and has looked better than ever, according to Edsall. His durability may be questioned; in addition to the torn ACL suffered during a non-contact drill last offseason, Brown also broke his collarbone in 2009. So might his arm strength and accuracy, weaknesses in 2011 when Brown split time with O’Brien. But the Terps are high on Brown, entering Saturday without having announced a definitive backup option. Florida International will provide a nice transition appetizer for the fifth-year junior.
This tangentially relates to two other questions that didn’t make the cut. First, how will the offensive line perform, particularly with new starters Ryan Doyle and Michael Dunn anchoring the left side? Edsall overhauled the first unit in recent weeks, and it was time for a change. FIU won’t provide the stiffest pass-rushing test, but will serve as an early barometer for the new line’s productivity. Second, will the wide receivers perform as advertised? Stefon Diggs will undoubtedly put up numbers, but how about Nigel King and Deon Long, the other two first-stringers expected to make leaps at Maryland this season?
3) Will the front seven lose any steam? Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart has heard the same names repeated all offseason. Joe Vellano. A.J. Francis. Darin Drakeford. Demetrius Hartsfield. Kenneth Tate. The stalwarts of last season’s front seven are gone, mostly to the NFL. Fans may expect a drop-off, but it appears Stewart can handle the task. Quinton Jefferson was arguably spring football’s most dominant performer, and backup linebacker Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil bulldozed his way to five sacks in the summer open scrimmage. Again, an FIU offensive line with five new starters won’t be the best gauge, but can help Maryland’s new starters get their feet wet.
12: True freshmen who played in last season’s opener against William & Mary. This season, just two are listed on the two-deep depth chart but 11 will travel to the team hotel.
0: Returning starters at running back and offensive line for Florida International.
18: FBS coaching staffs that experienced zero turnover, including Maryland. Florida International’s entire staff, for contrast, is new.
“When you take a look at us, very young team. As you look at the two-deep, we have two senior starters on offense and two senior starters on defense. With that youthfulness we have, the one thing we have is a lot of guys who have played and have gained experience playing at a young age. It’s not like we’re going in totally inexperienced.” – Edsall.
“They’ve got a big-time receiver in Diggs, who we have to pay attention to every time he lines up. I see a team that’s very talented, and a well-coached team. Their schemes are all very sound. They’re going to go out and execute well.” – Turner on Maryland.
THE SONG OF SATURDAY
“It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons.
Prediction time! Leave your guesses on the outcome in the comments.
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